the boat electronics



Communications:

We have a VHF (short distance) radio on board, as well as an ICOM M-710 SSB (Single Side Band) long distance high frequency radio. We mostly use the VHF for talking to other cruisers, tuning in to the various "cruiser nets" we come across, and hailing other ships, marinas, or services who monitor their VHF. We use the SSB radio to listen to cruiser nets and picking up weatherfax broadcasts. We have the means to send/receive emails through our SSB too, but use our satellite phone instead.



We use our Iridium satellite phone for email and for receiving weather forecasts. Our service provider, UUplus, has been great so far allowing us to use the data phone connection for about a buck a minute. FYI, we can usually send and receive all emails (text message only) each day we use it, including weather information requested, in 1-3 minutes, anywhere in the world. In addition if we ever need to place or receive a call, especially emergencies, we have the option.





Instruments:

Dreamkeeper has some new electronics on board. One year ago, in Palau, Micronesia (February 2009), we upgraded our Raymarine instruments to the new ST60's. We also upgraded our autopilot to the SPX-30 "brain", a ST6002 control head, and a wirless remote control. All of these are linked in together through Seatalk wiring.

But the best electronics we have recently introduced (in Phuket, Thailand: November 2009) to DK, are 2 new C90wide Chartplotters, a new 48 KW Digital Radome radar scanner, and the new Raymarine AIS 500 send/receive unit. Wow, is all we can say.

*Raymarine C90Wide chartplotters have been excellent so far. We love the size of the screen, the ease of control, and the integration of the AIS system. We have one unit mounted in the navstation and one unit at the helm in a new Navpod we installed in Thailand. Because we are sailing in many different parts of the world we opted to get one of these units with the U.S. charts and one with the "ROW" (Rest of World) charts integrated. You can choose which one you want if you are buying new. The units are linked together so we now have the integrated "basic" charts for most of the world on the units already. In additon, they use Navionics chart cards.

*Digital Radome radar scanner: I would say not too much different then our old analog scanner, except a bit more precise and more clear to read. The deal is if you want a new C90wide plotter you have to have a digital scanner, otherwise we would have just kept our old analog one.

*Raymarine AIS 500: This is an amazing unit! Now that we have one it would be difficult to go back and travel without.
For those of you who don't know, AIS (Automatic Identification System) is a vessel- tracking system capable of communicating navigation information automatically between AIS-equipped vessels and coastal authorities. In a very general sense, the AIS system is similar to the air traffic control system, only applied to marine traffic. This mandatory regulation requires all vessels over 300 tons on an international voyage and all domestic vessels over 500 tons to have an AIS transponder installed. Passenger ships irrespective of size are also required to carry an AIS transponder. Local authorities may have additional requirements subject to the areaís traffic. Ships are aware of each otherís position and harbor control can use AIS to increase transportation efficiency and safety by identifying, tracking and supervising the movement of these large vessels as they head into harbor, or navigate along inland waterways or dangerous coastlines.

What this means for small sailing boats like ourselves that have these particular units is that we can pick up any ship that has a "sending AIS" unit within our VHF antenna range, which on the open sea is around 24 miles or so. Basically all the big cargo, tanker, and passenger ships we pick up on our AIS unit. This information is displayed on our C90wide chartplotters where we can see many details about the target including: name of ship, destination, call sign, speed over ground, course over ground, size, length, etc. We can then "track" these ships on our plotter and radar and figure out how close these ships will come to us and if any of them are on a collision course. Sound amazing? It is!

AIS case example: We just came around the tip of Sri Lanka on our route from the Andaman Islands to the Maldives. We encountered the shipping lanes around 25 miles out and it was SO busy, it seemed like we were back in Singapore. But....with the AIS unit, we were able to clearly ascertain where the exact "lanes" were and where we could safely steer DK just north of the busy westward-bound traffic lane all the way through the traffic separation area and onward. Then, on the other side of Sri Lanka the lanes end and ships all take off in various directions for their destinations. For the next two days we would often have between 4-15 ships on the AIS and many of them coming within a couple of miles of us. We felt totally safe because not only could we determine how close they would get to us and if we needed to change course way ahead of time, but our AIS unit also "Sends" so the big ships will pick us up on their units as well. This is newer technology, but I'm sure soon all the AIS units soon will be send/receive. We clearly witnessed many ships change course FOR US because we are now showing up on their units. And another great part of the AIS "send" option is you can turn it off if you want to as well. For example, I am writing this in the Maldive Islands and we are getting ready to make a passage to Oman through potential Somalia pirate waters and we will make our send unit on the AIS "silent" when we go. No sending our info out, but we will still be able to receive the big ships AIS info, that is, if they haven't turned theirs off as well, which we have heard sometimes they do out in these parts. :)

Navigation:

We carry paper charts for all the areas we will be traveling. We have found that we really like the paper chart "portfolio's" for certain parts of the world you can get through Bellingham Chart Printers, who are based in Firday Harbor, Washington State. We get the 2/3 size, black/white, portfolios, and we think they are great and a good price.

We use our electronic chart-plotters to view electronic charts right at the helm, which really makes things easier and much safer, especially at night coming into new places. For example, we can "split the view" of the plotter screen to show a navigational chart in detail on one side, and have the radar screen up on the other side simultaneously looking at our route and potential obstacles. This, of course, does not take the place of our eyes and our senses which we believe are always more important then any electronic gadget out there!

When we plan our passages we often look at both the paper charts and the electronic charts to plot our course. Then we come up with "waypoints" that lay a course for our intended route. We input the waypoints into the plotter and double check them on paper to make sure they are correct. This way everything is redundant and allows us to have good piece of mind in case our electronics were to go out by a lightening strike or "Uncle Sam" turning off the GPS system while we're in the middle of the ocean.

While underway we keep a "running log" in our logbook with info like gps coordinates, wind, barometer reading, speed, etc. We try to do this about every hour or two, most importantly at night, as one of us is sleeping and a running record of the journey could be super important. It's also important so we can track the weather with wind info and barometer readings over time to monitor for pressure increases or sudden drops.

If all else fails, we can use our Astra III-B sextant. I took an 8-week course in celestial navigation and passed the U.S. Sailing certification test in the art. However, it's a skill you need to practice and use, so one of my goals through the south pacific is to take sun and star sights often, keeping the skills sharp. I'm also going to try to teach Nicole the best i can. Knowing how much she loves math, it will certainly be a lesson in patience. :)