These are the features of our catamaran...
Computers and related items
The Fishfinder provides Depth, Speed (or Log) and Water Temperature. In addition to this, it acts as a color fish finder. Water temperature and depth can be displayed on a time graph. This is very useful in detecting warm or cold ocean currents. This is the display mode we mostly use.
This instrument displays wind direction and wind speed. It also records the maximum wind speed.
This is a greyscale chartplotter and GPS. Together with the C-Map cartridge, we have all maps from Melbourne to the Whitsundays. My recommendation is to have a color chartplotter - I chose a greyscale as I intended to replace it with a combined instrument later. However, we purchased C-Map and SOB for the laptop instead (see below). This has the added benefit of providing us with two independant systems (when we use the Garmin GPS).
Meet George. He does most of the steering on Blue Magic!
This is an autopilot which can be set to steer to compass, wind or waypoint (GPS position). The chartplotter can direct the autoilot to follow a course, that is, a multiple set of waypoints, or just a single 'goto point'.
We only use the autopilot in two modes, either to follow a compass course (which doesn't allow for drift), or to use the chartplotter to 'goto a point'. When we arrive there, or change our mind, we just set a new 'goto point'. This is an invaluable aid and we use it a huge amount of the time.
The most requested feature we would like is to be able to set a new 'goto point' on the chartplotter and have the Autopilot ask if we want to change to the new course. Currently you have to cancel the 'goto point', then hand steer while you set a new 'goto point' and set it. Many cruisers have the same complaint of their autopilots. It appears no autopilot manufacturer does this! There's a market there guys!
The autopilot drives an hydraulic pump which controls our hydraulic steering.
This is no ordinary VHF Radio. It has an inbuilt barometer. However, its main advantage is that it can repeat the GPS position (and time) from the chartplotter. As the VHF is inside the saloon, it saves us from going outside to take our GPS position from the chartplotter when we make our log entries. A GME waterproof extension speaker provides audio in the cockpit and up on the foredeck.
Note the sticker from VMR listing the VHF Repeater Network below the radio.
The laptop has inbuilt WiFi and Bluetooth and CD Burner/DVD player. This is great for backing up photos from our digital camera to CD. We now have a USB external DVD Burner as our photo backups will not fit onto a CD anymore. It also provides file backups of the PC.
We use SOBvMax software (Software On Board) from www.digiboat.com.au and C-Map Max charts of the Eastern Half of Australia (covers about Kimberlies to Adelaide) from www.c-map.com.au The price of these charts have come down tremendously. We input our GPS from the Tracker Chartplotter (handmade box for NMEA to 9-pin RS232 connector) connected to a RS232 to USB converter bought from Dick Smith. A backup battery powered Garmin 12 GPS with external 12V power and RS232 connection is also on-board. We also utilise the RS232 to Serial converter to send our track logs and waypoints from our Tracker Chartplotter to the laptop each day to store our sailing path to computer.
SOB Software - recommended. It is written in AUstralia and their support is excellent. They answered one of my questions on a Sunday (until I told them where I was!! only joking). It doesn't have all the features as some of the expensive software, but it seems to have what you want and the price is right (free for 6 months then about Aus$50).
Provided we have plenty of power, the PC option is the best as we have a large screen of information (map) and we use it regularly. It also duplicates our chartplotter system. We are seriously considering adding an AIS box to our laptop. This receives identification from large ships giving their name, position and course/speed. (see www.digiboat.com.au for more information or search Google for AIS in San Francisco and look at the bay live)
Internet Access - We connect to broadband internet via Telstra NextG (better overall coverage). This is done using a Telstra Turbo Modem (USB). Using an external aerial up the mast will greatly improve the coverage in poor areas.
A lot of cruisers are using the LED replacement globes (from Whitworths) for their anchor lights to save power. Some are using LED Garden Lights but these invariably fail over the night providing a hazard early morning.
The problem with anchor lights on a yacht/catamaran is that the light is high up and power boats don't think about this. We have a CCL (cold cathode tube) light from Jaycar and string this on the boom to give all-round light (in addition to our anchor light). It uses just 170mA (less than 2W). We were using a blue light (before it died) so as not to be confused with navigation lights - it also makes our cat easy to find when returning in the dark.
I have modified a cheap Solar Garden Light by fitting a blue LED and better battery. It is necessary to externally recharge the battery every 2 weeks in order to keep the light working from sundown to sunrise. I use this in conjunction with my anchor light!