Another Boating Equipment Update

We like to take some time at the end of a cruise or during a pause in a cruise to report on the equipment we have installed in preparation for traveling the waterways. If you have followed our blog for any length of time, you know we post each installation, upgrade and repair we do to Beach House in hopes that other boaters will find the information useful. These Project Posts are the most read and most popular on the Blog, so it only makes sense to let you know how things are holding up, what works and what was an absolute failure. Finding quality equipment and parts for a boat is getting more and more difficult as manufacturers look for ways to cut costs, and as a result, the quality declines. It's also the trend to add more and more bells and whistles to everything, and to use the latest and greatest in technology to justify the increasingly higher costs for equipment. This makes many of our electronics more difficult to understand and also adds to the possibility of failure as new features are added. We're still of the KISS mind set (keep it simple, stupid), but we also appreciate advancements that actually serve a purpose and make our boating experience safer and more enjoyable. So let's do an update of our equipment.

The Generator is probably the most used piece of equipment we have installed. It now has over 1,000 hours on the meter and overall has served us well. The Next Gen 3.5 KW is a perfect size for our boat and needs. It will run all of the equipment on the boat without straining, including our 16,000 BTU air-conditioner. We did trip the internal breaker once with the air-conditioner, microwave and hot water heater all on at the same time. There were a couple of issues that gave us problems, but those were corrected easily. The raw water hose that connects to the intake side of the water pump collapsed. The short piece of hose was made of a very soft material and it couldn't hold up to the suction. We replaced that with a good quality Trident hose and have had no problems since. Totally unrelated, the raw water pump impeller self-destructed for no apparent reason. That, too, was replaced and has been fine since. The raw water pump also began weeping and we replaced that rather than have the pump rebuilt. It had only been in about 6 months and was a bronze Johnson pump, so we were surprised it was beginning to fail. Next Gen did not cover it under warranty and that was a little upsetting to us. A fuel line also developed a leak. It was determined that the line was made of a very poor quality material and the tight hose clamp cause it to leak. It is an odd shape to be able to connect to the fuel pump, and we didn't want to use the same line from the manufacturer and have this happen again. So instead of the pre-shaped piece of line, we use a longer section of diesel fuel line and looped it just enough so it wasn't kinked. No leak since then. Other than these few problems, the unit has worked hard and provided us with all the power we need.


The Garmin autopilot is our favorite crew member. Our GHP 10 steers the boat much better that we can and does a fine job in almost any conditions. Making crossings in the Bahamas and in the Gulf Stream in large, following seas were the real tests, and the Garmin passed with flying colors. The power draw is small and the response is excellent. Even in long, straight stretches of waterway canals, the autopilot does all the steering with only the occasional adjustment. Having the wireless remote at the lower helm instead of a second control head also proved to work well. Since the lower helm is only used in bad weather, the remote doesn't get used very often. When it does get used, everything works as advertised. The crew has been very pleased with this decision.


The Alltech Amec AIS has been a major disappointment. Not that it doesn't work, but the reception and transmission capabilities have been limited to a few miles when we should be able to pick up AIS signals from other vessels at least 5 to 10 miles away. In the past, we have always had good success with anything we have purchased from Milltech Marine. They did take the unit and the antenna splitter back and to service it once. We were assured that the antenna splitter and the AIS unit were matched and should work well together, and they have not. We suspect the problem is in the antenna splitter and are currently working on adding a second antenna and removing the splitter. But we have bought and paid for something that just does not work. Also to our surprise, Milltech Marine no longer sells this antenna splitter. I can't imagine why. It would have been nice if they had told us they were having problems with these rather than, "we have never had a problem with one of these before." Time will tell if the AIS transponder is also just of poor quality. We'll post on that later after we head south and have time to test it.


Our electronics are getting older and many of them are legacy models. But they all work great and we can't justify replacing things just because there is something newer out there. Our RL 70, Raytheon radar is over 30 years old. After a repair to a connector, it has served us well. We have had this unit on both of our boats. The unit on Beach House was here when we bought her. Many skippers have discussed at length the need for radar at all.We don't use it often, but when we do, we need it. Most of the time the radar is used to track approaching weather. It's easy to tell if an approaching squall or weather front will hit us and gives us enough warning to prepare the boat and crew. It can even help determine if we can find a sheltered spot to get the anchor down, or if we need to just batten down the hatches. The boat's radar has come in handy a few times in foggy conditions. Usually the boat stays put if there is fog, but occasionally the fog will lift, we get underway and the fog returns. It happens. Our elderly Raymarine depth sounder is also still doing an outstanding job of telling us that we have run aground. There have been a few occasions when the depths began to display all over the place, but those were probably anomalies rather than failure of the equipment. Our Standard Horizon VHF has been back to the manufacturer once for repairs. Other than one problem, it has worked just fine. During the repair process, we relied on our backup handheld and a loaner VHF from a friend. Our CP 300 Standard Horizon Chartplotter has helped with the navigation for thousands of miles without a complaint. It may not have a touch screen or all of the capabilities of the newer, more expensive units, but it gets us where we need to go as safely as any of those units that cost two or three times as much.


