Friday, December 20, 2013

Electronics upgrade and Seatalk Ng backbone connection

When we first bought Catchin' Rays, we had hopes that we'd be able to use some, if not all, of the electronics.  Although we were able to power up the radar and chartplotter displays, the GPS would not fix on a signal, the radar wouldn't engage, and the displays looked like the old dot-matrix printers....but those were just hopes....

Some of the struggles with the decision on whether or not to upgrade was that new equipment is really not that expensive but at the same time you hate to waste money if the existing electronics still work.  But the further I inspected the original displays and transducers, the more the reality of doing an electronics upgrade became evident. The goal now was to try and salvage the Autohelm ST6000 autopilot and integrate it with the new system.

The new Raymarine i50 and i60 displays

The first decision to make is choosing a chartplotter/radar since the entire system will be based around this key component.  With so many choices, it quickly becomes overwhelming when balancing features and cost.  Do I go with touch screen, blue-tooth, or wi-fi; Furuno, Garmin, or Raymarine?  Then, mounting location comes into the equation; do I mount the chartplotter at the helm, or at the nav station or try and integrate a separte display, Ipad, or Iphone?  And in the end, the choice obviously came down to getting the most options for the best price.  The Raymarine equipment would allow me to stay within the same family as my existing autopilot but I have no idea which one to go with. There are used, older, non-touch screen versions that are competitively priced - but really didn't want to go with a non touch-screen display....especially when my wife says, "oh yeah, you gotta go with touch-screen."  In the end, the E90W represented the best option; it was in my price range and had a 9" touch-screen display; and while it doesn't have blue-tooth or wifi, it had everything else on my "want" list without spending over $2000.  I bought it directly from Raymarine's closeout website for an even $1000.

The radar purchase was a much more impulsive decision we made while on the boat and we paid more than we should have because I disregarded my normal process of research prior to the purchase.  I went with the Raymarine HD Color 18" Radome 4kw from  NovaTechElectroics on Ebay for $1685 and purchased a 50' cable for an extra $285.  It lists for much less on but I didn't find that site until after the and learn.

Soon after that, I figured that if I'm going to buy a new chartplotter and radar, I might as well upgrade the helm displays especially since we have already determined that the wind vane and its' transducer were not functioning and are going to have to be replaced anyway.  And after pricing just the wind vane itself, choosing a bundle package that includes all three displays was a more cost-effective way to go. The Raymarine i50 depth and speed were chosen in conjunction with the i60 wind vane in a nice pre-packaged price.  They seem to represent decent, entry-level displays that complement my chartplotter and the whole package deal came with all 3 transducers, displays, and wiring for just under $1400 from

Next I had to figure out how everything "talks" to everything else.  How does the chartplotter know the depth, or which way the wind is blowing when their signals go to the helm and don't connect directly to the E90W.  And while there is no way of learning everything needed to know in such a short time, the best I can do right now is to keep it as simple as possible and hook everything up through Raymarine's Ng backbone.  I'd even be able to attach the older Autohelm ST6000 autopilot through the backbone through a special yellow least that's what everything I keep reading says.  

So I drew it all out on a piece of paper and told my son to take it to West Marine and let them tell us how to hook everything up.  I wasn't sure of the connectors I needed or when to use "T's" or the 5 input connectors, and how would I actually run the yellow cable to the old Seatalk1 devices?  But the guys at West Marine weren't very helpful - so I had to read up on all of that too.  After a half day of reading,  I had figured out the basics of running an Ng backbone and had a temporary list of all the different pieces I needed.  But we still had to wait until everything was in place before I could get a final list of items, especially since a single 15" cable can be as high as $24.99.   The entire backbone was also purchased from for around $350.  

As stated in a previous post, we mounted the E90W at the nav station and placed the ST6000 next to it so adjustments can immediately be seen on the chartplotter.  Justin and Brandon wired and powered the whole system and everything "talks" with everything else.  The new depth transducer even displays accurate information to the older Autohelm Multi-display that we kept in place above the TV at the nav station.  And the interesting part of the whole power-up was that the autopilot actually has an odometer of some sorts - it shows over 24,000 nautical miles.

The E90W and ST6000 at the messy nav-station

The carefully drilled holes for the i60/i50's

The back of the panel with the new Ng wiring

The Seatalk1 to Ng backbone transition

Seatalk1 to Ng - final shrink-wrapped product

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