Cruising Equipment Report

We thought that since we are over 1700 miles along on our most recent cruise, more like dash, from Houston to South Carolina, currently in Titusville, Florida, we might give a report on our on board equipment and how it is performing. While some of it is new, some has been on board for years. So lets start with one of the new units and most used. Our addition of a chart plotter at the helm, after using a computer at the nav station, is one of our favorites at this point. Our Standard Horizon CP300i has performed above our expectations and since we did not have to refinance the boat to purchase it, we consider this to be our best purchase and most helpful instrument. Besides displaying charts, it gives us tide and sunrise/sunset info as well as info on facilities in our area. We also purchased a Milltech AIS receiver, which is connected to the chartplotter. This device allows us to see the name, location, speed and course of a ship or tug within the area we are traveling via a little triangle on the chartplotter. The AIS was invaluable while traveling through Texas and Louisiana with the endless parade of tugs and barges. Now we can call a specific vessel by name to inquire as to their intentions. One should note that this only works if the other vessel has their receiver turned on. We’ve had a few sneak up on us around a corner. It sure is nice to know they are coming well in advance before entering a narrow channel.
Next would be our autopilot by WH Autopilots, which has been on board for several years and continues to perform admirably with no complaints, never rests and asks for no food other than a few amps. We have recommended this autopilot to anyone considering offshore or near shore cruising under serious conditions. Other than a wire which we broke on a connector, this unit has never failed or faltered. It is plumbed directly to our hydraulic steering system and is mounted below decks and out of the way except for the control head at the helm. The pilot has steered us through calm and near gale force conditions, both encountered more than once on this trip. Our Simrad wind, depth, and speed instruments have worked without issue since we installed them a few years back, with one minor exception. The knot meter has been temperamental the last few weeks and is about to get a diagnostic run. Most issues with it have been corrected by removing the impellor, replacing the attached plug, cleaning the impellor, and re-installing it. All can be done with the boat in the water. As a certified technician for a few well known manufacturers, I am very impressed with these instruments compared to others that cost much, much more.
One concern in traveling the Intracoastal Waterways, especially along the Gulf Coast, was being seen at night while anchored, especially by commercial traffic. Being run down by one of these guys would be the ultimate disaster, so we needed lights to make us the most visible. One thing we did was make an anchor light out of a kerosene lantern that we never used. By adding a socket and a 12 volt power cord, we could hang it lower than our masthead light and wherever we wanted on the boat. We also put in a LED bulb that uses a fraction of the power of our masthead light. Additionally, just before we left Houston, we went to the local hardware store and purchased 4 solar lights that are used to light your walkway at home. These we mounted on 4 of the stanchions. They light themselves at dark, stay on all night and turn off at sunrise. Most importantly, they use no power from the boat and they put light down near the water and with the anchor light, making us visible to any vessel that approaches us in the dark. When we are sailing, whenever that is, we can easily remove them and stow them until we anchor again. The solar cells recharge the internal batteries making them perfect for their purpose. We have lately seen folks using them for dinghy lights at night. They also come in handy when we forget to turn on the anchor light until well after dark!
Besides the chartplotter, we have a Garmin GPS at the nav station that can be connected to the computer and this unit has been on the boat for over 10 years. It just won’t quit. Although it is just a basic unit, it serves as a back up. At the nav station is also the Icom VHF connected to a remote mike in the cockpit. Other than coax cable problems, the radio and remote have worked well except for the outer cover on the remote mike cord, which has deteriorated and is showing signs of dry rot. We are trying to extend its life by coating it with liquid tape, a rubber coating used for electrical connections. This seems to be working so far. The problem will be once the wire goes, we can not get a replacement that will be compatible with the current radio so both will have to be replaced even if the radio is fine. Can you say planned obsolescent? Our Icom M710 HF radio has been invaluable over the years and keeps us in touch with friends, allows us to do email and download weather fax through the Pactor modem and our laptop. It has operated flawlessly.
We installed a new Clarion stereo system for entertainment and it is also connected to the new LCD HDTV so we have the equivalent of surround sound. One big disappointment with the Clarion is that the CD player portion of it will no longer eject the CDs even though they will play. We have too many entertainment toys on board but, to each their own. The new Toshiba flat screen is great and gives us a 23” screen that takes up little more room than the 13” standard TV we had for many years. We also now have one more galley cabinet as the screen is mounted on what used to be the front of the old TV cabinet. Simply installing a door where the TV used to set was all it took to add some additional storage. We also have a Samsung DVD player/recorder and a satellite TV receiver. Our tracking unit is made by Track-It TV and works just fine at anchor even though it only tracks in 1 dimension so will not work under way or if the boat is rolling. But at a fraction of the coast of more sophisticated units, we are pleased with it. It maintains the direction the dish needs to point as the boat swings at anchor. We have the TV, DVD unit and the satellite receiver connected to their own 350 watt inverter that only drives the entertainment center. They were previously plugged into the outlets on the boat and if we wanted to use them at anchor, we would have to turn on our 1850 watt inverter, which can power all of the outlets on the boat and is not as efficient when running small loads.
