Selecting Gear for the Boat

When you rig your own boat, you have the luxury of picking out the equipment you want, not what the dealer or manufacturer thinks you need. This post discusses some aspects of selecting gear 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 launchwhat 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”?

  • 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.
West Marine
  • 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.
Our Standard Horizon VHF side mount

Our Standard Horizon VHF side-mount

When is “waterproof” really “waterproof”?

There are 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 indicators of water-resistance, but are not guarantees that something is waterproof. 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 overly-aggressive hose action at the end of the day, and you could wind up with water collecting 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, and let it drip dry. After our  fourth trip, the squelch knob was frozen.

We returned the radio and got a replacement, assuming the radio was defective. When the new radio started developing the same problem, we realized what was happening. We hit the knob 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 user interface can be important when selecting gear for the boat

Lowrance HDS7 Gen2

Hands-on experience can help you select equipment:

Do all the research you want. Read, listen, look. But no matter what you do, you’ll find that putting your hands on the equipment and trying things out will be the best way to determine if it’s the right thing to buy.

This is especially true for things that have a complex user interface. No amount of written text or video instructions can adequately describe how some things work.

This can work both for and against a product. For example, I was never a big fan of real-time sonar displays until I started using the A-scope feature on a Furuno LS-6100 sonar unit. Now I keep A-scope (or its equivalent) on all the time, and would not buy a sonar without this feature.

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!

E-TEC service

Customer service needs to be considered when selecting equipment

Can I help you? Or how customer service can help you select gear:

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 manufacturer’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 this: It has to be something really special for me to buy it, if the manufacturer has lousy customer service.

Selecting the right gear can mean less downtime for repairs

EPIRBs require regular maintenance.
How long will it take to get it back?

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 easily reached and/or removed when they break.

BUT don’t forget – another major irritation is the time it takes 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. 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