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This past weekend I had the honor of being one of the judges for the annual Mystic Seaport Classic Yacht rendezvous.

This is an event I always look forward to because I get a chance to see some really beautiful boats. Beyond that I also get a chance to see up close and in great detail what efforts have been made in any restoration efforts. Some of the owners are really handy and do a fantastic job with these old gems. I’m jealous of the amount of free time they have to accomplish all that they do.

This year as I looked at the boats in the grouping I was responsible for (power boats under 40′) I found myself reflecting on where we have been and where we have come in terms of technology. I also found myself thinking about the ABYC Standards for recreational boats as they exist today, and how they have evolved since 1954, in large part due to lessons learned the hard way over time. My next few installments here are going to graphically illustrate the where we are and where we were,and the why we needed to make changes along the way.

So, to start out I’ll begin with something seemingly basic, engine instrumentation. First the old:


mid thirties instruments

What you see above was found on a mid-thirties built boat that had been re-powered during its lifetime with some Chrysler Crown engines. Understand that from a safety perspective, the ABYC considers engine instrumentation and monitoring quite important. After all, if your engine quits on you at the wrong moment, you could be in serious danger. The cluster above includes a tachometer, water temperature, oil pressure and alternator voltage output from each of the twin engines. So, you can monitor an engine’s vital signs while underway, and with enough knowledge, react and affect repairs if needed before things reach a crisis state. This of course assumes you understand what the instruments are telling you. The way I explain this to most people is quite simple. Establish what the norm is for your gauge readings. Anything other than the norm means something is changing and needs attending to. Keep an eye on your engine gauges all the time when underway.

Now for the new, to compare and contrast:


modern instruments
The shot above is also of a twin engine installation package. Besides the two electronic engine monitor gauges in the upper right corner we see a Raymarine multi-function display and an electronic compass and some other miscellaneous displays. So, in an area not too much larger than the mid-thirties instrument cluster we can not only monitor engine status, but have access to a full-color chart plotter, perhaps with a radar overlay of the waters around you, and have depth information at your figertips. The electronic engine monitors are also equipped with a series of audible alarms that will activate if engine temperature exceeds a preset value, it may have an alarm if maximum engine rpms are exceeded and an alarm that could be activated for just about anything the engine manufacturer decided was important. Oh, and let’s not forget the ability to automatically reduce engine rpms to a “get home” level if the situation is deemed critical… the onboard computer.

So where am I going with this?

Well, as I get older, and in spite of the fact that I’ve spent my entire career playing on the bleeding edge of technology, I’m starting to long for the days when things were a bit simpler and all you needed to get by were some basic skills to help control the outcome of things. I guess I’m a bit worried that the average boater today doesn’t have those basic skills and the equipment manufacturers are forced to engineer that missing knowledge into the equipment they produce.

Computer controlled is becoming a scary notion to me.

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