We have used the larger Xantrex inverter for years to run the 110 volt appliances and tools when away from shore power. It has done just fine to run power tools, the vacuum, microwave and other small appliances and we prefer it to running a generator for the short period of time we use those appliances. It will not run our air conditioner or hot water heater but the heater is plumbed into the engine and makes hot water when the engine is running. Our Raytheon RL70 radar unit has been onboard since it was new and only a nearby lightening strike has caused any issues. I do want to emphasize that this is a Raytheon and was NOT built by Raymarine. We use this extensively at night offshore and even more often to track approaching weather systems and storms, making it an invaluable piece of safety equipment.
We installed the MarineAire air conditioner with reverse cycle heat a year ago and like it a lot when we are plugged into shore power. Previously, for many years, we used a window unit sitting in the companionway hatch and had to climb over it to get in and out of the cabin. This has been a big improvement and does a much better job of cooling or heating the entire cabin. We have found that keeping a sun awning up in hotter weather helps the AC to not run as much. The sun awning also keeps the boat about 5 to 10 degrees cooler when at anchor with no AC. We have 5 of the 12 volt Caframo open fans around the cabin to help at anchor. Over the years we have found these fans to put out the most air, have 2 speeds, are much quieter than way more expensive fans and last a whole lot longer. You can also find them in local hardware stores and pay less for them than at the marine supply stores. Our solar powered vents in the cabin top have been working for several years now without any maintenance other than polishing the stainless on the covers. All of this contributes to keeping the interior cooler and dryer wherever we are.
For safety we carry a Switlik life raft permanently mounted on a cradle on deck. Switlik has just announced a recall on all of their rafts due to possible valve problems, so we will need to get it back for repairs as soon as we can. The raft does need to be inspected and recertified on a regular basis. We usually have it done just prior to a cruise. Other safety equipment we carry and hope we never need to use are, man overboard pole with horseshoe buoy, Lifesling MOB mounted on the stern, an updated EPIRB and the required flares, etc. We also use inflatable life vests that are always worn offshore, especially at night and anytime only one of us is on watch. All have stood up well to the exposures of constant cruising. We have 2 electric bilge pumps installed with a high water alarm to let us know if either fails or if we get serious water intrusion. In addition we have a large capacity manual diaphragm pump.
Another big upgrade before we set off this last time was to replace our original manual windlass with a brand new Lofrans Tigress 12 volt windlass. Our anchoring is so much easier and we find we are more apt to move or re-anchor as needed than we were in the past. We will also be quicker to set a second anchor if needed than we might have before. We have often envied those we saw come in and leave anchorages with an electric windlass. This, in addition to our anchor wash down system, makes the entire process easier and cleaner than it might have otherwise been. The wash down system was one of our first additions when we bought the boat. Too often we have seen folks with their bucket trying to clean the deck after hauling up a muddy rode and anchor. After our fist experience with that on this boat the wash down was installed.
After our first cruise to the Bahamas, we knew we would want to install a Watermaker for those times when water was not available or potable. Different boats with different usages and numbers of crew will require something with more output perhaps. After a lot of research, we decided on the Village Marine Little Wonder. After 10 years the unit is still going strong and we have experienced no service problems to date. The original output figure estimates are not what we have found, and many factory estimate on output are overly optimistic, but at about 4 to 5 gallons per hour it is sufficient for our needs. We average about 7 to 10 gallons per day for our water usage and don’t especially conserve, we have to admit. The unit runs off 12 volts and does draw around 20 to 25 amps per hour so a good set of batteries are needed. We do maintain the unit by doing a regular cleaning and pickling it when not in use long term. But when we do fire it up after a long down time, it springs right into action and the water quality is great.
Monitoring batteries and power usage is important to us but we have tried not to overly complicate the systems. We use a Link 10 battery monitor wired to monitor both battery banks even though the Link 10 was designed for 1 bank. It does a perfectly fine job of tracking our amp hour usage and displaying the state of the batteries. We also have a Guest Smart Switch with LEDs to show the battery status. 