Electronics

VHF RadiosSSB/HAM Radio
InstrumentationRadar

 

Instrumentation

We selected Nexus instruments to replace our 10 year old Datamarine instruments. Nexus offered a computer that integrates all of their instruments plus most additional systems communicating NMEA 0183 sentences. It has a remote control on a 30' cable which displays any 4 pieces of information so it is possible to take into the bunk or have it at your side anywhere on the boat. Their multi displays are very flexible as well. Installation of the equipment is very easy (except at the masthead if you don't like heights) and it integrates well. More on performance to follow.

This equipment is working extremely well. I am very pleased with the flexibility and performance of the system. The installation was really easy and the only 2 problems I had were both my fault. The integration in the server allows it to collects all of the data in one place from wind, compass, knotlog, depth, as well as from the GPS it is capable of displaying a mountain of information. It will provide set and drift of current and compass course to steer to achieve a preset course over ground. We leave it turned on at anchor with a course and depth alarm set to warn of us wind shifts or dragging. This is one of the best purchases we have made and I highly recommend this to anyone replacing their instrumentation. One last word, it was cheap!

VHF Radios

Go West carries 3 VHF radios. The fixed mount radio is a Standard Communications that came with the boat. The antenna is at the top of the mast. It performs very well and transmits a very clear audio signal. The other two radios are handheld units from Icom. The M1 will be our cockpit and mobile radio and the alkaline battery driven M10 is our radio for the abandon ship bag. All of these radios are still working well.

SSB/HAM Radio

We had H.F. Radio Onboard install an SGC PowerTalk 2000. This radio is capable of both Marine SSB and Ham operation.. I believe this is a very good radio but ours failed in route to the Marquises. It could have been lightening that took out a preamp on the receive side. Our reception got very poor. The radio has a 5 year parts and labor warranty but you need to mail it to the US because they don't have foreign service centers. The impression I have gotten from my radio and from other cruisers is that SGC radio's have a higher than normal failure rate. It has an excellent warranty and it works extremely well but getting it serviced is difficult and time consuming. This being said, I know of one boat with an Icom SSB and they had a service nightmare in Papeete (much like our Furuno experience) so you never know. We have weatherfax capability via computer which works well. This software changes so fast I will not mention the product.

We had e-mail via Pinoak but it was a poor and expensive solution so don't get it. There could be some justification for using it in the Caribbean or Eastern US but it is oversubscribed and the modem is overpriced and they won't let you transfer the ownership to someone else even if they buy your boat. It is a rip-off.. We worked with Don Melcher of HF Radio and he sent us the hardware and software to get us up on Sail Mail. Sail Mail has worked very well and it is inexpensive using generic hardware and software that may also be used for Ham e-mail. The best solution is to get you Ham General class license and e-mail with a Ham from the part of the world you are visiting.

If I had it to do over again I would have gotten my general class Ham license and then used one of the free e-mail services over Ham radio. A Ham license is a very useful thing while cruising but you need at least a general class license.

I receive many e-mails asking about our internet connectivity at sea. We don't have it. As far as I know it is very expensive and slow at this time. We go into town and find places that will rent their computer with internet connection for our e-mail. We use Sailmail when we are away from populated areas or when internet connectivity is prohibitively expensive like in Tahiti. This combination is cost effective and practical. I don't think that there will be a cost effective global satellite solution for several years but I do believe we will be able to find internet connectivity in towns all over the world so all you really need to do is open an e-mail account with Yahoo or AOL and you are ready to go.

In Tahiti internet connectivity is $1.25 per minute so here I wish I had an AOL account allowing me to connect and download and upload e-mail in just a few minutes. Hopefully it will be better in Tonga but I am beginning to have doubts.

