AIS

We got AIS working. We applied through the FCC, which requires a station license as well, but this was necessary for international waters (Hello, Canada! Looking forward to hanging out after the virus!) There’s a post on Trawler Forum with step-by-step instructions. To the FCC’s credit, we got our number a couple of days after applying.

The MMSI needs to be programmed into each device separately. We have a Vesper XB-8000 AIS which runs headless, so you need to connect to it using an app over it’s dedicated WiFi network (why can’t boat electronics just be added to the ship’s WiFi network?!) So I added the MMSI and Station ID over the WatchMate app. You need to get this right since I think they only let you do it once or twice before you need to send it in for a reset. This is weird because MMSIs aren’t transferrable. Anyway. We got it added there and I also added it to the Pilot House Garmin VHF for DSC. I still need to add it to the radio on the flybridge.

After adding it, I was surprised to find we weren’t on Marine Traffic, even after several days when all of our neighbors were. I ran through the Vesper troubleshooting and it looked like everything was working. So, eventually North Pacific sent a Marine Electronics expert out to help. Turns out the NMEA-2000 bus is powered by the same breaker that the chart plotter is on. So, when the chart-plotter breaker is off, the whole NMEA-2000 network is down. Now, honestly, the AIS broadcast shouldn’t need the NMEA-2000 network to work. But, once we powered it on we showed up on Marine Traffic.

My leading theory here is that it wasn’t actually the NMEA-2000 bus. It was just that the AIS data on Marine Traffic is crowd-sourced, and it took several days to get all of our information uploaded. Regardless, it’s good to know that we need to keep that breaker on for anything to go across the NMEA-2K network.

Duncan from Puget Marine electronics went over a few other things – mostly getting our engine data onto the NMEA-2K bus so we can access it from the multi-function displays. He also priced out some fuel tank gauges for us, since we only have dumb floats in there now, and I’d like to use one of the built-in boat computers to calculate MPG and other data for us (we only have live burn rate right now).

Regardless, here we are on Marine Traffic, if you want to follow along.

We went for a nice overnight in Manzanita Bay. Being moored in Kitsap is providing some unexpected advantages. While Shilshole is a better location for just about any trip, you have to deal with the open Sound, making weather windows a bigger issue – even for overnights. Liberty Bay and Port Orchard are part of the more sheltered western side of the Sound – protected by the islands and Kitsap peninsula. When there are 4′ rollers on the East side of Bainbridge, the West side can be relatively calm. So, we cruised 3.5 miles from our marina to drop anchor 2.6 miles from our house (as the crow flies) for a lovely, sheltered night (weather was from the S/SE, so we were sheltered by the bay).

This gave me a chance to gather some data on power consumption during the “worst-case scenario” – hydronic heat running 24/7 and no sun for the solar panels. We dropped anchor at 2:20 pm with 100% charge in our 600AH AGM house bank. Over the course of the day, we did zero power conservation – we ran the hydronic heat, left the navigation electronics on, (so we had the anchor drag alarm), and we even streamed a movie (the Dark Knight – our little cellular connection really struggled). Depending on whether the heat and/or fridge were running, we were consuming between 12 and 20 amps at any given time. The solar panels were putting out less than an amp.

At 7am, the banks were down to 53%, meaning we’d used about 280 amp hours over 16.5 hours, or about 17 amps per hour. We ran the generator for two hours, returning the banks to 73% – about 60 amps per hour (or 10% charge per hour). This seems a little slow for bulk charging, but isn’t that far off from what I expected.

All-in-all its about what I expected. A few thoughts.

  • The solar panels can make a huge difference. During our summer cruise, on bright days, I saw them putting out 18-20 amps at 14V, which would pretty much run the boat and recharge the batteries. Realistically, they do about 6-8 amps for most of the day, which is enough to run the fridge.
  • The 24V charger was drawing a surprising amount – this system transfers power from the house bank to the windlass/thruster banks via the inverter. It was hard to get a precise measurement, but I’d say 3-5 amps.
  • The hydronic + fridge drew between 6 and 10 amps.
  • TLDR; in winter at anchor, we’ll need to run the generator for 2-3 hours per day. We can probably optimize this a little, but not much.
  • In summer at anchor, we’ll need to run the generator for 1-2 hours every-other-day. With a lot of sun, the panels put out plenty of power and – coupled with not needing the heat – there’s a chance we could go for several days without needing the generator.