BWS Publisher George Day takes a look at how to simplify your setup by mounting your gadgets and antennas out of sight and out of mind. Check out the special section on Safety & Electronics in the February issue of BWS on newsstands now.
Modern cruising boats are often fitted out with enough electronics to basically fly on instruments alone. Almost every cruiser has sailing instruments, a speedo, a depth sounder, an autopilot and a VHF. Plus, many skippers add radar, AIS, a chartplotter/multifunction display, Sirius/XM radio, and a sat phone or HR transceiver. And then there are satellite TV antennas to think about. We know, because we are dealing with these issues on our own boat.
The question becomes, where do you put all of these cool gadgets and the antennas that go with them? Modern cruising boats don’t have big chart tables with flat surfaces on which to install devices or dedicated mounting spots on deck for antennas. But most modern boats do have good flat surfaces near the helm(s) for sailing instruments, depth sounders, a speedo or a couple of smaller multifunction displays. And, there is usually room for the control head of an autopilot. Certainly, these instruments should be close to the helmsman’s line of sight.
But if such an installation is not practical, you may need to install mounting pods on the binnacle’s stainless steel handrail or on the cabintop above the companionway hatch. In this case, the autopilot can be mounted down in the cockpit next to the helm.
Adding a GPS and multifunction display is almost automatic for modern skippers fitting out a new boat. The GPS antenna needs to be exposed to the full sky and outside the beam range of a radar antenna. A common mounting spot is on a stern rail or even flush on deck aft.
On boats with single wheels, the best solution may be to install a chartplotter in a NavPod on the binnacle rail above the compass. On new, beamier boats with twin wheels, you can mount the chartplotter on the after end of the cockpit table. Some new boats have dedicated articulating pods built in just for this purpose. Or, you can construct a simple mounting device for an articulating NavPod on the after end of the table so the screen can be swiveled to face either wheel.
Both AIS and Sirius/XM radio require their own antennas, which have to be unobstructed. AIS uses VHF frequencies and is a line of sight transceiver, so the higher the antenna, the better; but the stern rail, again, seems to be the default spot to mount these antennas.
A sat phone that you want to mount below (instead of the handheld version), will also need an antenna, which again needs an unobstructed view of the sky and which often ends up on the stern rail with the GPS, Sirius and AIS antennas. An HF radio often uses an insulated backstay as the antenna. But, if you are retrofitting a boat with HF radio, you may opt to mount a five to seven meter whip on the stern, adding to the clutter already there.
A radar that will be viewed on the chartplotter has an antenna that needs to be mounted well over the heads of people on deck, As a result, these often end up mounted on the mast at the first or second spreaders. But, an antenna on the mast can snag lines and sheets and is subject to degraded signals because of its location so far from the boat’s center of gravity. One alternative is to hang the antenna on a gimbaled Questus from the backstay, but this solution may be obviated by also using the backstay as an HF antenna.
Finally, a satellite TV antenna needs to be positioned so it can see most of the sky as it scans and locks onto sat signals. This antenna can be mounted on the hardtop of a catamaran’s bimini or on top of a hard dodger, but neither solution is perfect.
As we have added devices and their accompanying antennas to our Jeanneau 45.2, we’ve run out of good places to mount the antennas on the stern rails. Faced with a dilemma, we contacted our friends at Edson. The company’s experts came up with what we think is an elegant solution: Stern-mounting poles.
Instead of mounting the radar on the mast or a bracket on top of the bimini and putting the various antennas on the stern rail, we installed an Edson pole with a round radar mount on its top and twin side “branches” for the other antennas. The pole was installed aft of the stern rail with a pivoting bracket on the reverse transom and a U-bolt bracket attached to the stern rail. The radar sits atop the pole, and the various antennas are mounted on the “branches.” The radar is a safe two feet overhead, while the GPS is on a short stainless steel riser pole that gets it above the radar signal.
Since we won’t have TV on the boat but did want a wind generator, we mounted that on the other quarter where it is out of the way, too. But that’s another story.
Edson’s stern pole solution got the antennas aboard completely organized and in a spot where adding systems won’t involve unstepping the mast. We chose not to install the gimbaled option for the radar for simplicity’s sake and have used the radar at sea without issue in bouncy conditions and when heeled over sailing hard to windward. For us, this was definitely the way to go.