Electronics on a Yacht

If you have been reading the blog for some time, you might have noticed that while I try to offer a equal view on various topics, I, like all people, have my biases. I work really hard to keep them from influencing my writing, but I know they are always looming in the background, and you may have noticed that over the years too. 

I do not trust electronics. They are convenient, they are easy, and I feel they will let you down. 

The reason I don't trust electronics is simple, I have trouble fixing electronic items. Since I can't always fix it, I can't always get it up and running again, and that means that it will die on me before something mechanical would. 

When our Monitor Windvane broke, I fixed it with a single new bolt. It was an easy fix that allowed us to keep going without any hiccups in our sailing. When something electronic breaks and I open it up to find the fault that caused the entire problem, I am confronted with a tiny green board that is covered with electrical connections. Each connection is important and is prone to death by corrosion in the harsh marine environment. When I look at the green board and everything looks clean and fine, I get even more frustrated because, unlike the big bolt on the Monitor Windvane, I can't see the problem on the electronic board. 

Worst of all, I expect electronics to fail when I need them the most, and when they fail, I won't have the time or knowledge to fix them and keep them running longer.

This frustration presented itself today when we were getting ready to set sail on a broad reach to a new port. The anchor windlass is manual and easy to repair and maintain. The halyards and sheets operate on mechanical winches. Our charts are paper and I am proficient enough with a sextant to find our position. While this may seem old-school, I do dabble in the realm of electronic conveniences. 

We have a GPS chart plotter in the cockpit, our VHF radio also displays our coordinates. We have Navionics software on our iPad and iPhone, allowing us to view detailed charts in the palm of our hand and sail through unfamiliar waters without fear or concern of unknown shoals. 

These devices make our lives easier, but they can always fail us. The phone and tablet computer can easily fall overboard or get hit by an object, breaking their screen or rendering the device inoperable. The chart plotter could one day not turn on. The radio could stop working. All of these devices can die silently and without warning on a boat, only demonstrating their passing when you need them and go to use them, finding their current situation and reveling in frustration.

This happened to us on our voyage south. We are in the ICW, waters that are known as being unfriendly towards sails. We have previously avoided these waters since we have a rather deep keel and an electric motor. The motor is more of an accessory that we use to help us dock, not our primary mode of powering the yacht, that is what the sails are for! 

In the ICW, we had to put our trust in the electric motor, as it would be the main mode of propulsion as we moved along these narrow and shallow waters. We motored into an anchorage that is small and shallow, but also very well protected. There is a strong current near the rocks, but this is no problem with a motor that can keep you clear of the jetty and in the middle of the channel. 

Then one day, we decided to leave the anchorage because the winds would be in our favor as we headed to our next destination and the motor would not work. 

I do not know when the motor died, because we used it getting into the anchorage. We also used it in the anchorage to get us off a shoal that we swung onto, putting its last use only a day ago; but here it sits inoperable and silent. We were planning to leave, only discovering its deceased state when we needed it and went to use it, luckily before the anchor was raised off the bottom! This changed all our plans, as we had planned to leave today and head to a new port, but instead are now going to stay here longer as we await the arrival of replacement parts by mail. 

Electronics are fun and convenient, but I do caution one to not rely on the solely, as they could fail and leave you stranded if you do not have a manual backup. 

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