Category Archives: Maintenance

AIS

In November 2012 we bought a Garmin AIS 600, Automatic Identification System Transceiver. We chose this product for several reasons. We have a Garmin 4208 chartplotter and this is compatible. We wanted both send and receive capability and the ability to connect to our existing VHF radio antenna without a splitter. This product has all of that.

We installed it ourselves. We received some defective units at first and went through three before we got it working. Garmin’s technical support team was great. We were very happy with it once we got it up and running.

AIS works by sending and receiving digital information using the VHF radio band. Typically the AIS receiver and transmitter use the same antenna as your VHF radio. Some products need a splitter to share the antenna. The information transmitted includes latitude, longitude, MMSI number, vessel name, speed and course. The unit has a GPS to provide some of this information. The rest is programmed into the device.

The AIS 600 sends the information about your vessel over the VHF airwaves for other vessels to receive and sends information about other vessels to your chartplotter over NMEA 0183 or NMEA 2000. You can also see vessel information on PC-based applications via a USB cable.

We connected our AIS 600 to our chartplotter via NMEA 0183. We can also display other vessel information on our Windows PC or tablet running  OpenCPN or the Garmin setup program for Windows.

OpenCPN with AIS
OpenCPN with AIS

We were very happy with our Garmin AIS 600 until it didn’t work. Actually, it only stopped showing vessel information on the chartplotter. It still transmitted our vessel information and we could still display vessel information on our Windows tablet.

Troubleshooting

Whenever something stops working, and I’m not sure why, my first step is to procrastinate. Sometimes it will start working again, or at least I find out why it stopped. Once I determined that it wasn’t going to fix itself, I checked the connections between the AIS 600 and chartplotter. I re-soldered the NMEA 0183 connections and checked them with an ohmmeter. Everything checked-out good.

Garmin AIS Setup Utility
Garmin AIS Setup Utility

I Googled “garmin ais 600 problems” to see if I could find any suggestions. I found a Garmin support page. This was geared to first-time setup problems. I did it anyway. I updated our Garmin 4208 chartplotter to the latest firmware and checked the NMEA 0183 settings. The NMEA 0183 port used for AIS must be set to high-speed (38,400 baud vs. 4800 baud). It still didn’t work.

I emailed Garmin support. They replied, but I had already tried everything they suggested. I reread the installation manuals for the chartplotter and AIS. I rewired it to use other NMEA ports on the chartplotter, but it didn’t help.

I suspected that the NMEA 0183 stopped working, but I didn’t know if it was the AIS or chartplotter. I wired the output of the AIS NMEA 0183 to a serial to USB adapter. The adapter that I had did not work with the current version of Windows. I bought a new one on Amazon.com for $8.99.

Windows used to include HyperTerminal, a terminal emulator. Windows 10 doesn’t include that accessory anymore, but I had another program, PuTTY, that could be used in its place. I hooked it all up. I could not see anything on the AIS NMEA 0183 output, but I could see valid NMEA sentences on the AIS USB output. I was almost certain the problem was the NMEA 0183 output o the AIS 600.

PuTTY connected to AIS
PuTTY connected to AIS

A Garmin technical support rep called me to find out how it was going. He said it would cost $450 to repair the AIS 600. We discussed using NMEA 2000, which is supported by both the AIS 600 and 4208 chartplotter. That required a NMEA 2000 Starter Kit. The starter kit cost $87.95 on Amazon.com. This looked like my best alternative.

Solution

The AIS 600 came with some NMEA 2000 parts. The NMEA 2000 Starter Kit had everything else I needed to connect the AIS to the Chartplotter.

NMEA 2000 networks are powered by a 12 volt source. We wired ours to the same circuit as the Chartplotter and AIS. Our network consists of a backbone with three T-connectors and a backbone extension cable. The middle T-connector is the power cable, the others connect to the AIS and Chartplotter with drop cables. Each end of the backbone is terminated.

NMEA 2000 Sample Network
NMEA 2000 Sample Network

The above diagram is from Technical Reference for Garmin NMEA 2000 Products.

We connected the network to temporary a power source and verified that it was working in about 10 minutes. The permanent network wiring was pretty easy as well. We set it up so that we can easily attach other devices, such as a wind instrument. One more to do item to check off the list.

New Paint

We painted Questeria’s topsides in 2011. I was still working at the time, so Fran’s uncle Ben helped. (See questeria.info/jframe5.html) The boat looked great for a while, but its long overdue for a new paint job.

Last time we used Interlux Brightside one-part enamel.  We wanted an off-white color. We tried Hatteras off-white Y4208, but we thought it was too dark. Next we tried Hatteras off-white Y4218, but that was too light. We ended up mixing them 50/50 to get the color we wanted. For the non-skid we used KiwiGrip. We bought white and had it tinted to match our enamel.

This time we decided to paint it white. It was easier and we felt it would keep the deck cooler in the sun. We also decided to use a two-part polyurethane paint. They say you can’t put two-part paint over one-part paint but we talked to people who had done it successfully.

They make about a dozen variations of white. We decided to use Interlux Perfection, Mediterranean White because West Marine had two quarts in stock.

There were many cracks in the gelcoat. We repaired them by widening them with an xacto knife and a chisel. To stop the cracks from spreading we drilled a bevel at both sides with a bevel drill bit. We filled them with West System G/flex and sanded it smooth.

