Upgraded Simrad Helm System

Up(graded), Up(dated) and Away!

Capt. Tommy McCoy enjoys a beautiful Florida cruising day at the helm of Arawak, simplified by the Simrad helm setup.

Arawak is built to cruise. Why not give her a helm system that’s up to the challenge?

When I climbed aboard Arawak for the first time, I saw the strides that had been taken to refurbish a boat that had been pulled from the mangroves.

To my mind, the electronics installation on Arawak is bar none the most striking aspect of her refit, and that’s saying a lot. The Awlgrip paint job is beautiful. The Yanmar engines are quiet and smooth. The Northern Lights genset is reliable and ready for action. The Technicold air conditioning is hard to beat when it’s time to sleep. 

But where else but the helm can you see the latest in technology with modern multifunction displays giving you a window into an  uncanny, constant flow of data, yet installed in classic teak joinery amid timeless design. Indeed at the lower helm, using the rotary-knob control to zoom the Simrad NSS9 evo2 display, I positioned two steadying fingers on the wood itself at the edge of the unit case. Instead of new leaving old behind and consigning it to the dustbin of the past, this new chose to bring old along with it, arm in arm, and make both better along the way.

Simrad electronics

Take a tour of Arawak’s helm and you’ll see what I mean. This is a networked Simrad system (www.simrad-yachting.com) that uses the NMEA 2000 protocol to link all components in such a way that all data is available along one backbone, connecting sensors, displays, cartography, engine and navigation data—everything on the network is shared. Insert an SD card into a slot on one display to load up a new chart area and it is immediately available to all plotter displays. Likewise, position information from the GPS antenna and receiver are shared with the AIS and VHF radio to enable full DSC functionality.

SonarHub“Having all that stuff networked: We’ve got the radar up above and down below all the sonar is networked through the sonar hub—that’s a black box module that sort of processes all the sonar for us—there’s a mountain of wiring, both Ethernet and the NMEA 2000 running through the boat,” says Daren Cole, global brand director for Simrad and Lowrance. “But we only have four black boxes: the SonarHub, two AIS boxes—the AIS and then you’ve also got a splitter box in there that allows you to work with one antenna to do both AIS and your VHF—and the SonicHub box.”

Arawak, if you’re just joining us, is the 1996 Grand Banks 42 Motor Yacht that, as a MyBoatWorks project boat, underwent a repower with Yanmar diesels, and an extensive refit with equipment from Vetus Maxwell, Northern Lights, Aqualuma, Walker AirSep, ESI Total Fuel Management, Awlgrip and Interlux, and more. Her Simrad electronics were installed at American Custom Yachts in Stuart, Florida (www.americancustomyachts.com).

Arawak has a long-term mission, however. She is being refit to resume service as a charter boat in St. Thomas. Therefore, she needs to be simple to operate for a bareboat crew, yet be able to share data and offer the deep functionality an experienced skipper would want while delivering her safely from port to port.

“We wanted to give you basic navigation,” Cole says. “And yet we also wanted to show you how we can really expand functionality with today’s technology. You’ve got access to all sorts of new information on very few displays, so you get a nice, clean, sleek install, where in the old days you could have as many as ten pieces of equipment on your helm. Today it’s a multifunction display with NMEA 2000 networking. Both the NSS evo2 displays have exactly the same functionality, just different-size screens. You only have to put one chart on and they can have that same chart across the Ethernet—if you make a waypoint on the flybridge display it shows on the charts down below with all the same contours.” The system can accept a wide range of electronic cartography too, so the limiting factor is user preference, not what the system accepts. That’s an important consideration in some far-flung cruising areas.

Parts and Prices

The following equipment list shows much of the Simrad equipment mounted on Arawak’s two helms.

