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Ask Slashdot: What Tech For a Sailing Ship? 340

Razgorov Prikazka writes "There is a lot of technology involved in sailing these days. EPIRB, FHV-DSC, GPS, NAVTEX, Inmarsat, fishfinders/depth sounders, different kinds of radar (with MARPA or ATA) — you name it and there are dozens of manufacturers out there willing to provide, all of them with a range of different products. Right now I am planning a 'round-the-world-trip,'' and my ship (an 18-meter Skerry Cruiser sailing yacht) is in its early construction phase, so I need to shop for some hi-tech gear and, basically, I got lost in all the possibilities. What kind of hardware would you recommend as necessary for a trip of this kind? What would you have installed in your ship in order to have a safe trip?"
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Ask Slashdot: What Tech For a Sailing Ship?

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  • 18m is too big (Score:5, Informative)

    by Hadlock ( 143607 ) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @03:27PM (#41326831) Homepage Journal

    Quoth the Seraffyn, "go now and go small" - Lin and Larry Pardey
    18m (52') is hugely way too enormous for less than five people. I would seriously consider a 42' boat at the high end. At some point you're going to be tasked with reefing the main by yourself in 30kts of wind and trusting that your systems are working correctly. I've reefed the main with four other people on a 46' boat in 25 kts of wind and even with a fancy expensive duch reefing system, it's still not a walk in the park.
    That said, Garmin (of course) makes a wide variety of systems, as do quite a few others. I'm curious to see if anyone with real experience chimes in here, but while you can get by navigating along the coast with an iPad or Android phone (we do this in our boat), that's not a system you want to rely on for years on end in a marine environment.

  • sailmail (Score:3, Informative)

    by mspring ( 126862 ) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @03:31PM (#41326885)
    As a cheap way to do email: http://www.sailmail.com/ [sailmail.com]
  • Re:Seriously? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Hadlock ( 143607 ) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @03:37PM (#41326971) Homepage Journal

    With the advent of cheap touchscreen devices in the last six years, Garmin and their like have really had to reinvent the wheel. Mapping technology is lightyears ahead of where it was even 15 years ago, Navionics is to the point where you can mark new obstructions on your map, and then upload them to the web for other people, and many are eventually included in newer additions. Digital maps and charts are no longer X months out of date when you buy them, they're X hours since your last synch.
    That said, as of two years ago you couldn't buy a whole system (engine/nav/radar/battery/depth sounder etc) that used Cat-5 for less than $15,000. Now they're getting to be under the $8,000 range, and even offer a non-proprietary VGA out for your Nav station. You can get 12" primary waterproof displays with decent resolutions for under $1200 now.
    There's been a huge turnover in the industry with the advent of cheap GPS enabled electronics (Smartphones) and the industry is scrambling to catch up, with prices finally falling. You can buy a 4" B&W chart plotter for $172-199 online these days, medium resolution US costal & lakes charts included.
    Go check out what Garmin had for marine GPS 12 years ago. Big squishy backlit numpads with B&W LCD displays that made a TI-83 look high tech. There are major changes happening in Marine technology these days. You can pick up low end radar equipment new for $1000 these days. That used to be $10,000 ten, fifteen years ago.

  • Re:EPIRB (Score:5, Informative)

    by tilante ( 2547392 ) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @03:40PM (#41326999)

    An "electrical ground" is simply a large reservoir of neutral charge -- large enough that sending our stray voltage into it won't significantly raise it's own potential. On land, a wire is sunk into the earth (i.e., into the ground, which is why it's called a "ground") for this purpose.

    On a ship, ground wires are simply tied into a metal part of the ship that will have constant contact with the water -- thus, the body of water the ship is in is used as that reservoir of neutral charge. (Of course, that body of water is most likely in contact with the earth, which can further absorb the stray electrons.) To get a "decent ground", you want a large enough surface of metal in touch with the water, and want the wiring system tied to that metal body to be able to handle the charges involved should something short to ground.

  • by ip_freely_2000 ( 577249 ) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @03:41PM (#41327011)
    ....mounted right on the bow in plain site. Good luck off the coast of Somalia, the Indian Ocean and pretty much all of the waters around Indonesia and the Philippines.,
  • Re:Seriously? (Score:4, Informative)

    by kgibbsvt ( 162082 ) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @03:44PM (#41327047)

    Spot on! Dump a couple of million into a boat and you don't know what kind of gear to buy? Worse, you come to Slashdot to find out? Head over to Sailing Anarchy. They'll tell you what to buy (and provide an earful to boot).

    - kg

  • Firearms (Score:5, Informative)

    by sycodon ( 149926 ) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @03:53PM (#41327139)

    Several well concealed, yet accessible firearms. Pistols as well as some kind of AR. The ocean's a big place and there ain't any 911.

