Selecting Gear for the Boat

When you rig your own boat, you have the opportunity to pick out the equipment you want, not what the dealer or manufacturer things you need. This post discusses some aspects of selecting equipment that you may not have thought about.

It is part III in a  series regarding boat riggingPart I discussed what we decided to add to Toy Boat 2. Part II covered “The 10 Laws of Boat Rigging”. Our next (and last) post in this series will give some examples of “Going with the Flow” rigging, and some useful tips. We’ve also got posts planned showing Toy Boat 2 at first launch, what went wrong (or didn’t go quite the way we expected) and how we fixed the problem, what TB2 looks like now, and what we’d like to do in the future.

Finding Information

When we needed to find information on gear, we ran into the same issue as we did when trying to find information on boats: “Who do you trust”?Selecting gear - West Marine Advisors can be a real help

  • As a source of basic information on all sorts of equipment, in a very concise form, we think the West Marine Advisors, both in their catalog and on their website, can’t be beat. They don’t push any particular products – they cover the basic technology and identify the important features to look for on a number of topics.
  • For actual product tests and comparisons, we found that a now-defunct periodical called “Powerboat Reports” was the most useful reading around. It had objective “real world” tests, fair market pricing comparisons, and technically accurate data. It is gone now, perhaps a victim of it’s refusal to bend to commercial pressures. The majority of tests in the mainline media have good information, but it’s often difficult to extract enough information to do a true “apples-to-apples” comparison between options. And the reviews are almost universally 100% positive.
  • Our “Useful Websites” list also has some of the Internet forums that we found to have knowledgeable people willing to share their experience. It pays to “lurk” for a while before posting a question, if for no other reason than to get a feel for whose answers are going to be unbiased and based on
    objective experience, rather than opinion and hearsay.

When is “Waterproof” Really “Waterproof”?

Selecting gear - Standard Horizon VHF is JIS-7 compliant, but can still have issues

There are at least two commonly-accepted “waterproofness” standards for marine electronics: JIS grade 7 and CFR 46, Subpart 110.20.

The JIS-7 standard calls for a device to be operable after being submerged to a depth of 1 meter, for 30 minutes, while the CFR 46, Subpart 110.20 standard calls for the device to withstand a 65 gallon per minute stream of water from a one inch nozzle, from all directions, for five minutes, without leaking.

These certifications are reasonable indicators of water resistance, but are not guarantees of waterproofness. Keep in mind that you may wind up accidentally exposing your devices to water for much longer periods of time when water conditions are bad, or it’s raining, or even if you get careless washing the boat.

For example, suppose you install a piece of electronics so that moisture can collect behind knobs, on connectors, or on case seams. A bad-weather day on the water, or a little aggressive hose action at the end of the day, and you could still wind up with some problems, as the water sits collected against a seal for hours or even days.

We actually had this happen to our VHF radio. It is JIS-7 certified, so we naively thought we could hose it off at the end of the day (as part of the boat cleaning process), and let it drip dry. After the third or fourth trip, the squelch knob was frozen. We returned the radio and got a replacement, assuming the radio was defective. When the squelch knob started getting sticky on the second radio, we finally realized what was happening. We hit it with some Corrosion Block® to free things up, and now make sure we have a cloth covering the radio when washing down the boat.

The Hands-On Experience

Selecting gear - Lowrance HDS 7 Do all the research you want. Read, listen, look. No matter what you do, you’ll find that putting your hands on the equipment and trying it out to be the best way to determine if it’s the right thing to buy.

This is especially true for things that have a fairly complex user interface. No amount of written text or even video can adequately describe how some things work. For example, I was never a big fan of real-time sonar displays until I started using the A-scope feature on our Furuno LS-6100. Now I keep A-scope (or its equivalent) on all the time, and would not buy a sonar without this feature.

So if possible, see if you can find someone with the same equipment and give it a try on the water. Go to stores that have live units on display, and try running the simulator programs. You won’t be sorry!

Can I Help You?

If you’re considering a piece of equipment that is fairly complex or expensive, and don’t know the manufacturer that well, try this:

  • Download a user manual for the device from the manufacturer’s website
  • Read the manual. Write down one questions about the item
  • Call the manufactuer’s tech support line, and ask your question. Explain that you are considering buying the item, and just have this one question…Then gauge their response, especially their attitude… You might be pleasantly (or unpleasantly) surprised. My philosophy is: it has to be something really special for me to buy something that has lousy customer service.

Minimizing Downtime

Whatever you buy, remember the 7th Law, and plan on it breaking. One aspect of this planning is to install things so that they can be e asily reached and/or removed when they break.
BUT – don’t forget that another major irritation is the time it will take to have the item repaired or replaced. Some manufacturers prefer to simply replace a defective unit, rather than try to fix it. Others will fix it, but you have to return it to the factory. Still others have repair depots or partners that you have to send the broken unit to.

Which approach is best for you? There is no stock answer. We think it depends on your personal situation (location of the repair depot or manufacturer, your level of patience). But don’t assume that a local repair depot will be faster than mailing it to the manufacturer. Sometimes the repair depot will not have the parts, or will be so backed up with work that it will take weeks to get your item fixed.

Bottom line: if you are trying to decide between two or three items and can’t make a choice based on technical features, check out the manufacturer’s Tech Support line, and their repair policies. That may make the difference!


Next up: Examples of “Going with the flow” and some useful tips