Ever get the offshore heebie-jeebieies? I used to, back when I was running oceangoing tugs. The malady typically started with an imaginary change in engine pitch while we were underway after dark. Then a series of equally imaginary doomsday scenarios would ensue, usually featuring collisions (resulting from burnt-out running lights), oil spills (caused by pump problems), and sinkings (due to dysfunctional bilge alarms). These grim fantasies would have driven me half nuts, I guess, had it not been for one groovy reassurance: the periodic door-slamming resulting from the chief engineer making his rounds of the ER.
Of course, skippers of recreational vessels today seldom have chief engineers onboard. But thanks to modern technology, there's a viable substitute: electronic monitoring systems. They can keep tabs on critical stuff and instantaneously report problems, not only to the bridge, but also to other displays, both onboard and at homes and offices via laptops and PDAs. To get a handle on exactly how difficult and expensive it is to add one of these systems to a typical boat, I contacted Casey Cox, president of Krill Systems, which makes just such gizmos. He and I checked out installations on three boats in the Seattle area: a 125' Northcoast, a 74' Queenship, and a 55' Fleming.
The organization of a Krill system is fundamentally the same regardless of the size or complexity of the vessel. It starts, simply enough, with sensors that register calibrated tank levels (fuel, water, waste, etc.), electrical data (from gensets, shore power, inverters, and other equipment), and the status of switched devices like bilge pumps, exhaust fans, and navigation lights. Engine info can be monitored as well, along with hatch and door openings, motion detectors, and navigational data.
Input from the sensors is directed to "sensor pods" that are strategically located around the vessel and then, via Ethernet switches and cables, to either a ruggedized Krill black-box processor that feeds a special Krill display (or any other display with a VGA input) or to an Internet router that feeds home- or office-based displays via satellite, WiFi, or cellular technology.
Most any function can be alarmed at an owner's discretion, cycles of bilge pumps and other equipment can be counted, and trends for just about anything can be tracked using stored historical data. Moreover, there are no IP addresses or other network complications to be entered during setup or system expansion-you just plug in a new device and it's automatically recognized and incorporated. And because components and displays can be organizationally cascaded, the capacity of the system is virtually unlimited.
How difficult is installation? Cox abjures the do-it-yourself approach in favor of a creditable electronics technician, mostly because strategically aggregating and positioning sensor pods and running cables can prove difficult, at least on some boats. My take's the same, based on my observation of the three aforementioned installs that Cox showed me. Economically and unobtrusively hooking everything up is a job for professionals.
Pricing for a professional install's not outrageous though. According to Cox, the Krill componentry we examined on the Fleming (including sensors for tankage, electrics, and switched devices) was in the $16,000 ballpark. Add about $7,000 (a little over 90 man-hours multiplied by a shop rate of $75 per hour) for the installation, and the total cost approximated $23,000.
Not too bad when you consider the overall value of a 55' Fleming, the topnotch quality of Krill's sensors and other components, and the fact that the system goes a long way toward filling an empty chief engineer's berth.
Krill Systems (206) 780-2901.
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While replacing a rubrail, the stainless steel screws kept snapping. I tried ChapStick to lubricate them and it worked great. Blistex was even better!
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This article originally appeared in the November 2009 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.