NSS9M evo2 Chart (no built-in echosounder) Multi-function display, Insight charts. $ 2,299.00

NSS12 evo2 with 4G Radar. Multi-function display, Built-in CHIRP Echosounder and StructureScan. With Insight charts. $ 5,190.00

SonarHub Module. w/ power and Ethernet cable (15ft) $ 599.00

B744V Bronze 600-watt through-hull transducer. 50/200 Khz Depth/Temp/Speed TRw/HS Fairing Block $ 359.00

Autopilot pack standard. w/ AC12 Comp (Low Current), RC42 Rate Compass and RF300 Feedback, NMEA2000 network interface. Requires autopilot controller and drive unit. $1,600.00

Hld-350mk2 short split version. 200mm (8-inch) stroke hydraulic linear drive unit (AC12 required) $2,100.00

NAIS-400 S system. Class B-AIS w/ GPS Antenna. $929.00

NSPL-400 VHF ANTENNA SPLITTER. $249.00

HS35 Vhf. Wireless second-station microphone. DSC $169.00

RS35 Vhf Marine radio. DSC. $ 399.00

Sirius satellite weather and radio module. WM-3 $799.00

IS40 digital display. $499.00

DST800 plastic transducer. active D/S/T TH 235 kHz. $339.00

SonicHub Module. Fusion BT100 Bluetooth Module, NMEA 2000 cable and T connector $349.00

Gofree wifi1 Wirelss module. $ 229.00

GS25 Antenna. with built-in rate compass. 10 Hz position update rate. $398.00

Waterproof white horn speaker. (80hms) for use with loud hailer. $233.00

Navico 1710 VHF Antenna. ultraglass (8 ft) @ 6dB $134.00

Navico 1815 VHF Antenna MOUNT. $124.00

Charts are key but knowing how much water is below the keel is also helpful. The sounder system on Arawak may not be as advanced as some, but it should be all she needs for her island jaunts. “The sounder being the second most-used feature, we got a bronze transducer,” Cole says. “Nothing overkill—it’s a basic 600-watt through-hull transducer, rated for 83 and 200 kilohertz. It’s a good all-purpose transducer—it will work well in shallow water and if you’re doing passages across deep water you’re going to be able to track the bottom. Maybe not for this vessel, but this transducer will keep contact with the bottom at high speeds—30-plus knots with good depth readings.”

The other key navigation function of any electronics array is radar, and the Simrad team recommended Arawak ship the Broadband 4G, the latest generation of the company’s solid-state FMCW radar. “It’s designed as a safety radar,” Cole says. “The system gives you really good signals close in right off the bat. If you like to leave before dark in the morning or find yourself in the fog or offshore at night, it’s a terrific solution. And you still get range out to about 36 nautical miles with the 4G, and you get the functionality at both screens. Plus the 4G gives you dual-range performance on a single screen. You could set up one panel for long range, while having a short-range setup overlay on the chart panel. It’s like having two radars in one.” A hard-core bluewater cruiser may want to add a long-range magnetron radar to take the guesswork out of finding that harbor entrance or track storm fronts from far off, but for island hopping in the Caribbean, the Broadband system’s combination of low power draw and target definition is an apt solution. (To get the latest news on solid-state radar, see here. ▶)

In conjunction with the radar system, it’s hard to beat communications for collision avoidance, and Arawak is equipped. “We’ve added some other systems in the boat,” Cole says. “The AIS is functioning across the network sending the signal and also allows the user to be able to track those vessels and see which direction and how fast they’re going. You get the name of the vessel if you need to call him on the VHF. And of course we’ve got VHF radios: one fixed RS 35 at the upper helm, and an HS 35 wireless second station mounted below.” The second-station mic mounts on an induction charger and it’s always ready to go, connecting to the main fixed-mount via Bluetooth to provide full radio function (with the range of the 8-foot fixed-mount Navico 1710 VHF antenna) with handheld convenience from anywhere on the boat.

The helm on Arawak has a lot of terrific cruising functionality, and even room to grow if her owner decides to do more with her. But to me the best part is that this equipment is set up to not age into redundancy. What’s new will stay new, thanks to Simrad’s commitment to software updates. “Simrad does software updates at least three times a year,” Cole says. “Some of those times it might just be little features that may not make a difference to what you’re using. But we may have added several features that may be of value to you. It may not necessarily be the features that you’re looking for every time, but we also have software optimizations and bug fixes that can make the system work much more smoothly.” And with the GoFree Wi-Fi connection, software is easier to update than ever before—no more serial cables or even SD cards needed.

This entire system makes it a joy to spend time on a good old boat like Arawak—really using her the way she was meant to be used, and with the twist of new technology.


This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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