    That said, be sure you read up on the firearms rules for every place you might find yourself. If they don't want you to be able to protect yourself, you don't want to go there.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 13, 2012 @04:00PM (#41327197)

    I just did what you are planning (except the circumnavigation) and I was in IT prior to that.
    I did it on a Hylas 46 with my wife. Down to Trini and back to FL.
    Never mind Sextant and compass as stated above here's what we needed and relied upon.

    3G (with DGPS HW) iPad and Navionics /iNavX charts installed (pre-downloaded).
    A couple mac/linux laptops with OpenCPN and Bu535 GPS dongles as backup - we never used the ships navigation as much as handheld.
    A high gain Wifi (a/b/g/n) anntena with at least 1W xmit - wifi is crucial in port or even nearshore to pickup wx reporting and comms.
    A roccna or Manson Supreme anchor - trust the data not the barflies.
    AIS is more helpful that radar- both are good to have but AIS is really helpful and makes night watches simple.
    As for safety, G-pirb, pay Chris parker and listen to him every morning in the Atlanic on SSB or if you can afford KVH/inmarsat then download his reporting, and a canister raft with a grab bag.
    Safest possible way to travel is with acquaintances on other boats together making the same passage and stay in touch with SSB, satphone or VHF for short hops.
    Spectra watermaker, danfoss/frigoboat refers and solar!!!!! (yes there is space on a monhull either on bimini or in the lifelines between stantions- no they dont ruin the boat's asthetics since they are only 1" high and horizontally mounted they disappear in profile.
    We tossed the genset and lived at anchor indefinitely with solar only covering powertools, laptops, refers, gps anchor alarm 24x7.


  • Re:Firearms (Score:4, Informative)

    by Joce640k ( 829181 ) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @04:11PM (#41327343) Homepage

    "If anybody approaches you in open water, he's not your friend."

  • Re:Firearms (Score:5, Informative)

    by houghi ( 78078 ) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @04:14PM (#41327381)

    Even more important is that you must be absolutely willing AND able to use them, otherwise they WILL be used against you and you would have better of without them.
    I am not talking about you telling others that you would use them. I am talking about you knowing in your hart that there never will be any doubt that you will use them without hesitation.

    And I wish that more people would follow your rule concerning firearms: " If they don't want you to be able to protect yourself, you don't want to go there.". Looking at firearms laws here, it would keep all those loud American tourists away from doing their "Europe in 10 days" trip. ;-)

  • Re:Seriously? (Score:5, Informative)

    by Hadlock ( 143607 ) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @04:15PM (#41327397) Homepage Journal

    Cat-5 has the advantage of being able to replace parts anywhere in the world, and not having the Gold Plated Marine Use Tax attached to it, as well as working with your existing network.

  • by Razgorov Prikazka ( 1699498 ) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @04:20PM (#41327473)
    That is right, I have no problems using the a compass, sextant, watch, paper charts, pencils, pencil sharpeners etc.
    It is about the hi-tech stuff. There is just so much on the market. Maybe this is the same as asking: "I bought my first computer, what linux distro is good for me". But some pointers would be nice.
    And the power-supply will come from a small wind turbine, solar panels and if that fails I'll crank up the Volvo propulsion diesel which doubles as a generator. Must be enough to use the electronics, and maybe even a small fridge.
  • by PhinMak ( 630548 ) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @04:20PM (#41327477) Homepage Journal

    Some credentials: My folks own and operate a boatyard. We built a 64'8" (20m) Alden staysail schooner in the early 2000's called the Lion's Whelp. This boat was to be used by the family as an blue water cruiser. Many trips to the carib via Bermuda and along the Maine coast, but nothing across the Atlantic yet. Also used as a design tour-de-force displaying our company's know how. We won the Concours D'Elegance at the Antigua Classic yacht Regatta our first year there, a 2nd place the next year. The boat hasn't been back in subsequent years.

    Full build history plus many, many photographs and discussion can be found on the yard website: http://portlandyacht.com/lionswhelp [portlandyacht.com]

    Some of the systems we have onboard include: Reverse osmosis watermaker, EPIRB, GPS, IBM Blade server, AC, diesel heater, diesel generator, deep cycle batteries, LCD movie projector, Stereo/DVD/CD/MP3/iPod, main engine direct powered 3000 gallon per minute bilge pump, RADAR "pinger" (makes us look bigger to cargo ships), Sauna (yes, a sauna), full wind instruments, satellite modem, satellite weather station, universal shore power inverters (europe,japan is 50hz, etc), autopilot, VHF, shortwave radio, cell service repeater, wifi, etc, etc, etc.