3 solar panels at 85 watts and our Four Winds wind generator, which has been up and running for about 14 years, keep the battery banks topped off quite well. Several years ago we replaced the original 2 banks of 2 8D batteries with all 6 volt golf cart batteries connected to make 12 volts. We opted for the less expensive Interstate batteries instead of the more expensive ones like Trojan to conserve costs. We do monitor and maintain the water levels religiously (monthly check-ups) and we get about 7 years out of a set. I say set, because we will usually replace both in a pair if one goes bad, although this is not necessary. One set has actually been on board 8 years and continues to function properly. Our alternator is the standard unit for the Yanmar 56HP engine we have and serves us well. We do carry a 100 amp spare alternator but have not found we need to use it at this point. We have added a portable Honda 1000 gas generator to our charging system and have found it a big plus. When needed, we plug the boat into the generator and run our Pro Mariner 40 amp, 4 stage battery charger off the generator. This works great when we don’t want to run the main engine for charging. We can run high loads like the Watermaker, etc. while the generator is running and the battery charger is replacing what is used. This can also be used at night when sailing is preferred but the power from the autopilot, lights and other instruments start to take their toll. It is much quieter and uses much less fuel than the main engine, about ½ gallon or so will run the unit for 6 or more hours. One just needs to be cautious and conscious of the possibility of carbon monoxide from the exhaust with these units.
No equipment report for a cruising boat would be complete without mentioning the dinghy and outboard. This equivalent to the family car is one very important issue that lots of cruisers debate. We have tried both hard and soft dinghies over the years and found the hard dinghy to have too many issues and short comings. We went with the RIB inflatable and never looked back. But all inflatables are not alike and after a few trials and many wet rides crossing harbors, we found that most inflatables from places like West Marine and even names like Avon, which are extremely expensive, will give you a wet and uncomfortable ride. The larger the tubes you can carry and the higher the flare in the bow, the dryer the ride when the chop is up a bit. Our Caribe has a lot of miles under its keel and we certainly have abused it. But it still gets us where we want to go, holds air pressure well after all these years and again, is the driest ride we have experienced. We hang it on the davits on the back of the boat and it never spends the night in the water. We have been very pleased with our Nissan 9.8 two stroke outboard, but if we had to do it over again would get a 15HP since the 9.8 will sometimes not get us up on plane with a load in the dinghy and both of us on board.
We use a computer for all types of things aboard from navigation to tidal information to the internet. Much is said about corrosion issues, etc. with computers on board boats. We have not had corrosion issues but generally just wear them out. We usually get 2 to 3 years out of a laptop before it needs replacement. Our most recent is a Toshiba Satellite and it is in the beginning stages of failure. It does not boot up on occasion and the USB ports are starting to fail. But out of other brands we have used we like this one so we have purchased another Toshiba to replace it. We had bought a Gateway but had to return it soon after purchasing it because when it booted up there was nothing but a blank screen. The new Vista operating system has been as bad as everyone has stated but we now have no choice. How all of our software will work is yet to be determined, but with great effort we have been able to get Airmail, our ham email program, and the drivers for our WiFi adapter installed. We are easing into the new one as long as the old one continues to work. We also depend on the computer to make some money while cruising as we occasionally have articles published in several boating magazines. Our Wifi set up is mostly put together from components from Engenius using their EUB362 adapter and omni directional antenna. We can pick up hotspots more than a mile away and have been using it extensively on this trip. A very important component of the computer is keeping our financial information up to date so we know when it’s time to stop and feed the cruising kitty. Hopefully, that won’t be anytime soon. This is only a partial list of the equipment that makes cruising easier for US. Others have, and are very happy with brands and equipment from other manufacturers and we do not want to imply that what we use is the best or worst or anything in between. But it is what is working for us now, and fulfills all of our needs as we travel, be it coastal cruising or traveling to far off and remote destinations. After 16 years we know what WE like and what has been worked for US. All too often we find products for the marine environment that has a very short life span and failure at the wrong time can be more than an inconvenience. All of the equipment on Sea Trek has proven itself over time and after continuous use.


  1. Great article - much appreciated, as somebody that hopes to cruise in the future - always nice to hear what's working or not!

  2. Just ran across this article - very helpful! Also nice to see you gave high marks to some gear we have on our new (to us) boat.

    Fair winds!

    s/v Hello World

  3. you didnt mention a wind vane steering.any particuler reason or did I mis that part. anyway curious to hear your imput thanks.mike ,

  4. We don't use one, strictly our faithful autopilot.

  5. Chuck, Susan,
    Great blog! Don't know where you find the time for all the detail you present, but it's great. I have a question for you guys. What type of refrigeration do you have currently, and what did you have in Sea Trek? Did the systems work for you? I'm replacing an old Crosby AC system, and am totally confused about what works best, so I'm asking the people that are out there. Any info you can provide a fellow captain :) would be appreciated.
    SV Alert
    M44 Sodus Bay NY

  6. Paul, The new trawler has a Dometic Americana Series front loading fridge. It is a three way which runs off of 110 volt, 12 volt or propane. It is like a small home style fridge. We like it so far since it keeps things quite cold, is completely silent with no compressor, but have little experience with it yet. On Sea Trek we had the Adler Barber Cold Machine forever and were delighted with it. It worked flawlessly with no problems. Hope that helps. Chuck


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