Channel Surfing

When I started sailing, 50 years ago, electronic gear was a rarity. In fact, a knotmeter was the only electronic device aboard the first boat I sailed on. Obviously, things have evolved a lot since then. An onboard TV was once the sole province of the wealthy, but now they’re becoming increasingly common, even on fairly small boats. Some cruisers hate the idea, while others can’t do without
Author:
Publish date:
Updated on

When I started sailing, 50 years ago, electronic gear was a rarity. In fact, a knotmeter was the only electronic device aboard the first boat I sailed on. Obviously, things have evolved a lot since then. An onboard TV was once the sole province of the wealthy, but now they’re becoming increasingly common, even on fairly small boats. Some cruisers hate the idea, while others can’t do without one.

TV options

The advent of the flat-screen TV has been a boon to those who want to have a set belowdeck. Today’s LED and plasma TVs are lightweight and compact; they can be easily installed with brackets on a bulkhead or another flat surface.

raymarine_e_120

The first consideration when choosing a set is where you will mount it, as this often dictates the most practical size. Second, consider what the TV will be used for; for example, you might connect it to a DVD player or use it as a belowdeck repeater for your chartplotter. If you’re planning on the latter, make sure that the set you buy has the correct type of inputs, allowing connectivity.

Another choice is between LED and plasma. There are several reason why LED TVs are often chosen over plasma for onboard use. First, the viewing angle is wider, allowing visibility from a variety of seating options. Second, an LED screen has better visibility in daylight and thus will work more effectively as a repeater. Third, LEDs use less power than plasma. On the other hand, plasma sets have better color rendition.

Electronics manufacturers are trying to get boatowners to stop referring to those screens at the nav station and the helm as “chartplotters.” The current term for a nav-station screen is “multi-function display” (MFD). Many of the newer MFDs can display cartographic information, radar, and depth, as well as TV signals from a compatible tuner. Raymarine’s E and G series both have video inputs, allowing you to watch TV on the MFD. This is convenient if the screen is properly positioned for viewing while relaxing belowdeck.

High-definition TV

You undoubtedly know that all TV broadcasts after February 17, 2009, will be in a digital format. This change is intended to free up air space; digital broadcast uses far less bandwidth than an analog signal, so frequencies currently being used for TV transmission can be reallocated to other uses. The bottom line is that if you’re planning to buy a new HDTV for your home and put your old analog set on your boat, it won’t work there either unless you have a converter box. It’s also unlikely to work as a repeater for your chartplotter.

Connection options

Marina-supplied cable Many marinas offer cable access at the shore-power receptacles at their docks. If you’re a marina user, this is a cheap alternative. Once it’s plugged in, your TV will operate just as it does in your house.

KVH_tracvision_m3
raymarine_37STV_45STV

Omnidirectional antennas A second—and still inexpensive—option is to connect the TV to an omnidirectional antenna. This saucer-shaped antenna is the maritime equivalent of the rabbit ears of old; it collects terrestrial signals and directs them to your TV set. Some people swear by omnidirectional antennas, but they can be frustrating to use because they pick up signals from all directions; weak signals will produce either a poor-quality picture or none at all. These antennas are also susceptible to movement, so you may have no luck while you’re under way or even at anchor. Omnidirectional antennas come in various sizes, and this is an example of bigger being better. These antennas should be mounted away from sources of interference and as high as possible; they are often mounted on a bracket at the top of the mast.

A 14-inch omnidirectional antenna weighs less than 5 pounds, so weight isn’t really an issue for most cruising sailors. The downside to having the antenna at the top of the mast is that the coax cable to the set is long and may pick up inductive interference from light, data, and other cables that are routed close by inside the mast. If you’re going to mount an omnidirectional antenna at the top of your mast, make sure that the various cables are kept as far from the antenna’s coax cable as possible.

Satellite dish A satellite dish connected to a receiver/tuner, in turn connected to the TV set, is the best (and most expensive) option for cruising boats. The heart of the system is the satellite dish, which is contained inside a plastic dome. Satellite domes start at about 14 inches in diameter and cost around $5,000; they go up from there in both size and price. In general, the larger, more-expensive dishes collect signals from greater distances, have a higher gain or amplification, and are less likely to suffer from interference. The smaller domes can be comfortably installed on a pole or atop an arch at the back of the boat. Note: It’s important to mount them in a spot that’s clear of the boat’s radar-scanner beam.

Unlike analog signals, which are free to anyone who can pick them up, digital signals are sent via a service provider and require a subscription, which adds to the cost and complication. Because of this, you’ll also need an Image Signal Decoder (IRD), the black box that unscrambles the signals sent by your service provider.

Related

Meridian-X-Spin_2

MOB: A Whistle in the Wind

Mark Wheeler went overboard a few minutes before midnight. He was in the middle of Lake Michigan, 30 miles offshore in 40 knots of wind. As he fumbled for the lanyard to inflate his lifejacket he watched his racing sailboat, Meridian X, disappear into the night at more than 18 ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com Slapper stopper  When I came on deck at 0800 to hoist my colors on a visitors’ mooring recently, there was an awkward slop running in. This doesn’t trouble my Mason 44, which has a traditional counter ...read more

Tilly-1

Gear: Tilley Polaris Hat

A True Blue Tilley Sailing is all about fun in the sun, but it sometimes doesn’t take long to get too much of a good thing, especially when on a prolonged cruise or offshore passage. Enter the Tilley Polaris, the latest lid developed by iconic Canadian hat-maker Tilley. ...read more

Sand-TOWEL_MODEL-3

CGear Sand-Free Beach Towel

Sand Be Gone! The summer is hot and full of terrors—not the least of which is the sand that sticks in your beach towel in the hopes of a free ride back to your car or boat. Fortunately, there's now the CGear Sand-Free Beach Towel, engineered in polyester to not only dry quickly ...read more

01-Blowup-Tiwal2_sailing-(3)

Gear: Tiwal Inflatable Sailing Dinghy

Blow-up Boating A few years ago, the French company Tiwal arrived on U.S. shores with that most improbable of products, an inflatable sailing dinghy that actually sails the way a boat is supposed to. Now, nearly 1,000 Tiwal 3’s later, the company is back with its Tiwal 2, an ...read more

Koozy

Gear: 22 Below Koozie

Killer Koozie For all that sailors love the warmth of this time of year, that same warmth can also wreak havoc on their otherwise icy-cold beers. (Unless, of course, you drink them very, very fast. But we won’t go there.) To help deal with this terrible hardship, North ...read more

Cool-Specs

Gear: Gill's Race Fusion Sunglasses

Wicked Cool Specs Is there anything in the world of sailing more fun than a cool pair of shades? Heck, no! And it would hard to find a cooler pair than these new Race Fusion specs from longtime weather-gear manufacture Gill. In addition to looking great, they include a number of ...read more

North_new

Gear: North Sails Waterproof Pack

A few years ago, North Sails made a big push into the apparel business with all kinds of sharp-looking button-down shirts, shorts and fleeces. That doesn’t mean, though, that the North Sails Collection isn’t still plenty practical, as is evident in its new roll-over waterproof ...read more