27 March 2016

Satellite System for Sailing: Fleet One Project

Bob Damiano

Cell phones don't work off-shore.  We're going off-shore.  So... this requires some sort of long-distance communication system to get data (such as weather reports, GRIBs, etc).  The two ways to go are with an SSB (Single-Sideband) radio or some sort of satellite system.  For various reasons, we decided to go satellite.  Maybe because I always wanted to be an astronaut. With satellites, you can either buy or rent a Sat Phone, or install a full-on sat receiver system.
After weighing options and considering what we want Argon's future mission to be, we decided on a KVH Fleet One satellite system.  We purchased this system (along with solar panels) from Cay Electronics.


The parts

The big bits are the satellite receiver and the terminal.  The trick is to connect these two things together somehow and mount them so that they work and don't look stupid. The cool thing about the Fleet One is that the antenna gets its power over the coax wire!  There are no power wires to run. Our total run is about 58 feet (40 from the nav station to the base of the radar mast and 18 to the top of the mast).  I like to leave nice big service loops at the disconnects to save my back when I have to work on it. The other major part was to add a dedicated wifi router to the terminal so that any computer (or phone) can connect. 

Initial Testing

We asked for the data plan to go live March 1st.  This way we would have time to debug any issues and get used to using it during the season.  It turned out that there was zero debugging to do. It just worked perfectly out of the box.

I set up the dome in the cockpit and connected it.  Even under the shrinkwrap and down low, it got a very strong tracking signal and I was able to download a GRIB to my android phone (over the wireless LAN).  I also sent texts (both directions) and made a very short phone call (both directions).

The data is very expensive:  $10/MB.  Our rule is that no phones or computers can do the "connect automatically" thing to this.  It will require typing in a password each time we connect to the Lan so there are no accidental big downloads.  This system will only be used off-shore to receive updates from shore support, texts from family/friends and weather info. We will also be able to send messages back to shore as well as our position for anyone interested in tracking us.

The test stand.  Notice it's under the shrinkwrap!

First GRIB download over the Fleet One

How to mount it?

Argon has a transom radar mast.  Last year when we added the Bullet Wifi Router, we purchased an antenna "wing" from Edson to mount that antenna on.  We purchased the Fleet One system at the Newport Boat Show in 2015 where Argon was featured in the Tartan Booth. There, Will Keene (CEO of Edson) actually came out to the boat and drew in a notepad the basic design for a mounting system for the KVH antenna.

A couple days after the show, we had this CAD mockup in our inbox from Edson:

Edson's mockup for the KVH antenna hoop
We liked the looks of this design and Edson went to work building one for us (it is now a regular item in their catalog).  When it arrived, we realized that we still needed to purchase a standard base for the KVH antenna. Here is a shot of the top of the hoop with that base installed.

The Standard Edson Base for the KVH mounted on the hoop

Strength Concerns

The Edson Wing is designed to have whatever antennae mounted by drilling/tapping into a plate of aluminum. I think this is fine for our bullet router or a small GPS antenna or something like that.  But this thing is pretty big (and expensive) and I just didn't like the thought of a few tapped holes in aluminum being the support.

I wanted to Thru-bolt that sucker somehow. Problem is, the top and bottom plates of the wing are not parallel.  This is the problem with wing-shaped things. So, I ordered a couple squares of King Starboard from Boat Outfitters who will very quickly cut any custom sized piece of starboard you need.  My plan was to drill some 1/4" clearance holes at a slant, and then use a wood boring bit to drill a flattened out countersunk area for a screw head.

The Starboard Squares drilled and countersunk

Here are some photos of the antenna hoop thru-bolted with the starboard squares.  This thing is really strong!

Underside of the wing with the 1/4-20 bolts going up through the wing.

The hoop thru-bolted to the wing and very strong


The wiring is fairly straightforward. The RG223 Coax is connected with TNC connectors. I have crimpers that work more or less pretty good for TNCs.  It took a bit of trial/error (and a reorder of TNCs from I-Com, but I got it.

getting ready to crimp some RG-58

While we're at it... AIS GPS Antenna.

Last year when we installed AIS, we took a bit of a shortcut and installed the GPS antenna right inside the nav station inside the boat.  My feeling was that if my crappy little android phone could always get a great GPS signal inside the boat, this thing should too.  And it did - it worked fine.  But since we were taking the mast down anyway and since there would now be a spare place to stick another antenna, Linda convinced me to move the AIS GPS antenna up there.  So another 40' length of RG-58 and a few more TNC connectors is really all it took.

And another while we're at it...

There is a cockpit light at the top of the radar mast.  It was a big honkin current sucking halogen light.  Since I've been on a quest to rid Argon of every non-LED bulb there is, and since the mast was down anyway, we replaced it with a new 4w LED fixture.

The Fleet One base unit and the Linksys router that will be the Lan for it.

A small wiring project

The included IP phone

Ready to put it all together

The night before, here is everything wired up and mounted including the bullet, and the AIS GPS antenna
Getting ready to attach wing to mast

Putting the wing on the mast and re-mounting the radar dome

Notice the sexy new cockpit light

Up she goes

A crew of always-helpful marina neighbors came by for the lifting procedure. We really try to do this without dropping the mast overboard. 

Final Installation and testing

The best part about these projects is when they are done and not only does the new thing work, but you haven't broken anything that already worked. Radar, Wifi, GPS, and of course Satellite are all working perfectly.  And I don't think it looks very stupid at all.

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