Sunday, January 17, 2010

Equipment and Vendor Review

January 17, 2010
Titusville, FL

From time to time friends ask about outfitting their boats. We tend to research products fairly thoroughly before we buy something for Meredith and so we are always surprised when things are not satisfactory. Our big failure, the Northstar Autopilot and worse, its vendor, Navico, is nearly alone in our list of unsatisfactory equipment. It is difficult to tell someone else how they should outfit their boat but here is some of our hands on experience with everyday cruising products:

1. Garhauer Blocks: First rate, tough rugged and fairly priced. Good telephone support as long you don't get silly about it. AAA product and support

2. Beta Diesel: Our new Beta has been outstanding. We now have 300 uneventful hours on it. It is a dream to work on. The only snag has been the total shredding of an impeller in our raw water pump. However the design of the heat exchanger made the finding and removal of all those little bits of broken vane (in our case hundreds of bits) fairly easy. Fairly easy not totally easy. Then Stanley, the presence of Beta in the US, gave us a new impeller as the old one should not have failed. AAA product and support

3. Cobra Electronics Chartplotter: This is a dark horse entry. We purchased an inexpensive chartplotter from Cobra at the Toronto boat show some 3 years ago last week. We were dubious because of the overly reasonable price. The chartplotter worked flawlessly for 18 months. This is 18 months of 12 hours a day operation. Then the screen died. We returned the unit to Cobra US and they replaced it in a few days. The new unit suffered a button failure about 5 months later - I think it was a software issue but the most important button on the unit would not register. Cobra replaced the unit in 3 days. We like the unit - it is small but has all the features we need. We would not hesitate to buy Cobra anytime. Product - B, Support AAA

4. Tohatsu Outboard: We purchased our 9.8 4 stroke outboard from a local dealer in Lake Sylvan New York. The price was fair and delivery fast. The outboard has performed very well under taxing circumstances. Except for some water and dirt in the carburettor, which is not a problem with the outboard but rather a problem for the outboard, the outboard works - every time. Product AAA, Support - Not Tested

5. Defender Industries, Online Marine Supply: First rate telephone help and delivery. If you are using a Canadian Credit Card ask for the woman who handles the Canadian desk. Prices are fair and followup and service are second to none. I prefer Defender to most of the marine chandleries in Toronto - they give better advice and take care of problems with no fuss. Support AAA

6. Aquasignal LED Anchor Light: This was supplied by Defender Industries and we installed it in Waterford NY. It has worked flawlessly. Current draw is .2 amp compared to 2 amps for the old incandescent. Product - AAA, Support Not Tested.

7. Sensibulb LED Cabin Light Replacement Bulbs from Sailing Solutions: A first rate product. Bulbs for your old fixtures cost about $20 each. Your current draw is reduced by 90% from 1 amp to .1 amp for each bulb replaced. Some incandescents use even more than 1 amp. A common problem with LEDs is the colour of the light - many LEDs tend to be cold blue light. Not the sensibulb. It is warm yellow light pretty close to our old incandescents. These bulbs also have a good broad light distribution patter. We are very happy after 2 years of use. Product AAA, Support Not Tested.

8. LED Cabin Replacement Lights from Cruising Solutions: Another good product but note that Cruising Solutions is NOT Sailing Solutions. Slightly less expensive than sensibulb, gives more light but the light is not as warm. Happy with the bulbs after 6 months but would look at sensibulbs just for the warmer light. Same fabulous reduction in current draw. Product AAA (cause light colour is a bit personal)

9. LED Nav Light Replacement bulbs from Cruising Solutions: For $50 we replaced all the bulbs in our nav light fixtures. Now we can sail all night and use less than 2 amps current total. Highly visible and meets all Coast Guard standards.

10. Honda 2000 Generator: We have used our Honda for 5 years now. You can go cruising without one but you would be brain dead. If you break the bank installing solar and wind power you are most likely to still need your generator. Most honest sailors admit to it. We have 2 solar panels which we keep in our basement - we do not need the hassles and inconvenience and general ugliness. The Honda charges the batteries in place of using our $10,000 diesel, it fires up the ceramic heater on nights when we are just too cold, it acts as an emergency charging source in the middle of the night. Product AAA, Support Not Tested.

11. Link 10 Battery Monitor: You have no idea how important your batteries are when you are cruising. The Link 10 tells you most of what you need to know. We would not go cruising without ours. Product AAA, Support Not Tested.

12. Acer Aspire Netbook Computer: Leave your laptop at home. Our Acer cost $300, has a solid state hard drive and no moving parts other than the cooling fan which never seems to need to run. It uses less than 1 amp of current compared to the 5 to 8 amps used by most laptops and has all the functionality you need. (you can use it for 5 hours for every 1 hour of laptop use) We use it for email, internet, backup chartplotting, television and movie watching. Having no moving parts it does not break. Product AAA, Support Not Tested

13. Soda Stream Soda Pop Maker: Hauling cases of pop to your boat gets to be a real drag. Friends Gord and Laurie on Mystic introduced us to the Soda Stream Pop Machine. Compact, easily stored and reasonably priced we bought one. It was fantastic. You put a bottle of water into the machine and the machine carbonates it using bottled gas. You then add flavour and voila: Pretty Good Pop. However the Sodastream used to be sold in all Boater's World stores but they have gone bankrupt. You have to buy supplies online. When we called last Friday to do just this an insolent little telephone bitch told us "We don't sell to Canadians. If you don't live in our country the company policy is that we won't sell to you". Now this mentally impaired order taker meant that their visa payment processor could not handle online visa payments if the cardholder did not have a US zip code. Her explanation made sense to her. Product: B, Service F

14. VISA: Now before you all go snaky telling me that you can use your Visa card in the US with no trouble just listen to me. You cannot use your Visa card at any gas pump in Florida. You must enter a ZIP code at the pump. If you have a postal code you cannot buy gas. You must go to the clerk and prepay. Instead of fillup at the pump you go to the cashier, return to pump gas, return to the cashier to finish paying. Soda Stream, as said above will not sell to Nonresidents of the USA due to Visa processing issues. Defender Industries has a special desk for non US visa card payments. PYacht laughed in our faces last year at the Annapolis Boat Show telling us "We don't sell to your kind (meaning Canadians)". The problem is a creeping one and may only be in the USA.

15. Northstar /Navico Autopilot Drive Head: The Northstar AP380 autopilot has been a disapointment. When it works it works acceptably. It broke after 10 hours of use and Navico took almost 4 months to replace it. And then they only did something due to pressure from our vendor, Defender Industries. Friends with Simrad Robertson autopilot, also marketed by Navico, found service to be abominable as well and a local dealer (not Defender) told us Navico service is not very good and is very very slow. Product C+, Support F

That is it for now.

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