The WiFi equipment that we built and installed years ago is still doing just fine, thank you, is in use almost every day and pretty much stays on 24 hours a day. The original Bullet extender still pulls in access points that are miles away. We are finding fewer and fewer open WiFi access points as in earlier years, but there are still some out there. In the marinas, when everyone else needs to go to the office or clubhouse to use their computers to get online, Beach House has internet access from the main salon. Because we do need to run our business online, we have added a Verizon MiFi to our wireless arsenal to fill in for those times when an open WiFi or marina WiFi is not available. This combination works well and keeps us connected all of the time. There is a post in the planning stages to bring our boating WiFi information up-to-date. For the most part, nothing has changed and all is well.


Our entertainment systems include DirecTV satellite, Sirius/XM satellite radio, our Clarion Stereo with 6 disc CD changer and our DVD Player. The DirecTV dish is mounted on a Track-It system to keep the dish pointed in the right direction as the boat moves. The Track-It is only two-dimensional and will only keep the dish pointed in the right direction. If the boat is way out of trim, as it is while underway, it will not work. But sitting at anchor and swinging in the wind, the signal is locked in fine. Even in 20-knot plus conditions, we still have a signal. It does need the azimuth adjusted manually about every hundred miles we move north or south. We have had the Track-It on both our boats for well over 15 years and have never felt the need for expensive (read thousands of dollars worth), fancy satellite tracking equipment. The satellite radio has been a treat, especially on those long days underway. Margaritaville is our favorite, of course. Running the river system in Alabama has been challenging to find broadcasts of any kind, and the satellite system has been a joy. The Clarion stereo is a very nice unit, but the 6 disc CD changer has given us problems almost since day one. It's one of those intermittent things that if sent in for repair, you get a call that says "we can't find anything wrong." Since the satellite radio was installed, the CD changer is seldom used, so it isn't a big issue. The LCD Toshiba flat screen TV began acting strangely, so it was replaced with another Toshiba LED TV. After 5 years in the elements, the Clarion speakers in the flybridge disintegrated, even though they still worked. They were replaced with Fusion outdoor speakers which have a nice sound. They are an improvement over the Clarions.


Our Ford Lehman 120 engine is a real workhorse. Maintenance is a priority, and oil and filter changes are about the only regular maintenance items. There have been a few replacement items. Early on, all of the heat exchangers for the oil and transmission were replaced, just in case. The main heat exchanger was cleaned, but eventually started to leak. The problem presented itself when the fresh water side of the engine began to manufacture more water that it held. The replacement was easy, but not inexpensive. If you follow our posts, you know that the front main oil seal started leaking and it took two tries to get it repaired. So far all is well. The repair isn't difficult, but you need the right equipment to do the work, and re-installing the new seal must be done just right. The valve cover gasket had developed a few slight leaks and that was also replaced. The Racor 500 housing was another replacement. Not because anything was wrong with it, but rather the metal had starting rusting in several places.


The most expensive and frustrating issue we had to deal with was the Paragon transmission. We had it serviced prior to beginning our cruise two years ago by an outfit in Ft. Lauderdale. We began to notice problems with it about 6 months later while in the Bahamas. We nursed it back to the U.S. and up to Fernandina Beach where it became an immediate issue. The good folks at Tiger Point Marina removed it for us and sent us to Cass Transmissions in Jacksonville. They serviced the unit and indicated that it had been improperly put back together during the servicing, which caused it to begin to fail. It was frightening to not be able to get it out of reverse. Cass knows these transmissions well and we highly recommend them.


