Sonar, FarSounder and Fubar

I’ve mentioned several times over the past year that I’ve been frustrated with my Furuno CH-250 Sonar.


It isn’t because I haven’t read the manual. I’ve read the manual cover to cover on several occasions. I’ve even read the “tips book” that Furuno provides. I keep thinking I understand how to use the Sonar, but whenever I’ve tested my knowledge, I’ve failed miserably. The “final straw” came during a recent trip to Costa Rica. I was anchored in a giant bay, several miles across, which had depths mostly from 10 to 30 feet. I wanted to test my ability to explore the bay, and find shallow places, using the Sonar. I dropped the tender, and spent an hour doing my own soundings, and then used the Sonar to try to replicate what I’d discovered with the depth finder on my tender. I was never able to get accurate or reliable information from the Sonar. Had it been a real-world situation where I was hunting my way through a coral reef I’d have been in deep trouble.


Finally, I’ve decided that it might really be a hardware issue.


I sent this email off to Furuno’s Sonar expert:



Steve Bradburn, Fururno


Is it possible that I have the wrong transponder on my Sonar. I recall something in the manual that implied that there might be two different transponders (or is the proper word transmitters?); one oriented towards fishing, and another that is meant for use in shallow water.


To be clear: I am only interested in Sonar for one particular purpose. If I am entering a strange bay, with unknown depths, I’d like to be able to know if there is anything shallower than about 12 feet. My focus 99% of the time is on identifying obstructions within the first 12 feet of depth. I would like to know this for as far out in front (or to the side) of my boat as possible.


All thoughts appreciated.


-Ken Williams



He responded:



Hi Ken,


The higher the frequency the better the shallow water performance. If I remember correctly you have a CH-250. This sonar came in three different frequencies, 60, 88 and 150Khz. While all three could be used for navigation, 150Khz is the one I would recommend.


Kind regards,

Steve Bradburn

Furuno USA, Inc.



Aha! I checked, and indeed, I have to 60khz transponder. To my dismay, the “fix” is going to cost around $4,000. But, if it does the job, I’ll be a VERY happy guy.


Somewhat on the same subject…


David Sidbury, owner of the second N68, sent me an email suggesting I look at a Sonar-like device called the FarSounder (


It is similar to Sonar, but 100% focused on collision avoidance.




The screen is updated much more frequently, and seems much easier to read. There are no moving parts, and nothing that has to hang down below the boat. My Furuno Sonar has something like an upside down periscope that adds an extra foot to the depth of my boat whenever I want to use it. I’m not sure adding a foot to the depth of your boat is the best way to test for shallow water. In fact, I spoke recently to a Nordhavn 62 owner who managed to scrape his Sonar off the bottom of the boat, while in shallow water. That would not be an issue with the FarSounder device, and as near as I can tell , there is no reason (other than the power it requires) that it couldn’t be run at all times.


Here’s what they claim on their website:


“…FarSounder technology provides a complete 3D picture of what is ahead of the vessel. Unlike other forward-looking sonars, FarSounder provides all three navigationally significant components: range, bearing, and depth. With color mapped to depth, where blue is deep, a simple representation of dangerous obstacles can be depicted. With all three components, the user is able to accurately understand the navigational picture ahead of the vessel. The user is able to determine where or where not the vessel is able to pass. Uncharted obstacles such as submerged shipping containers, whales, and rocks are some of the obstacles of which the user now has a complete picture….”


I spoke with their company for a while this morning. Until recently, the smallest boat they’ve installed on is 120 feet. But, amazingly, they just completed an installation on a Nordhavn 62! They put the transponder into the bulbous bow! They are very interested in targeting Nordhavn owners, and were very enthusiastic about working with me.


Unfortunately, there is a major downside: cost. This is an expensive piece of hardware. His estimate was that it would cost $90,000! If it actually works as advertised, I might give it serious consideration. However, for me, it is out of the question at this time. We’re leaving on our circumnavigation in a couple of months, and already have a LONG list of projects. I don’t want to add another large project to the list, this close to show-time. And.. I do confess to not being in the mood to write a big check.


FarSounder sent me a couple of different examples of the transponder installation (Example 1) (Example 2). They also have a demo on their website that is worth watching.


With a little luck, swapping the transponder on my Sonar will have solved all problems, and this is irrelevant anyhow.


And, on a different topic:


I mentioned in my last blog entry that I’m still trying to decide what to do on the issue of adding storm plates to my boat.


Here are a couple of conflicting emails I received, from the two people I trust most on this topic: Bill H, the commercial fisherman who will be accompanying us on the GSSR, and David Sidbury (one of the smartest guys I know)

David S

Bill H

“…If you look at the info on the PCM site [makers of the windows on Sans Souci] the only windows that I could imagine needing panels would be the 6 big salon windows and possibly the big rear salon window.

