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Author Topic:   Installing Electronics: Do It Yourself or Hire Out
norm posted 11-25-2005 01:07 AM ET (US)   Profile for norm   Send Email to norm  
I could really use the experience and wisdom of you all. I'm going to add a GPS, a Fishfinder, and VHF radio to my STRIPER 15. I've pretty much decided on the models, Garmin and ICOM, but my quandry is the install. That is, do I have it professionally done, or attempt myself?

I have several problems, first, I'm very particular about the quality of work done on everything I own, including my own work. I could probably do the radio myself, but the FishFinder involves removing the old transducer, filling the holes, and installing the new transducer. This means drilling new holes into the hull of my pristine Whaler, and that freaks me out. Mind you, I've been a Trauma Nurse for 15 years, and can poke holes in your body and insert all manner of things into all your orifices with absolute confidence, but I don't want to damage my boat.

So, have it done, or do it myself? How about the finer points of radio install, plugging holes, wiring, etc? If I choose to have it done, who do I go with in the SF East Bay Area that are specifically marine electronic specialists? Nothing makes me more crazy than to choose an "expert" to do my work only to find I could have done and equal or better job. Any and all advice is most welcome.

swist posted 11-25-2005 09:13 AM ET (US)     Profile for swist  Send Email to swist     
You may very well be in a crap shoot as far as getting electronics wiring done. I know several places in my area that do very good work in general that get pretty sloppy when it comes to electrical work (this includes my own Wahler dealer). Hopefully someone here in this area can give you a direct reference.

What you are proposing to do is certainly doable by an amateur (I have done several) but you are right in that there are a LOT of little details. If I wrote out all the things you need to do, this would be a two page reply.

Chuck Tribolet posted 11-25-2005 09:23 AM ET (US)     Profile for Chuck Tribolet  Send Email to Chuck Tribolet     
Some alternatives:

Fill the old holes with a pan-head screw and a little sealant.
I like 101, a lot of folks like 5200.

Get a like brand GPS/fishfinder that will use the same holes
and maybe same bracket.

Cut a block of starboard (1/2"?) and bolt it to the transom
with the old holes, then screw the new bracket to the
starboard. If you are crafty, you can possibly put one
bolt all the way through the new bracket and starboard one
old hole in the transom.

Hog out a little foam behind the old holes, fill with West
System, thickened, from a plastic glue squirter (think
hypodermic). Close up. When it sets, redo the gelcoat.
This the prettiest, but by far the most work.

Radio: first decision is where to put the antenna. If you
fish, probably on the console. Consider where it will fold
to for trailering. Then figure out how much coax you need.
The better antennas come with 20', the cheaper ones with 15'.

Be sure to check out the Standard Horizon Stealth radios
(PS1000/2000). The radio mounts in the console, all the
controls are on a big mike.


jimh posted 11-25-2005 09:24 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
To quickly become familiar with good installation practices, just visit your local Boston Whaler dealer and inspect some of the boats on his showroom floor. These boats will give you a good example of proper techniques and should be able to give you good ideas on how to do it yourself.

As for drilling holes in a new boat, be guided by the old expression:

"Measure once, cut twice; measure twice, cut once."

Sheila posted 11-25-2005 11:41 AM ET (US)     Profile for Sheila  Send Email to Sheila     
Chuck, I thought those radios carried the model name of "Phantom"?
jimh posted 11-26-2005 04:34 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Chuck Tribolet posted 11-26-2005 06:32 PM ET (US)     Profile for Chuck Tribolet  Send Email to Chuck Tribolet     
You're right, Sheila, Phantom, not Stealth.


derf posted 11-26-2005 08:21 PM ET (US)     Profile for derf  Send Email to derf     
I am a complete DIY guy. So, I'd do it myself. If you have any mechanical inclination, I would encourage you to do it yourself. Paying a pro sometimes means a teenage butcher goes at your yacht with a cordless drill. Some pros, the good ones, handle each job as if it were on his own yacht. If you have a good service person and you don't think you can handle it, go to him/her. If you do it yourself at least you KNOW how well the job was done.
jimh posted 11-26-2005 10:55 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
I also experience some anxiety when I have to drill hole in the boat. For example, this summer I installed a flag staff holder on the rear deck of my boat. It took me several hours to install it. First I had to decide where I wanted it: on centerline or on one of the gunwales. After I decided the general location, then I had to check several things for clearance. Would it interfere with the motor when the motor was tilted up? Finally I had a location.

Next I had to determine what was under the deck at that location. To do this I had to remove a number of things, including a hatch and its hinges. Next came several sets of measurements, moving from above the deck to below the deck, so I could see where the holes would land from below. Then I changed the position of the holder slightly so the holes would be in the best location on the underside. Finally, after about a hour of fiddling, I was ready to drill a test hole. I started with a very small diameter drill. It is easier to fix a small hole than a big one, if a mistake is made.

The test hole looked good. It landed right where I wanted it to on the underside. I enlarged the first hole and mounted the flag staff socket with one bolt. Using the actual holes as a template, I drilled the other two holes. They landed in the expected places, so I was in good shape.