The electrical system was not immune from wear and tear. The batteries all required replacing at about the 6-year mark. Not all of them HAD to be replaced, but our thinking was, if some needed to be replaced now, the others were probably not far behind. The start battery just mysteriously died unexpectedly while we were in Baltimore last summer. The house bank was showing signs of losing its charge faster than normal during our Chesapeake bay cruise. The 6-volt Interstate batteries that have served us well in both of our boats were very difficult to locate. The decision was made to replace them with Duracell 6-volt batteries, and the best price available was from Sam's Club. All of the new electrical panels are holding up fine. During the installation of the generator, new transfer switches had to be added for the two electrical panels. The main panel is fed off of shore power, the generator and the inverter. The second smaller panel is just for the air-conditioner and is only fed from shore power and the generator. Sitting in a slip for a couple of months, we have been on shore power only. One morning recently, the air-conditioner panel was showing a reverse polarity fault and only 9 volts on the display. After disconnecting the power from the dock and opening up the electrical area for inspection, it was found the that transfer switch was badly burned. It would not turn to disconnect or switch between sources. Any find like this is very disturbing and trying to determine the cause was priority. Unfortunately, we could not track down how or why this happened. A new switch was ordered and installed and all is working fine with no signs of heating. This is something we will be keeping a close eye on in the future. There were some electrical issues with the dock at the marina on the St. Johns River where we spent this past winter. The owners corrected the problem, but it may have ultimately caused the switch to fail over time.


The anchor windlass died on us while we were in the Bahamas last year. It was repaired in Marsh Harbor and worked fine until reaching Virgina on the return trip up the ICW to the Chesapeake Bay. Rather than repair it again and have it fail once more, we purchased a new Maxwell windlass to replace the old one. The Maxwell is much more robust and has a lot more oomph to raise the anchor and chain. It will run the anchor rode out where the previous windlass would only do free-fall when dropped. The Maxwell will do both. Maxwell is well-known for their quality, and the price was the best we could find for anything in the same size range. The switch was easy, since the Maxwell footprint was about the same as the old windlass. We could also use the same foot switches and solenoid, making the replacement about a 30-minute project. It's been doing a fine job of making anchoring easier, hundreds of times since the replacement. The Maxwell retrieves the anchor rode at about twice the speed of the older unit.


The Livingston dinghy and all of the accessories we have installed have served us well and met all of our expectations. Running up on a beach covered with shells or landing on a rocky shore is no longer a worry as it was with an inflatable. If there is a downside, it's the dinghy bumping against the hull or swim platform while in the water. With an inflatable, we never heard it. The Livingston lets us know it's there. The Weaver Davits on the swim platform and the addition of the electric winch on the mast make launching and retrieving the dinghy a breeze. It only takes a few minutes and is effortless. Either of us can launch or retrieve single-handed with the push of a button. Our lift for the outboard has been another improvement that is appreciated over and over. Our vintage 6 HP Johnson is not a light hunk of steel, but getting it off the bracket mounted to the stern, on to the dinghy and back off again is no longer a bodybuilding exercise. It makes a big difference if there happens to be a little chop in the anchorage. The lift came in very handy when we were replacing the batteries and needed to lift them from the dinghy to the deck.


Although this list is not complete, it covers the highlights and most important installs and upgrades we have done so far. Our cruise will resume in October and we look forward to putting all of the gear through its paces once again. On a boat nothing lasts forever, but expectations are that things will last at least long enough that you feel like you did get your money's worth. Over the decades, we have watched as some of the best manufacturers have dropped from the scene or allowed the quality of their equipment to fall. There are a few that have maintained their reputation and those are the same manufacturers we have tried to stay with over the years. How about you? What equipment has held up well for you on your boat? We would like to hear from you.

For a complete list of our project posts, visit here.

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing all of your experiences. There is a wealth of knowledge contained on your blog!
    I don't have radar on my boat and have found that smart phone weather appsa re accurate enough to keep me apprised of current conditions. Won't do a thing for identifying targets in fog though!

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    1. Thank you Bill. As you probably know, a smart phone app won't work where there is no cell service so I always caution folks on depending on these apps rather than dedicated equipment. Radar is one of those subjects that generates a lot of discussion. Some will say you don't need while others say you should never leave the dock without it. I believe this is a matter of personal preference and comfort level. Chuck

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  2. What model Maxwell did you get to replace the Powerwinch? I have a Marine Trader 34 and considering a Maxwell HRC-FF 8.

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    1. Rob, The HRC-FF-8 is the unit we replaced the original windlass with. We've had a lot of opportunities to use it since it was installed and it has performed perfectly. We're very satisfied. Chuck

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  3. Chuck & Susan: Hope all is well....Chuck..to save time of diving down twice to replace the shaft zinc. Do you recall the exact size of the "donut" zine?

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    1. Randy, All is well here. Ours is simply for an 1 1/2" shaft. Get whichever fits your shaft size. You can measure from inside the hull. Have fun.

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