There were many places where the old paint had worn off or peeled.  We sanded the old paint with 60 grit paper. Then we applied three coats of Interlux Pre-Kote primer. We used a foam roller in large areas and a brush in small or tight areas.

Next we applied three coats of paint. We used a badger hair brush and foam roller. When we ran out of paint we went to West Marine in Marathon, but they were out of it. So we went to the West Marines in Key West and Stock Island to get more. After that we found it on Amazon.com for a cheaper price.

For the non-skid we used white KiwiGrip. We used a nappy roller where we already had enough or too much texture and a textured roller (the one that comes with the KiwiGrip) when we needed more texture.

New Paint Job
New Paint Job

It didn’t come out perfect, not even close, but Questeria looks so much better than before. We can start enjoying her now.

First Post of 2017

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a new post. My last one was Looking Back at Our First Bahamas Trip, on October 8, 2016. The post before that was Ten Years, on November 2015. I will try to do better than one post a year.

Statue of Liberty on way from Maine to Florida

We haven’t been completely idle. We spent some time on other boats. In October 2015 we helped Fran’s uncle deliver a boat from Boothbay, Maine to Cocoa Beach Florida, with a week stop over in Boston, Massachusetts. In March and April of 2016, we helped our friends, Gary and Ellen, take their boat, Gypsea, from Marathon, Florida to Chattanooga Tennessee. We also helped deliver a boat from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina to Sandusky, Ohio in May of 2016. The boat broke down and we had to leave it in Wilmington, North Carolina.

M/V Gypsea
M/V Gypsea Moving to Chattanooga TN
Tow Boat taking us to Wilmington NC

Most of our traveling has been by RV. See our RV Adventure pages for more details.

We take a break from the RV in September 2016 and drive from North Carolina to Marathon, Florida. On September 4  we try to take Questeria to Newfound Harbor. The engine overheats. We stop,  let it cool down, and barely made it back to the marina.

I don’t know if Questeria is mad at us, but we now have a list of things to fix:

  • Engine cooling
  • Starter solenoid not working
  • Tachometer is erratic
  • AIS is not showing other vessels on chart plotter
  • Anemometer is not working
  • Transmission is leaking fluid

Besides the above, we have to fix deck leaks, repair deck cracks and paint the topside.

It is time to descale the  engine. We drain the coolant and take off the heat exchanger, the coolant tank, and all associated hoses. Next we put it all back together, except for the heat exchanger and thermostat. We borrow an air-conditioner pump from a friend and run Barnacle Buster through the engine via the heat exchanger hoses. We also soak the heat exchanger in Barnacle Buster. We finish by flushing with fresh water.

While we have all the hoses off, we replace the starting solenoid and an old oil line. We also replace the impeller and clean and tighten the alternator contacts. We tighten up the transmission coupling and add Lucas transmission fix to it.

On September 20 we have everything put back together and we are ready to test it out. We go to Burdines fuel dock and get 45 gallons of diesel. Then we go to Newfound Harbor for a few days.

The engine does fine at first. It stays below 170° until we leave the fuel dock. After that it creeps up to 180°. The starter, anemometer and tachometer mostly work, but the AIS doesn’t work at all.

We anchor in Newfound Harbor for three nights. It is very hot and we run our A/C using our Honda 2000 generator. The power for the A/C is near the limit  of the Honda 2000. Occasionally the generator goes into overload and we have to restart it. We lower the inside temperature a few degrees at a time and get it from 91° to 75° with two tanks of gasoline.

Newfound Harbor Sunrise

We also have problems with our refrigerator. The yellow light blinks, which indicates that the voltage is low, but our batteries are above 12 volts. We use our Honda 2000 generator for charging the batteries and running the refrigerator and freezer.

Trip to Newfound Harbor
Trip to Newfound Harbor

We leave on the fourth day. The engine gets up to 185° and we notice there is no raw water pumping out of the exhaust. We drop the anchor and let it cool off. The raw water starts pumping out of the exhaust again, but it is still running hotter than is should. We run at 1800 RPM and get home, but the engine is just below overheating temperature.

When the engine cools down we notice the coolant is gray. We drain it, fill it with distilled water, run the engine and drain it. We repeat this until we get most of the gray stuff out. The gray stuff looks like fine sand.  We guess it is from the descaling. We remove the coolant tank and heat exchanger and flush them with water. We put it all back together and fill the system with 50/50 coolant and distilled water. It seems better now.

With the engine running cool, we now can start working on repairing deck cracks. These are many stress cracks in the old gelcoat. We start with an xacto knife, then widen the crack with a chisel and bevel out each end with a drill bit. Then we fill it with West System G/flex. Next we sand it smooth. We work on this some each day.

The National Hurricane Center is predicting Matthew to go up the east coast. It looks like the Florida Keys are not at risk, but our RV is in North Carolina and it might be at risk. So we pack up, leave Questeria, and drive to North Carolina.

We have fixed the engine overheating problem and the starter solenoid.  The AIS and anemometer are still not working. The transmission  still leaks, but is a little better. We have started deck repairs,  but this will take a lot more time.

We did get one boat trip to Newfound Harbor. We return to Florida for the rest of the year, so that will be our one and only boat trip on Questeria in 2016.