Radar

We had a Furuno 1621 Mk II radar mounted on a stabilized backstay mount. The radar failed and we attempted to get it fixed by Furuno twice but they failed both times so we are installing a Raytheon radar. The Raytheon is a new generation of radar with important features like the North Up or Course Up display feature. This feature allows the display to remain stationary to a magnetic bearing while the boat varies course naturally from wave or wind action. This enables accurate measure of relative bearing to other vessels making determination of closing course faster and easier. We will have this radar installed for our next update and will elaborate on its performance.

Our experience with Furuno was very frustrating, time consuming and expensive. The following is a letter we sent to Furuno USA. We asked for a reimbursement for labor paid in Tahiti which they had previously promised to pay. We sent the following letter by e-mail and normal post and they did not respond in any way.   We sold the broken radar for $200 to Mermaid and Dick did determine that the radar was not transmitting which proves that they did not repair the problem.

I would suggest staying clear of Furuno if you are making a radar purchasing decision. If you own a Furuno and need service try to find a good local service center and get an assurance that they are familiar with your model and they guarantee their work.

 

To: Jim Attiridge - President, Furuno USA

From: Jim Boswell - Captain, Sailing Vessel "Go West"

Subject: Furuno Service

Dateline: June 23rd 1998 - Papeete Tahiti

Mr. Attiridge

I am writing to inform you of the service difficulties we have had with our Furuno radar. The only request I have is that you honor a commitment made by one of your employees (Janet Green) to pay a labor bill from the Furuno service center in Tahiti. This bill is for 13,000 Polynesian Francs or about $130 and it was paid to Thompson CSF in Tahiti.

Even though my radar still does not work I have elected to buy a new radar rather than lose more time attempting to repair this unit. I will describe the process we have been through so far so you can understand why we have elected to replace our Furuno product with similar Raytheon unit.

Our radar failed somewhere in the crossing from Clarion Island off of Mexico to the Marquises Islands in French Polynesia. This crossing was started in March and completed in April of 1998. We do not know when the radar malfunctioned because the symptom was that no targets are received and we didn’t know we had a problem until the islands did not show up on our radar. This is significant because we purchased the radar in March of 1997. In the Marquises we assumed our problem was with the cable or a connection so we spent a great deal of time checking the continuity of the cable and ensuring that proper contact was made on each connection but had no success.

We did not arrive in Papeete until May when we began the process of getting it repaired. We were impressed to find that Furuno had a local service center and even more surprised to find that most electronics manufacturers had local service outlets. We lost some of our enthusiasm after talking to the local Furuno service center because the informed of us of 2 problems.

The told us that our Furuno USA warranty was not honored outside of the USA. To receive warranty service we would need to send it to the US. After further discussion we got them to agree to bill us for their labor if we could get the parts from Furuno USA. We agreed to this with the hope that it would greatly speed the process. The second problem was that they did not stock any parts or even a cable for the Furuno 1621. They said that they could solve this by diagnosing the problem on our boat.

The technician showed up on our boat without any tools or technical documentation. I provided him with the radar manual and helped him figure out how to bring up the tuning screen. He concluded that it could not be the magnetron because we were getting a signal on the tuning screen so it must be the Mic with a remote chance that it was the transceiver board. I called Furuno USA and talked to Rich Gunderson. He was very helpful and agreed to send Thompson a Mic but was unwilling to send a transceiver board.

The Mic arrived promptly (4 days) and 10 days after our arrival in Tahiti we had our radar back with the only problem being that it still didn’t work and I was out $130 on labor and $20 on phone calls.

I called Furuno USA and got to Janet Green. She was very understanding and she told me that if I paid to send the radar to the US ($110) she would have it repaired with no charge for parts or labor and she would pay the return freight and pay the labor bill from Thompson CSF. I was reluctant because it meant a delay of at least 2 weeks (it was 16 days) remaining in Papeete but I was confident I would receive a working radar in return so we went to the airport that day and shipped it($20 on calls).

I called once to check on the status of the unit and was asked how I would pay for the labor. I protested that it was agreed that it would be no charge authorized by Janet Green and they said they would check.

