I’d been thinking about installing new sailing instruments for a year before I finally took the plunge. The difficulty of choosing between several excellent makes was one problem. Another was the hassle factor; the significant amount of labor involved in running cables around the boat and installing the display heads. This accounts for much of the cost of upgrading instruments. The more I thought about it, the more attractive Tacktick’s wireless system became. The T104 wind/speed/depth/NMEA system has now been on the boat for two full seasons, and it has performed almost flawlessly.
Tacktick made its name with a nifty solar-powered compass/windshift indicator for small racing boats. The line soon expanded to take in wind speed, depth and speed instruments, and now includes increasingly high-end instrumentation that’s found on megayachts and ocean racers.
The hook, of course, is the wireless interface between the instrument displays and a hull transmitter. The latter is connected to the ship’s supply and to the speed and depth transducers. The instrument display heads have lithium batteries that are charged by integral solar panels, so there’s no need to wire them to the ship’s supply. That’s the basis of the Tacktick range, which also includes a variety of displays, remote controls, compasses and GPS displays. You can buy these individually, or as packages put together for various applications. Systems for cruising boats start at around $800.
The T104 system comprises one wind display and one dual-function display, the hull transmitter, a NMEA wireless interface box, and speed, depth and wind transducers. Tacktick uses Airmar transducers, and I decided to keep the speed and depth transducers from the outgoing Autohelm system.
I read the instructions; installation looked easy, and so it proved to be. I mounted the hull transmitter out of harm’s way in a compartment beneath the chart table, connected the speed and depth transducers, and then connected the hull transmitter to the switch panel with 16 gauge wire. The NMEA transmitter, which lets you connect a GPS, plotter, radar or autopilot from other makers to the Tacktick instruments, was equally easy to install.
I mounted the wind and dual displays above the companionway, where the previous Autohelm wind/closehauled/depth/speed displays had been. With no wires to run, all I had to do was screw the mounting brackets on. I had already installed the wind transducer’s bracket on the mast before the boat was launched. I suspect it took me more time to remove the old instruments and their cables than to install the complete Tacktick system.
Now all that remained was to initialize the system, and make sure all the components were talking to each other. This was accomplished by placing all the display heads and wind transducer within three feet of the hull transmitter, and turning on one display. As the wireless connections were made, the displays blinked on one at a time—exciting stuff, if you’re a gearhead like me. You have to go through this every time you add a new display to the system.
It took me some time to figure out which of the NMEA 0183 wires from the Navman chart plotter did what, but I eventually got it and the Tacktick talking to each other. Now I could display data from the GPS (mounted at the chart table) on the instruments above deck.
The dual display can relay an astounding amount of information, much more than depth and speed. True or apparent windspeed, wind angle, tacking angle, VMG, depth, water temperature, log, speed, average speed, max speed, speed over ground (from GPS), course over ground, latitude and longitude, VMG to waypoint, bearing to waypoint, time-to-go, battery voltage… oh, and there’s a race timer too. The wind instrument switches from True to Apparent and from 360-degree wind display to closehauled indicator with a couple of button pushes. Operation is intuitive, and I can’t faulty the legibility of the screens—even in bright sunlight, with Polaroid shades on, I’ve never had any trouble reading them.
In operation, the wireless units have proved almost completely trouble-free. They’ve been easy to calibrate and the alarms (depth, XTE, In the first few months after installation, the depth reading would sometimes disappear for up to 30 seconds at a time; fortunately this never happened at a critical juncture. This last season it’s happened twice, for about 10 seconds each time.
I was skeptical about the ability of the small solar panels to keep the instruments charged, but there have been no problems in this department.
Although the dodger blocks some of the light getting to them, and I remove them after each sail and stow them belowdecks, the panels have so far kept the display batteries well topped up. At night, the instrument backlighting can be set to any of three levels, the lowest of which has proved adequate.
I’m sold on these units, which have proved all but trouble-free. It would be useful to be able to display a bit more of the information this system provides, so I plan to install a third display head, which will be as easy as screwing its bracket in place in the cockpit—no wires to run, no need to drill big holes to flush-mount the displays. With that, and one of Tacktick’s handheld displays to take to bed when I’m off-watch, my instrumental happiness would be complete. Price: $2,599 (T104 system)