    If you read through our site you will note that we deliberately overbuilt the boat because the owner is the builder is the captain and any disaster onboard would kill his family. Stays and shrouds are each strong enough to hold up the entire 42 ton boat. Anything that could save lives was installed on the boat. As a consequence, the boat was 3000 pounds over the original design weight. Doesn't really matter because it's a cruiser not a racer. Righting arm would still right the boat at 178 degrees (almost upside down), while most modern fin keel boats won't right at 120 degrees.

    After years of being onboard we've realized that there needs to been a dedicated systems expert onboard at all times if you expect to have every piece of the systems up and running at all times.

    Not sure where you're building your Skerry, but we'd be happy to discuss your needs and right-sizing your equipment needs without overloading your day-to-day maintenance. (or today's budget) If you're in Portland Maine you could come by the yard and see the boat now for a full tour and more discussion.

    207-774-1067 - Owner Phin is on site and wife Joanna is in the office answering phones.

  • Wrong boat (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 13, 2012 @04:41PM (#41327763)

    Forget worrying about electronics, you have chosen a boat that that is not suited to a circumnavigation.

    (Obligatory /. car analogy: I just bought a Toyota Prius. I am planning in driving the Pan American Highway from Alaska to Tierra del Fuego. How many pairs of socks should I bring?)

    A skerry cruiser has very fine ends and low freeboard. Long and narrow it works well for its intended purpose: fast daysailing between islands of the Baltic sea archipelagos. However, they are miserable, if not downright dangerous offshore. The low freeboard will make for a very wet boat. The fine bow and stern lack sufficient reserve buoyancy (lack volume) for big seas. Instead of lifting to a steep wave and riding over the crest, you will pow through taking lots of green water over the bow going upwind, and take boarding seas over the stern and into the cockpit when running downwind in big seas.

    I suggest reading "Heavy Weather Sailing" by K. Adlard Coles. A must read for offshore sailors. It's not a lake out there.

    Disclaimer: I have not sailed around the world. However I have made several ocean crossings and sailed several tens of thousands of mile offshore and in all kinds of weather.

  • Re:Firearms (Score:5, Informative)

    by heypete ( 60671 ) <pete@heypete.com> on Thursday September 13, 2012 @05:04PM (#41328135) Homepage

    "AR" generally means "a rifle based on the Armalite Rifle (e.g. AR-15, M-16, etc.) pattern", and not "Assault Rifle".

  • Re:Firearms (Score:3, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 13, 2012 @05:21PM (#41328331)

    Furthermore, the FAL, HK, etc. are not assault rifles - they are battle rifles. Assault rifles fire an intermediate cartridge, are lighter weight, and select fire. The 7.62x51 is a full bore powerhouse, not intermediate. Originals are/were select fire, but if you want that for your little excursion you'll need to wait until you are out of the US to aquire.

  • Re:A Sextant (Score:4, Informative)

    by mapsjanhere ( 1130359 ) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @05:24PM (#41328387)
    Actually, Columbus had to make due with a simple quadrant, the sextant not having been invented yet.
  • by BoRegardless ( 721219 ) on Thursday September 13, 2012 @05:26PM (#41328403)

    What would you install for a safe trip around the world? Electronics won't give you safe seafaring or your sanity. Can't count the number of times in good weather when one or more pieces of nav gear was MIA.

    Sextant and compass are fine but you need a couple mechanical chronometer watches at a minimum. Then comes the charting and math when you have to do the navigation by dead reckoning. The first time you take a lightning strike or a knockdown or rollover and all the electronics goes, the non-electronic equipment will be gold. Yup, I've heard the guarantees about "our grounding is guaranteed to work", but guarantees in the middle of the ocean are worthless. Radios in a water tight aluminum box with batteries as a backup. Typical abandon ship gear.

    Enough experienced sailors as crew to maintain a wide awake watch at all times. A container ship at 25 knots can be invisible now but on your beam in 20 minutes. The other thing which can sneak up, though it is rare is a nearly submerged but still floating metal cargo container that you can barely see. Some small yachts do disappear each year without a trace.

    Traveling without experienced sailors can be exhausting, all the way from "when are we going to get there" to people who become paranoid a week out on the way across the ocean, to those who don't want to share in the inevitable cleaning and fixing and night watches. Then some will just bail out after the first 6 week crossing and you have to "pick up" more crew, which has its own problems.

    Common sea sense enough from experience to think ahead and avoid sailing into a bind, whether pirates, political, weather, lee shore or a bad anchorage... That might include a professional skipper for the first third of the voyage...and a pile of cash. Accidents happen and parts and repairs are expensive.

    Anti-pirate gear? Best is a course to avoid those areas. Thieves in the night in major harbors is a different and all too common story. Slocum used the lowly thumb tacks on the deck near the rails to grab the attention of boarders in the middle of the night. Lots of stories are swapped amongst sailors in every port.