We received the radar and I installed it. It still did not pick up targets. I went to the boat anchored next to me to see what their 1621 radar picked up and found that they had many returns from the metal warehouses across to harbor to the anchored boats nearby. I called last Friday and the technician, Paul, told me that he felt it must be the cable because they wouldn’t send a radar that didn’t work. I thought he was right so I worked all weekend trying to build a cable that would get my radar working ($30 on calls).

I found a boat in Tahiti that had a new 1621 cable but the manufactured end that plugs into the display had been cut off. I decided to cut that end off of my cable and splice it on to this new cable because it would eliminate the cable run through my boat and the block end at the radome. I carefully soldered each connection and covered each wire with heat shrink tubing. I spent a lot of time ensuring that the coax connection had " of inner insulation extending from the shield to the core to ensure that there was no contact between the two. The core was double wrapped in electric tape and the coax was sealed in heat shrink. I thoroughly tested for continuity and cross shorts. I reassembled the radar with the new cable and got the same results, no targets.

I then thought that the manufactured end could be the problem. Even though I had tested to the plug it may not be making good contact with the circuit board. I disassembled the display and tested the continuity from the radome block to the solder point on the back of the display board. Again it tested fine. I now knew I had a bad unit for the second time.

At this point I decided that the only thing that Furuno could do for me that would be acceptable from a time perspective was to send me a new unit. I called and mostly talked to Jack Leevers. He suggested that my problem was with my cable. I explained the efforts I had undertaken to disprove this notion. He was skeptical and asked that I go to the boat with the 1621 radar and test my radome and display on their boat. I said that I couldn’t do the radome because it is up their mast and would be too much to ask. He suggested we just test the display ($10 call).

We spent 1 hour tearing apart the instrument console of this boat and removed the display. We installed my display and it worked. This proved little but it probably made Jack more skeptical about the cable.

When I called back he said that I should call back in an hour and he would get a supervisor on the call. When I called the supervisor was not available but he told me that Furuno would not send a new unit and my only option was to send my unit back to the US and wait for it to return again. He said that Furuno was kind to include the labor for free after the warranty period and that was the limit of their kindness. Expecting a new radar was expecting too much. I can understand this but it was a practical matter with me that I just couldn’t justify spending any more time and money getting this radar repaired. Jack also informed me that Furuno would not reimburse the money I paid to Thompson CSF because they were not a Furuno USA dealer. I think it was pretty clear to Janet Green that Thompson in Tahiti was not a Furuno USA dealer but they are a Furuno dealer and a Furuno Service center.($30 on calls).

It is important to understand that, though Jack may not believe me, I am completely sure that the problem is not in the cable. I have spent 4 weeks and hundreds of dollars and I am exactly where I started. I have decided to cut my losses and get a new radar but I feel that you should make good on the commitment to pay the labor bill from Thompson CSF.

Everyone I dealt with in Furuno USA was courteous and trying to help. I can believe that that unit was damaged in transit or failed during warm-up on my boat but left the shop working. But there are two things that were not acceptable from my point that should be addressed by your US division and by Furuno International.

Furuno is an international company and the warranty should be international. The difficulties I have had in that regard are unacceptable. I spent $100 on phone calls and had your people call me back most times when there was a Furuno Service Center less than a mile away. Most of the time, money and effort in this futile exercise was spent dealing with the US.

Furuno should insist that a Furuno Service Center can service a Furuno radar. Thompson said that they had no parts, test equipment or documentation for the 1621 because they don’t sell it. I accepted this at first but I did an informal survey of the 75 small boats anchored in Papeete harbor and half of the boats with Furuno radars have a 1621. Thompson was happy to try to fix it as long as I would pay but they were completely unqualified and ill-equipped for the effort. The one thing the technician told me on my boat was that my magnetron was fine. The thing you replaced in the US was the magnetron. Now Jack may not have confidence in my splicing but I hope you can understand why I have lost confidence in your company.