Know How: Sailing Instruments

Author:
Publish date:
11886-Hallberg-Rassy-44-GSP

So you’ve finally decided to splash out on new sailing instruments, and all that remains is the how and where of installing them. That is not necessarily as simple as it seems. There is a number of things to be taken into account.

16584-Tofinou_10c-GSP

ON THE BULKHEAD

The best place for speed, depth and wind displays is where the entire crew can see them. In many older boats—my own included—the builders (and, later, owners who retrofitted instruments) saw fit to place the displays where it was most convenient for them to do so. This was (and is) usually where they could be installed with the minimum of fuss and extra work. Hence the vast number of boats with speed/depth and often wind displays on the cockpit bulkhead, right where lounging crew tends to block them. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve had to ask someone to move so I can see the depth display. Since lines are often led aft to winches on either side of the hatchway, maneuvers like reefing and trimming are also often carried out in this area. It’s not unknown for a careless knee to shatter a display.

It may seem logical to mount your new displays right where the previous ones were—after all, you can often make use of existing cut-outs, especially if the new instruments slot right in—but it may be even more logical to seize the opportunity to install them in a better location. But where?

AT OR NEAR THE BINNACLE

As boat designers and builders began to take instrument location into consideration, so the aftermarket industry followed with a number of new options for displays. One of the most popular was—and remains so—at the helm station. Steering-gear makers produce good-looking and well-finished pedestals that can accommodate several flush-mounted displays, and several companies make attractive instrument housings that can be attached to pedestal guards.

The binnacle is also the logical place to mount a chartplotter or multifunction display; these belong above deck, not down below, and the helmsman needs easy access to its plotting functions.

With the instrument readouts concentrated in one place, the helmsman’s view of them can never be blocked. However, no one else can see the displays, nor can the driver should he or she want to leave the helm while the autopilot steers—which, when you are passagemaking, is most of the time. For this reason alone, many sailors do not want instruments that can’t be seen or accessed except by someone standing behind the helm. The exception is the autopilot control which needs to be by the wheel.

The same goes for an MFD, though these admittedly are harder to find a home for. How many times have you seen a plotter perched so high on a pedestal guard that the helmsperson has to look around or over it? Having such a large display so close can be distracting and annoying. If you can’t flush-mount the MFD in the pedestal, the answer is to mount it in a swiveling pod affixed to the pedestal or pedestal guard. On smaller tiller-steered boats or older designs where the wheel is well forward in the cockpit, a swing-out mount inside the companionway may be the way to go.

Most modern production boats now have twin wheels, which, combined with the efforts of stylists looking for clean, unbroken lines at the expense of functionality, results in some inventive and often odd instrument locations. You’ll often see MFDs and compasses mounted in the aft face of a cockpit table, where the helmsman sometimes has to crouch to see them. They may also be bolted to the top of a table, where they are in the way but easier to see or, on bigger, more expensive boats, at each steering pedestal.

Sometimes instruments are doubled up with displays at either wheel or tucked away wherever the builder can find a place for them—often recessed into the cockpit coamings at the helm stations. On some boats, there are no sailing instrument displays at all—the MFD serves that purpose.

ABOVE THE COMPANIONWAY

The best place for speed, depth and wind displays is where the entire crew can see them at almost any time, and that location is above the companionway. The displays are out of the crew’s way and in the helmsman’s line of sight without being intrusive. A great number of boats were built with provision for cabintop mounting, which makes retrofitting a no-brainer. If not, you can buy instrument pods that will span the companionway and provide a professional-looking installation. Assuming it is not too difficult to run transducer cables to the new location, this is a good way to go. On my previous project boat, I installed Tacktick (now owned by Raymarine) wireless instrument displays to get around the cable issue.

It is gratifying to see a number of production builders still placing function ahead of form by installing instruments above the companionway.

BEING INVENTIVE

There are so many mounting options available for instrument retrofits, from classy molded pods to basic metal brackets, that it should be possible to find something that suits both your boat and your budget. If not, you can draw on your sailor’s inventiveness and make something that will fulfill the required purpose. On our Norlin 34 project boat, there wasn’t room for pods to hold the small Standard Horizon plotter and Vesper AIS display I wanted to mount at the helm so I bought a pair of simple Edson pedestal brackets, and adapted the mounts so I could swivel the displays to either side. The previous owner had already made a swiveling mount for the autopilot control out of plywood, which is still going strong more than 15 years later. Many other sailors have come up with custom mounts to suit their own boats.

It can be a daunting prospect to relocate instruments from the cockpit bulkhead because of the holes left behind by the old displays, but perhaps these present an opportunity to install cockpit speakers or a small portlight.

I haven’t mentioned mast-mounting, which is traditionally the province of racing boats. There is no reason why a cruising boat couldn’t have its readouts located under the boom, assuming there is no reefing winch to get in the way, or a dodger to block the view. I’ve seen this setup on some performance cruisers. It would be easier to use wireless displays, though, than to run transducer cables all the way up to the mast, unless it’s keel-stepped. 

RESOURCES

Edson edsonmarine.com

Navpod navpod.com

Scanstrut scanstrut.com

Seaview seaviewglobal.com

July 2018

Related

CONNECTING-SHROUD-2048

Experience: Wild Ride

My Hartley 38, Moet, is pounding into massive Pacific Ocean seas. One week of continuous storm conditions has taken me 700 miles south of Fiji, heading for New Zealand. Every few seconds the bow lifts out of the water and hangs in midair for a moment while I tense my muscles, ...read more

01-LEAD-nSterling-ProCombi-S-2

Know-how: Inverter, Charger Combos Offshore

With solid-state inverters and domestic AC devices becoming increasingly efficient, it only makes sense for many sailors to install the necessary 120V AC power for the many appliances now finding their way onboard: including washing machines, TVs, microwave, laptops, chargers ...read more

IMG_5308

Chartering in the British Virgin Islands

Not for nothing are the BVI known as the “nursery slopes” of sailing charters. There simply is no better place to ease yourself into a first-time sailing vacation; for that matter, such is the appeal of these islands that many charterers return year after year. The islands ...read more

IMG_7831

Racing and Bareboat Chartering in the BVI

If not all who wander are lost, then not all who charter are content with sailing between snorkeling spots and sinking a few Painkillers at beach bars. Some want a dose of hard-sailing action blended in with their sunshine and warmth—the kind of action you can only get from ...read more

01-GMR19FP45_1194

Boat Review: Fountaine Pajot Elba 45

With new catamaran brands springing up like mushrooms, France’s Fountaine Pajot is something of an oak tree in the market, with a story that goes back to its founding in 1976. It is also one of the largest cat builders out there, sending some 600 boats down the ways in 2018. The ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com Take no Chances This is my stern with the engine running slowly in gear against the lines. We all know that when we’re charging batteries this lets the engine warm up thoroughly. However, I have a ...read more

190910_ROSS_PORTSMOUTH_0187-2048x2048

Cup Boats Hit the Water

Emirates Team New Zealand may have been the first to launch a new-generation America’s Cup boat, but it was the New York Yacht Club’s challenger, American Magic, that had the last (first?) laugh. Just a few days after ETNZ’s radical-looking AC75 hit the water in mid-September, ...read more