    No easy answer. Everyone is different in attitude and ability. Boy scout motto applies at all times.

  • Gadgets (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday September 13, 2012 @09:18PM (#41330649)

    Silicon waterproofing spray.
    DC currents and salt water vapour are an incredibly corrosive combination. There are several companies that provide water proofing application that will apply a thin layer of silicon over electronic components. I'd recommend this for all your electronics.

    From the sound of it, you have the paper based back ups covered (chart, sextant etc) which is good.

    Firearms (do they count as gadgets?) are tricky - international laws vary wildly, from meh, do what you like to serious jail time for undeclared firearms.

    You have two basic tactical options - standoff, large calibre rifle, and CQB, rapid fire pistol rounds. You better be well trained in either or both if you plan on taking fire arms. Shooting long range off a small platform in open waters is not trivial, and tricky to practise on a range - throw a container overboard and practise at sea is the best advice I have here, and you'll have to be careful with the optics.
    CQB (ie, let them board and then ambush) - well, assuming you don't have military training in room clearance, perhaps IPSC and related disciplines would help.
    Revolvers have a lot to recommend them - more reliable if you aren't going to constantly maintain it (although glock's have a good reputation in salt water environments, all semi-automatic pistols are more vulnerable to stoppages than a revolver). Something like a .357 will give you the option to use .38 as well.

    Satellite communications have come a loooong way in the past decade - there are now phased array antennas that are electronically steerable, as opposed to the gimbal mounted mechanical ones (that can be problematic). Prices for remote data access have dropped a fair bit, but I suspect you'll use it more for email/twitter/weather updates than downloading porn gifs... the prices haven't dropped that much!
    You can network it to a wifi router for convenience HOWEVER you have to be careful that automatically running software updates etc don't bankrupt you while you aren't looking - you'll want to switch it off when not in use. (that $2 you saved by getting the free version of the phone app may cost you $20 downloading ads via satellite!)

    Wifi in ports is a lot more prevalent these days, so that waterproof laptop should be pretty handy when you are in port.

    Get a phone that is quad band and usable with sims worldwide, and with a removable battery (sorry, that counts iphone out). Either buy pre-waterproofed ones, or get them waterproofed. If it's a smart phone, it'll tend to burn through battery quicker than a basic phone, but there is an awesome number of apps that are useful both to a sailor (including charts, gps, compass, star charts, travel warnings etc) and to general travellers (language, tourist recommendations, camera etc).
    You'll often find that locally bought sims are much cheaper than roaming - this is where dual sim phones are useful - the latest ones can operate the sims simultaneously (you effectively have two phones running at once).

    I've seen people tie an on board security system into their phone - very handy in some ports. It's pretty easy to rig up a motion detecting security system to that laptop - if it's got internet access, it can email your phone when it gets an alert.

    Rechargeable flashlights. Good waterproof ones. If you get LED based ones, get the single, large LED (3watts and higher) rather than the multiple small cheap LEDs. I've found the ones with focussing lenses more useful for both long and short range illumination.

    What are you using for power? I presume you have on board batteries, charged by alternator from the main motor... generally also solar and wind turbines are popular, but both are definitely areas where you don't want to skimp on quality, given the corrosive environment.

    That's all off the top of my head... :)

  • Re:Firearms (Score:5, Informative)

    by cbhacking ( 979169 ) <been_out_cruisin ... om ['hoo' in gap> on Friday September 14, 2012 @05:55AM (#41332713) Homepage Journal

    Personal history (3.5 years of blue-water cruising, 12K+ sea miles) suggests you're safer without one anyhow. The people we heard of getting shot were either the ones who pulled a gun on their boarders, or who had a guun on board when the boarders snuck on at night (the boarders found the gun, shot the owner, and left).

    "Pirates" in the usual sense aren't really the problem. The much bigger problem is people sneaking onto your boat while you're either away or asleep, and stealing things. They aren't always armed, but if they are, going for your own gun probably won't help, and if they aren't, they may find your gun before you can get to it.

    Incidentally, dinghies are the first to go; use a steel cable or chain and haul the dingy out of the water at night. Make sure the outboard is *very* well secured, as well; a strong and high-quality stainless steel padlock works well, but remember that a hacksaw can get through that too. Unlike pirates, which can generally be avoided just by having some caution rgarding what parts of the world you sail, boarders are more-or-less a risk everywhere; consider investing in a simple motion sensor alarm for the rougher areas.

    Oh, for anybody who is curious, my family's website: http://svocelot.com/ [svocelot.com] . Check out the section devoted to the boat gear in particular (for relevance to this Ask Slashdot).

Mr. Cole's Axiom: The sum of the intelligence on the planet is a constant; the population is growing.