You read the headline right, I replaced all engine and navigational instruments onboard my 1967 31’ Commander with two iPads. I used this setup four seasons now so I am confident in saying it works like a dream.

Before going into details a warning might be in order. This is not a project for the faint hearted nor if you are on a budget. Furthermore, what I am about to describe is probably regarded as blasphemy among those who prefer to keep everything as original as possible. To those I apologise and suggest you close the post now. The rest of you, have fun!

Short background

When I bought my 31’ Commander in 1998 about half of the original engine instruments had been replaced with non Chris Craft stuff by PO. Some didn’t work properly. At the time, I deemed it impossible to find Chris Craft replacements, or getting someone to repair the ones I had. During the major restoration of the boat 1999 I replaced all instruments with traditional gauges ones and was happy with them. But as they approached the 20 year mark they too began to feel dated and not wholly reliable.

So I went for a completely different solution.

First, a look at the final result

IPads in place. The instrument ”app” in the iPads can be programmed to accept your custom made ”welcome screens”…

… as well as configure your own menu with touch buttons to access various sets of instruments.

This is a sample of what the actual instruments look like. On the left hand iPad you have gauges for speed through water, speed over ground, log and depth readings. The right hand iPad displays the engine tach meters, oil pressure, water temperature and engine alarm indicators.  I have a number of other ”sets” of instrument displays, for example steering compass, fuel tank and water readings, trim tab status, etc. You can flip through them like browsing a book. Any of the iPads can show any data, so If one iPad fails you can still see the readings on the other.

The iPads are of course prone to be stolen when the boat is unattended. For this reason I had the instrument dashboard made in such way that the iPads can quickly be removed and brought with you home.  

First, I open the top "lip"...

...then I lift out and unplug the power cable to the first iPad...

...then I remove the second iPad.

Finally I close the "lip" again. No instruments left for the thieves!

 

The technical side of this solution

For those of you who might feel tempted to do something similar, I will describe the fundamentals of how it works and which the prerequisites are. 

How do I get the iPads to ”talk” to my engines and to my navigation tools?

 The short answer is you need a NMEA 2000 network onboard. If you already have reasonably modern navigational instruments onboard chances are you already got one and if so you can expand that. If not you need one and it it not as complicated as it sounds. There are numerous guides to this on the internet so I won’t go in to it here. But once you have a NMEA 2000 network you need some other stuff.

How do I connect my engines to NMEA 2000 network?

Very modern engines might have this built in, but  if you are like me and have engines which are dated before the ”digital age” it can still be done. You need an Engine monitoring unit that can convert analog signals from your engine to digital NMEA 2000 lingo. I use a product called Actisense EMU-1.  You plug this product in to the NEMA 2000 network cable and route a simple copper cable from your existing tach, oil pressure and temperature meters to the EMU-1.

Can I plug my iPad to NMEA 2000?

No, not directly. Ipads don’t ”talk” NMEA. They only talk WIFI (or Bluetooth). To enable this you need two things. You need a NMEA 2000 to internet Gateway. I use Maretron IPG100.  It is expensive but very reliable. I am sure there are others. Using a standard network cable from Radio Shack you connect the gateway to any WIFI router that can be power supplied by your 12V (or 24V) electrical system. Now the iPad can talk to the Wifi router, that can talk to the NMEA network, that talks to your Actisense EMU-1, that listens to your engine data. It sounds incredibly complicated when described in words like this but in real life you see none of this. 

But I need special app in my iPad, right?

Yes you do. There are different solutions around but I use Maretron’s N2KView for mobile devices. It is free. You can even download it right now and see how it works with demo data. Warning! it is addictive! The app can be programmed to display virtually any type of instruments and data as long as it transmits it data over an NMEA 2000 network.

How about the navigational instruments?

To make the most of the solution above you will need navigational instruments that are NMEA 2000 enabled. In my case I use a Maretron solid state steering compass, a triducer (depth, speed, temp) and a GPS.  I even connected monitoring of my Zipwake Interceptors to the system. You can read more about my Zipwakes in this forum post. 

Must i use iPads?

No, any Android device will work or even a PC or Mac.

Is this expandable?

You bet! there is almost no end to the things you can connect. The sky, or rather your bank account, is the limit!

Have fun!

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First class work on your helm! So are you getting your chart plotter functions on your I-pads too, or do you run separate electronics for those?   

This is fantastic, I am upgrading a 1980 410 and I was just about to buy a bunch of gauges. I have an electronic engineer and programmer that works for me. I could never to this but they could.

One question can this manage the sync of the engines? If so this is my direction.

