Sustaining Electrics

We have had lots of comments that salt water and electrics are not compatible. We also see lots of YouTube channels who find that their electronics (laptops, hard disks, cameras etc) do not last well in salt water environments.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. So what are we doing about it?

First, we need to recognise that Salt Water and Diesel are also not compatible. Also that diesel engines still need some electrics (very few modern diesel engines can be started by hand).

Second, there is a lot that can be done to help electrics survive better and to be more sustainable in our use of them. So here are a few things we are doing that particularly relate to the electric motor.

  1. Keep salt water out of the boat.
    1. Reduce the number of holes in the boat. We are down to 2 seacocks which are for the cockpit drains and so there is no opening from them into the interior of the boat.
    2. Change the traditional stuffing box to seal the propeller shaft with a modern dripless seal. The stuffing boxes always leak a little, right next to the motor which is clearly a bad thing.
  2. Actively dry the air, we will be fitting and electric dehumidifier into the motor compartment so that the air used to cool the motor will be dryer. The model we are looking at (Ecor Pro Dryboat 12) removes the moisture in an warm, damp exhaust to the outside (so we don’t need to have a water drain inside). A side effect is warm, dry air that can be used to warm the cabin, dry clothes etc.
  3. Box in the motor. While not fully sealing the motor (it is air cooled so needs air flow) we will make sure that it isn’t directly open to the bilge and that the air into the motor compartment comes from drier parts of the boat (such as the aft cabin which is far from the entrance and from wet clothes lockers). The compartment will be fully sealed from the cockpit locker where wet ropes, fenders etc will be stored. Also fully sealed from the galley where we create steam.
  4. Keep other water away from the motor compartment. So no plumbing at all. No water pump, no hot water tank etc.

We are also considering sustainability when it comes to other electronics such as used for navigation, general computing, entertainment etc.

Here our intention is to avoid integrated proprietary solutions in favour of low cost, open solutions. Also to use wireless communications where possible.

So our key platform will be Raspberry Pi single board computers. These do not require fans, can be installed in fully waterproof cases and run off 5Volt DC so are easy to power from our battery banks. They can be used for navigation (using OpenCPN), communication between sensors (such as wind speed, boat speed, AIS etc using SignalK as well as wired connections), entertainment (video etc), work (office software, video editing etc etc).

All the software is free and open source which is always far more sustainable than closed proprietary solutions that companies can stop supporting (or the companies can disappear). Even if you are not a programmer you still benefit from this.

Waterproof screens are now widely available and replacement screens can be bought anywhere (anything with an hdmi connection will work). That compares to replacement screen needing to be bought from B&G or Garmin or Apple.

As Raspberry Pi computers are cheap (the most powerful, more than we need is £74) and can be used for so many tasks, we can have several meaning we gain redundancy.

More and more sailors are switching from the very expensive dedicated units such as from B&G, Garmin, Raymarine and instead using the phone, iPad or tablet. However, these are generally not very waterproof and as they are all in one units they are expensive to replace.

Instead we can have a “dumb” but waterproof screen and keep the brains (the Raspberry Pi) separate, away from the elements. If there is a failure we haven’t lost the whole unit bit can easily replace just the broken part.

The open source element also allows a great deal of integration For example I can write code to access our Batteries Management systems over bluetooth from our Raspberry Pi (and make it available to the boat management system) without needing to wait for our unknown brand to be supported by the navigation system supplier. Others have connected sensors for temperature, humidity and much more.

There are a number of new sensors for sailing becoming available eg wind sensors from both OpenWind and Calypso that are solar powered and wireless. Both can be connected to Raspberry Pi systems. This should prove more reliable that systems requiring wires up the mast for power and data signals.

Whilst the (very expensive) integrated systems from B&G etc are very sophisticated they also tie you into an ecosystem that does not have sustainability at it’s core. To gain that you need to have more control yourself which is what the OpenSource approach gives.

Plus neither we nor the planet can afford to keep replacing Macbook laptop computers every year or two.

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