Lexan, which is bullet proof literally once you get up into the 1/2″ thickness and above would be the most cost effective.

I am going to make 3/8″ thick panels for our boat. The deflection of the plastic is the issue. If the panels are made oversized they will flatten against the structure that is around the perimeter and since the windows are recessed would be excellent protection.

They could probably be stored in the settee on the rear pilothouse level as if you went with 3/8″ or 1/2″ thickness 6 of them are only a total of 3″ maximum. The other place I thought about storing them is between the mattress and the bed frame box. you could put 4 of the 6 easily under the master berth if not all 6 and easily stow a few under other berths. I think they would also fit behind the deep freeze in the pilothouse under the pilothouse bunk standing up on edge.

I would also want to be able to have light in the salon and the lexan would allow for that.

I would not mess with the pilothouse. If we have waves that are that high then we have bigger issues than worrying about storm panels…”

…”My commentary on the storm windows would be to forget about them. They seem like they would be more pain in the tail than they are worth. Looking at the pictures of your boat it seems like the windows are not excessively large and at the same time well recessed and protected. I presume you will not be doing anything crazy as I’ve been known to do. Sometimes in the pursuit of making a living on the ocean one will do things a little more on the edge. In 40 years of this madness I have only blown out one window. That was when I was somewhere I shouldn’t have been. I’m more of a [censored] now. And it’s all for the best. We do, in fact, have a couple pieces of plywood down in my engine room cut to a size that will service any of the windows on the boat. They have been down there for years and never came up. We are talking thousands of hours a year at sea, winter and summer. If I ever should blow a window I can nail one up and carry on. I am much more prone to go anchor up if it looks like it’s making up to blow.

I’m older now and get beat up more easily. There’s my 2 cents worth on the subject. Have fun. Bill….”



As I read each of these emails, as well as the comments on the website, I was torn as the correct action to take. Ultimately, I told Jeff this morning to explore the cost. I told him to focus on Lexan, and that at $2,000, I’m “in”, and at $5,000 I’m “out.” In between, I left it up to him.


And, lastly….


The Fubar rally, from San Diego to La Paz Mexico, will start accepting applications March 15th. I did this rally last year, and had an amazing time. I think we had around 75 boats, and would expect they’ll have even more this year. If you are interested in going, get your application in right away.


Here is the press release they sent out today…




Press Release: February 9, 2009

FUBAR Odyssey Powerboat Rally

Co-Chairmen Kemp Ruffner and Val Farrell San Diego Yacht Club


San Diego Yacht Club Will Accept FUBAR 2009 Applications on March 15th


FUBAR is sponsored by the San Diego Yacht Club and the Mexican Tourism Board.


Qualifications to be considered are 450NM @8.5 K with all fuel in boats tanks. Boats should be captained by their owners not by professional captains. Boats selected will mostly be less than 60 ft unless entries agree to host an escort boat and carry some FUBAR staff. The staff will include professional captains, a medical doctor, mechanical technicians and other support personnel. You do not have to be a member of a yacht club to participate.


The Rally fee is $750 and can be paid by credit card while completing the online registration form at


Selections will be made with early applications considered first, and a waitlist established if applicable.


In preparation for the Rally, seminars for participants are planned for September 30-October 1. They will include medical, provisioning, fishing and other planning.


San Diego will be the meeting place for all boaters who should arrive November 9. There will be boat inspections, immigration check-in and seminars. All Captains will meet to discuss the course, and a farewell party will follow.


The Rally will officially depart on Saturday November 14, and the first stop will be Ensenada, MX. The next stops will be Turtle Bay, Santa Maria and Bahia de Magdalina, San Jose del Cabo at the Puerto Los Cabos Marina and Resort, Bahia de los Muertos at the Bahia de los Suenos Resort and the final destination will be La Paz and the CostaBaja Resort and Marina. The Fleet of approximately 50 boats will embark on a 13-day adventure filled with parties and entertainment along the way.


FUBAR is a charity event with excess proceeds going to the benefit of Junior Sailing in Southern California.


8 Responses

  1. Hi Ken,

    Have you seen the new website for Nordhavn Owners AND Dreamers @NordhavnDreamers@y…?
    Fortunately for the aspiring dreamers ( moving firmly in the right direction )like myself, a considerable number of current owners are signing-up and speaking up. Welcome Aboard!


  2. Unknown: Always include your name .. otherwise I don’t know how to respond. Make up a fake name if you want to maintain confidentiality….