When I enlarged the holes for the machine screws, I made them just big enough so the screw would just clear--it actually just begins to grab a bit of thread into the hole itself. Then I installed the big fender washers, the regular washers, and the elastic stop nuts. Some marine sealant was carefully added. I tightened the flag staff socket to the deck. A perfect installation!

If I had hired someone to install this, they probably would have spent about five minutes on it and charged me $75. I probably spent two hours on this project. No one who does this type of work for a living will spend that much time, and they won't do the job as carefully as you will yourself. For example, I bought the machine screws in three different length so I could use just the right size for this project. (I didn't know ahead of the job precisely how thick the deck laminate was at the point of installation.) Instead of using screws that were 2-inches too long, I used ones just the right size. It makes for a better looking installation. These are the things that you can do yourself that a hired-hand probably won't bother with.

surfkast posted 11-28-2005 01:10 PM ET (US)     Profile for surfkast    
I say go for it yourself. I was in the same position as you. I got a quote from West Marine for $1,100 to install a gps/ff combo and a vhf radio and antenna. I decided to install everything myself and it's going very well. The bait tank is plumbed and wired, no problems. The GPS is almost done (been on vacation). I rate myself as lower to middle on the handyman/electric knowledge but did a lot of research on 12v systems. Use 4200 or 5200 on any holes below the waterline, countersink your holes so you don't crack the gel coat. Lots of good advice here on the site. Best thing is, now I know how everything works on my boat.


bigjohn1 posted 11-29-2005 07:08 AM ET (US)     Profile for bigjohn1  Send Email to bigjohn1     
Norm, I understand your thoughts and am the same way. I installed my own stuff (gps/ff, and vhf) but I really took my time and completed it over a two-weekend period of time. No doubt it can be done much faster than that but we had a bad month of weather and I couldn't use the boat anyway. Other than the good advice other have already submitted, I will add to solder all of your electrical connections for the components you install and to use rubber electricians tape where needed vice the regular plastic black electrical tape. Some omit the soldering and never have a problem but since I pound my boat quite a bit in rough water, I don't want any connections getting jarred loose.
JOHN W MAYO posted 12-01-2005 09:54 AM ET (US)     Profile for JOHN W MAYO  Send Email to JOHN W MAYO     
If you can find a friend to help you that has good mechanical skill and simple electrical ability it may be of benefit to you to have someone there with you for support. Remember, it is your baby you are working on and it is not going to mean the same to someone else. If you do not like the suggestions, etc of someone else, it is your boat and if it would still work, it you way.

Where is your Whaler located? There may be another forum member who would be glad to help you.

norm posted 12-01-2005 07:10 PM ET (US)     Profile for norm  Send Email to norm     
Thanks all for your advice and encouragement. I believe I'll give it a shot at installing myself. The winter is here now (I live in Antioch,CA) and I keep the boat in the garage, so thats just fine for taking my time and doing it myself. As was stated, I may be slow but nobody has more interest in doing it right than me.

I'll be mounting both the GPS/Fishfinder and VHF on the console, and I read somewhere that the VHF antenna should be mounted at least 3ft away from the radio. Originally planned on a starboard console mount for the antenna, but if the 3ft thing is true, then maybe a handrailing mount? Where have have you all mounted your antenna's?

Chuck Tribolet posted 12-01-2005 08:02 PM ET (US)     Profile for Chuck Tribolet  Send Email to Chuck Tribolet     
If you are going to do it yourself, don't use any electical
stuff you bought at the HW store or the autoparts store or
Radio Shack. Use marine grade stuff. Ancor is a good brand
for wire and connectors. Blue Seas make some really nices
fuse blocks. And about the neatest stuff is Ancor's heat
shring tubing that's lined with hot melt glue. It glues
itself to the wire insulation to keep water out. They also
make crimp-on connectors with the same heat shrink.


surfkast posted 12-02-2005 03:24 AM ET (US)     Profile for surfkast    
good for you on doing it yourself. I just installed my gps/ff combo, gps antenna, and transducer tonight. Went very well. I'll post pics when i get everything else finished. Just the VHF and antenna left.

The transducer and bait pump were the most nerve wracking as you have to drill holes below the water line in your boat. Use masking tape so the gel coat doesn't crack, countersink with a slightly larger bit (just a little), then fill holes and coat screws with 4200 or 5200.

Like you, I've been taking it slow, checking out other people's pictures, talking to people, getting heat shrink, good connectors, etc. It's a lot of fun. Good luck.

Also, there's a compression fitting for the antenna if you don't want to do any soldering.


Chuck Tribolet posted 12-02-2005 10:09 AM ET (US)     Profile for Chuck Tribolet  Send Email to Chuck Tribolet     
That compression fitting is called Center-Pin, and is
available under both the Center-Pin brand and Shakespeare.

The best ones are gold-plated.

Soldering antenna connectons is a real pain and takes a bad-boy iron because the wire and esp. the connector have
so much thermal mass. I've got a 250W gun, which is pretty
hefty, and have never been able to do a job I was happy with.


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