Human has almost no ability to locate itself, especially on the ocean.
Well, at least I have no such ability. If you took me a few miles offshore off of the San Diego coast, where land is no longer in sight and pointed towards Hawaii as the nearest land, I will blissfully and ignorantly sail off in that direction.
To find my place in the world while sailing, I used to use handheld GPS devices a decade ago. Looking back, though, those devices were rather crude. They were slow to acquire satellites, batteries did not last and electronic charting was simply not a possibility.
Technology has come a long way since then. GPS is now accurate, cheap and ubiquitous. My J29 sailboat BlackJack has B&G ZG100, which is a GPS “antenna” that has GPS, compass and inclinometer built-in.
With ZG100 permanently mounted and connected to its electronic backbone, BlackJack knows exactly where she is and where she is headed at all times. That is a lot more than I can say for myself.
To navigate while sailing, I use iNavX on iPhone and iPad.
I tried OpenCPN on my MacBook Pro before and decided against it. This was not because of OpenCPN, I thought it was a great software. I simply didn’t like the idea of using my MacBook Pro on a boat to use OpenCPN. I write software for a living and MacBook Pro is my tool of the trade. The thought of taking it on a wet sailboat gives me anxiety attacks.
On the other hand, I do not have anxiety problems taking my iPhone or iPad on the boat in watertight cases. OpenCPN is very workable, but it does not run on iPhone or iPad. So iNavX running natively on iOS devices worked out very well for me.
One issue I had with running iNavX was that it displays magnetic heading using a compass built into the iPhone. This heading reading means very little because an iPhone is never pointed in the right direction. We want to see the boat’s compass heading in iNavX.
Along with the compass heading, I also wanted other instrument readings made available in iNavX. For this, you have to connect iNavX with onboard NMEA2000 bus somehow.
Connecting Smart Devices
One issue with any Navigation software that runs on a smart device, or a laptop for that matter, is with connecting to the onboard instruments.
Legacy NMEA0183, with its RS233 or RS422 serial connection, is relatively easy to connect to. Newer NMEA2000 based on CANBUS requires hardware interface as well as a way to decode binary data on the bus.
Even if you have such an interface, using an iPad or iPhone for navigation means you have to somehow provide a cable connection in the cockpit. Alas, cables for smart devices and laptops are fragile and not waterproof. They don’t belong in the cockpit, especially an exposed one like that of BlackJack.
So how can you use an iPad or iPhone for navigation using data available on NMEA2000 backbone?
NMEA2000 Wi-Fi Router YDNR-02
Enter Yacht Devices YDNR-02. This is an amazing device. Let me make clear that I have no affiliation with Yacht Devices, I am just a very satisfied customer.
YDNR-02 seamlessly connects your smart devices to the onboard NMEA2000 instrument backbone over WiFi.
Basically, YDNR-02 is a WiFi Access Point. It’s not just an Access Point, however. It allows smart devices to access and integrate with the instrument network through the WiFi connection.
YDNR-02 makes this possible by translating NMEA2000 messages to/from NMEA0183. The connection to the instrument network is provided on 3 network ports as well as 2 hardware ports.
YDNR-02 is tiny and waterproof. In the picture above, you can see the size compared to a GoPro 7. I installed YDNR-02 on the back of the backboard in the nav station (which isn’t much on a J29) so it is completely out of sight.
There is not a lot of cabling work needed to use YDNR-02. All that is needed is an NMEA2000 connection. I used a 0.5m NMEA2000 drop cable to a T connector that was already available on the backbone. I also added a duplex cable for NMEA0183 connection to my tiller pilot, but this is optional.
YDNR-02 gets its power from NMEA2000. The LEN (load equivalency number) is 2, which means it uses less power than one B&G Triton2 display. As soon as you power up the instruments, YDNR-02 boots up. You can connect to its WiFi network right away.
Using iNavX with YDNR-02
Another great thing about YDNR-02 is ease of setup. Granted, I am an engineer type, but I found it to be straightforward.
At first, I connected my iPhone to YDNR-02 using the default login and password printed on YDNR-02. I then changed the network SSID, login and password for security. Then configured iNavX to connect to YDNR-02 via TCP/IP.
This was a cinch even compared to setting up WiFi access port at home.
When I opened iNavX, all the instrument data showed up without much fanfare. With iNavX connected to BlackJack’s network, the compass and GPS data from the instruments are now used for navigation.
Installing and setting up YDNR-02 was almost uneventful. In fact, the most time was spent on routing a physical NMEA0183 cable to the tiller pilot.
YDNR-02 is very configurable and even has a built-in web-based instrument gauge display accessible via a browser. I have read through the manual and am aware of all the things it can do.
For now, though, I am keeping my sailing as simple as possible and use iNavX and YDNR-02 the way I currently have.
The boat and I are now in full sync. iNavX can show me exactly where BlackJack says we are and where we are headed on a Navionics chart. And the boat can now even steer itself to the wind.
I am looking forward to doing some distance sailing with this setup.