Thanks so much!

JPS

Very nice.

Punchlist

Purist or not, that is beautiful craftsmanship! Well done!

Excellent work Alarik!  You have executed digital switching/monitoring with sheer elegance.

I am on a similar trajectory as part of my Total Command System (TCS) refit: https://commanderclub.com/forum/topics/total-command-helm-re-fit

I have an electrical engineering background and spent 10 years designing industrial control systems and the last 10 years as a software engineer so needless to say, I was ready willing and able to go digital on my helm refit.

I am installing a NMEA 2000 backbone for the ease of expansion integration. I am adding a SeaGauge G2 NMEA 2000 system for engine/generator monitoring. I had considered building my own engine interface using a microcontroller, but the operating voltages between ship power and microcontroller power are disimilar and my design got convoluted fast.

For charts and radar, I will be utilizing OpenCPN; an free, open-source chartplotting/navigation software that readily integrates with popular radar scanners and GPS antennas. I used this last season and its really impressive and robust.

For switching, I will be utilizing NMEA 2000 relay banks.

For the user interface I will be using industrial anti-glare touch screens and industrial computers.

I'm a Microsoft guy, so I developed the NMEA 2000 driver (essentially CAN Bus) and front end in .NET Core; which enables my software to be cross-platform (Windows/Linux/iOS).  

Many would ask why not go with off-the-shelf everything? My feeling is that its expensive and almost always a compromise. This thing does this, this and this, but not that. That thing does that, that and that, but not this. With my design I create buttons and dashboards to my exact specification. Not to mention, the entire parts bill is $1500 vs. about $7500 if I went 100% off-the-shelf.

To Alarik's point, what he has done, and what I'm in the process of doing may be indeed blasphemous to many. However, I find overheating my original, low hour Mighty 427s due to flaky 50 year old instrumentation equally blasphemous!

Amazing and impressive and practical!  Maybe some day...

Looks fantastic! I love the simplicity and the woodwork on the helm.

I've been thinking along the same lines, just not sure I'm ready to remove the tach pods. But if you love this stuff, take a look at Signalk (https://github.com/SignalK). It takes NEMA2000 open source. It can read N2K data (I already have a backbone through the boat with many sensors) and also write data onto the N2K network so any new data on the SignalK network will work with existing N2K gear. The real beauty is I've built myself, for very little money, wireless sensors that measure everything from temperature, voltage, current, really anything. All you need is a bit of computer/electronic knowledge and be able to solder. There is a Slack channel that has a ton of helpful people on it that are all doing the same thing. I started down the route of buying Maretron, but decided I didn't want to spend that much money for all the sensors I wanted to implement. The best part is all the wireless sensors send data back to a RasberryPI and it gets logged in a time series DB and then you use Graphana to display it either on your N2K chartplotter or a separate display. Of course there is an app to watch what is going on either on the boat or remotely. For instance I can see the depth of water in my bilge on my phone when I'm away from the boat.

The real win for me is to able to analyze what is happening on the boat over time. Here is an example of turning on the battery charger when the batteries are already full.

Obviously not for everyone, but it's very cool.

Jeremy Goldstein said:

First class work on your helm! So are you getting your chart plotter functions on your I-pads too, or do you run separate electronics for those?   

My answer:

Technically it is possible, but I actually have a third iPad (Pro) for that. It is not visible in the photos. I have  a mount for it amidships where the doghouse cieling meet the windscreen. From there it is visible both for the helmsman as well as anyone sitting on the companion seat.  The pro model has a larger screen which I find useful when it comes to charts and plotting and to see well ahead of were you are going.

John Shanahan said:

One question can this manage the sync of the engines? If so this is my direction.

Thanks so much!

JPS

My answer:

Not in the sense that the system can automatically sync your engines. However, in addition to having a traditional clock type of tach gauges on the iPad, you also get a numerical reading. When looking at the needle of the tach gauge it is difficult to say if the rev is 3 100 or 3 150. The numeric display will give you the exact figure. for each engine. Now, if you can see the numerical figure for each engine it is easier to manually sync the engines. 

Alarik

Very nice work on the helm station. Don't know if you have radar already, but Furuno makes a wireless unit that offers a free app for an I-pad or I-phone. I have it on Wanderer and am very happy with it. 

As far as engine sync, She came to me with a Glendinning Synchronizer. I understand they are a bit pricey. I have owned and operated several twin screw setups and this is the easiest to use. 

Alarik,

Crazy and well done.

-Darin

That's absolutely beautiful. I have a non tech question though, what did you use fir wood, stain, finish? That wood work is incredible. 

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