    I went to the ( website and watched the video. I couldn’t find a demo that specifically addresses collision avoidance. The demo looked “too good to be true” … which in this case I “think” means that we are seeing a image that was processed over several minutes, with perhaps multiple passes of the terrain, to accomplish. Then again, the diver was probably captured in real time, so I can’t say. I’m in overload mode now, but if I get some free time in the next week, I’ll call them.

    To really do collision avoidance (in my opinion) you need to be able to see forward at least 1,000 feet, and down about 20 feet, with a radius off the bow of about 20 degrees in both directions. And, you need the screen to refresh at least every couple of seconds.

    Thanks for the referral!

    -Ken W

  3. John: I wish I could go to Trawlerfest! But, it just isn’t happening this year. We’ve got too much happening and I can’t get away.

    It sounds like a great topic for a speech. Good luck with it.

    I especially wanted to attend Trawlerfest to see the 56 motorsailer. I think it is a cool idea, and could be the right boat at the right time.

    -Ken W

  4. Chuck: The good news on my electrical system is that I am 99.9% certain that all problems are fixed. I won’t know for sure until I put the system under stress, but I’m feeling very confident.

    I might write a blog about the electrical system in the next few days so I don’t want to say too much, but essentially had problems in several areas:

    1) Access (the batteries were 100% impossible to get at)
    2) Dead batteries (My Atlas failed last winter, and took the batteries with it)
    3) Fuses in places where breakers would be better
    4) Equipment on the inverter circuit that shouldn’t have been there
    5) A/C chillers that would draw 100+ amps at startup, and blow out the electrical system (reason never determined – but the a/c chillers and all wiring has been replaced)
    6) Operator Error. The electrical system was complex, and took some time to master. I, as well as others, made mistakes.

    All of these things, and much more have been corrected. We’ve done a major refit of the electrical system.

    As to what was warranty, and what wasn’t, that is still to be determined. Nordhavn has been terrific to deal with, and the focus has been on “let’s get it fixed and then see what is fair. Thus far we’re still in the “fixing things” phase and not to the “let’s divide up the cost” phase. We just went through it on some problems I was having with the fresh water system, and Nordhavn was very generous.

    My sense is that I am going to eat much of the cost on the electrical system, but only because of decisions I made. I tend to be highly opinionated, and want things fixed my way, with my people. Nordhavn is also opinionated, and wants things fixed their way, with their people. The fact of the matter is that they’ve built more boats than I have, and may well be right. We haven’t sat down to talk about costs yet, but I guarantee that I’ll hear the words “Ken. How can you ask us to reimburse you for fixing that? We offered to fix it for free, and you wouldn’t let us.” They will be fair in saying that, and I’ll agree with them. It’s certainly a valid point. Perhaps I should be worried about it, but I’m not. I have dealt with Nordhavn for over 10 years, and they have only been reasonable to deal with. My guess is that there will be a very mild bit of disagreement, that will last about 5 seconds, and then we’ll agree to do something that both sides are comfortable with.

    My N68 was the first of a new series. I don’t think it’s a big secret that the first of a series always has a couple gremlins that are fixed by the second of the series, and then fixed better by the third. I actually flew Jeff to Florida to study the second N68, and study the fixes that Nordhavn and David (its’ owner) have put into the boat. My boat now has every “fix” we can find, and should be in perfect shape when I leave port in April. Overall though, I’ve been amazed at how few problems I’ve had. We’ve run 10,000 miles, and never had to miss a day of cruising due to mechanical issues. We jokingly “raced” a megayacht down the west coast, and chuckled when we kept going while they stopped for repairs.

    -Ken W

  5. Whatever happened to the warranty repair on your electrical system? I remember you said Nordhavn agreed some things were wrong and they would fix them. Can you expound upon what, if any,repairs were done?

  6. Ken, Trawler Fest is coming up in two weeks in San Diego. Jeff Merrill of PAE will be speaking Thrusday morning and I signed up to do session on the “True Cost of Living Aboard a Trawler”. We have three years of 50/50 live aboard time on N4051 and N4061 so we have collected some real time data to share with others. There are at lest four Nordies planning to attend that I know of. Should be a fun time. PAE will have four boats on display including ours. Hope you can make it down for the weekend.

  7. hello ken,
    regarding storm windows. surely you will have your hands full enough if the worst hapens and broken windows is not another problem you want to add to the growing list. if cost really is not an issue, over safety, i’d have to say fit them. no question. have them fitted when made with some way of easily hingeing them down for cleaning and forget about storage problems .my own foreys into the atlantic have not been anything like what you can expect during your circumnavigation. Better save than Sorry, it could prove fatal for all aboard. i would much ratherbe annoyed at lugging them around the worldfor no good reason of needing them than need them and not have them . the second sensrio might be your last.and you are doing this for pleasure!and mild adventure not to prove how butch you are. orhow clever you are at suviving stupid situations. best of luck. roy in london.

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