Friday, 5 September 2014

Preparation for Cat 2/3 Offshore Safety Inspection

Hi everyone,
The last few weeks have been busy, fitting boat work into gaps in real work.  The focus has been on preparing the boat for offshore racing in the upcoming season.  Exactly how many races we'll do remains to be seen, but we like to prepare the boat well.  After all, the main difference between racing rules and cruising guidelines at FSC is that the former say "shall" and the latter say "should".

Both autopilots now mounted in the quarterberth
Like our earlier preparation for Cat 6 inshore racing this exercise hasn't been trivial.  The work done included:

  • Labelling countless items from boxes to cushions to floorboards
  • Buying more flares
  • Buying a new GPS-equipped EPIRB (since the battery on one of ours had expired)
  • Arranging for service of our Great Circle liferaft
  • Upgrading our manual bilge pumps
  • Replacing our danbuoy and lifering with an automatic inflating unit
  • Setting up new jackstays
  • Having our sail number sewn onto our side dodger panels
  • Further renewing and upgrading our first aid kit
  • Rearranging the area behind our instrument panel to make room for an AIS transceiver
  • Installing and configuring an AIS transceiver
The AIS transceiver is something we've done without until now.  We have had an AIS receiver for several years but a transceiver is recommended for offshore racing and far more effective than the radar reflector it notionally replaces.

The unit we chose is a Vesper Marine XB-8000.  This unit supports both NMEA0183 and NMEA2000 interfaces and has a WiFi access point.  We haven't used NMEA2000 on Zen Again previously but decided to try it out between the AIS, the VHF and one of our chart plotters.  We also feed our NMEA0183 instrument data into the AIS to make it accesssable via WiFi.

Vesper Marine XB-8000
The installation process was straight-forward.  Initially I tried connecting the NMEA2000 devices together without power applied to the NMEA2000 backbone.  This didn't work, so even if the devices on the bus don't need power from it the power is still necessary.  With that sorted out everything talked to each-other nicely.

We installed the AIS's GPS antenna behind the instrument panel, close under the side deck.  This is giving good signal strength and avoids yet another external antenna and long cable run.  The AIS's VHF antenna is dedicated to the AIS and is mounted on the pushpit.  The AIS receiver built into the VHF radio uses the masthead antenna so it will be interesting to compare their performance.

Connecting to the XB-8000 via either USB or WiFi is simple and effective.  We'll use USB for the laptop and WiFi for our iPads/iPhones.

XB-8000 AIS data overlaid in OpenCPN
OpenCPN showing data on one AIS target
On the iPad we run Vesper's WatchMate app which shows AIS information and allows configuration of the XB-8000.  We also use the iNavX chartplotter which supports AIS overlay.

WatchMate app on iPad (outer range ring is 8nm)
iNavX app on iPad with Navionics charts and XB-8000 AIS data overlay 
iNavX app on iPad showing instrument data from XB-8000 via WiFi
A consequence of installing the AIS was the relocation of our primary autopilot course computer from behind the instrument panel to the quarterberth.  That puts it above the backup course computer, so both are readily accessible.  Seemed to me that easy access to the autopilots is a good thing!

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