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Category: Boat Projects

Repairing a Caframo Bora 3 Speed Fan

Repairing a Caframo Bora 3 Speed Fan

In the world of cruising boats, Caframo fans seem to be praised as the most efficient fans out there, however they seem to have short life spans.  We have four such fans on our boat, and when we moved aboard none of them worked.  I’m mechanically inclined but no engineer by any means, however at $60/each I was compelled to at least take one apart and see if I could fix it.  What harm could it do?

Well, I managed to fix all of them!  The culprit seems to be in the circuit board. Perhaps when the bearings rust a little bit, it puts too much load on , and it fries.  Removing the circuit board and bypassing it with a manual switch worked for all of them.

  1. Unscrew the four screws holding the cage on the back, and with an 8 mm ratchet loosen the nut that holds the fan to the motor shaft.  It only needs about 1/4 turn and the fan will come off the shaft.
  2. Unscrew the two screws that hold the motor to the housing (only one visible in picture), and the two screws that hold the cable to the housing.
  3. Pull the motor out; the circuit board is soldered to the motor.  With a soldering gun heat up the solder one side at a time to soften it, and pry the board off the motor.  Go ahead and clip and strip the positive and negative leads on the cable.  You can discard the black plastic spacer that is behind the circuit board.
    Clearly the problem here is with the circuit board!
  4. Re-attach the fan to the shaft. This helps stabilize the motor while you are soldering, and allows you to test the leads to make sure the fan is blowing the right direction.  Connect the + and – leads to each of the motor terminals, with power applied, air should be blowing towards the wire.  Solder them in place or if you have the right connectors you can use them.
  5. If the motor sounds bad when you applied power, try some PB blaster on the bearings up and a follow up with a drop of oil.  They are easy to get to with the circuit board out of the way and the fan off of the shaft.
  6. Since we discarded the circuit board the grey button just rattles around inside of the housing.  Before re-assembling glue it in place to stop this.
  7. Re-assemble the fan and place a switch on the + side to switch the fan on and off.  This takes away the multi-speed capabilities of the fan, but its simple and I could do it with parts found locally.  You could order a rheostat ($10-15) if you want variable speed, but for us this would have meant ordering parts and coming up with a housing to mount it inside of, it’s also more expensive!
  8. Turn it on, pop open a cold drink and enjoy saving $60!



Note To Self: Do Not Drop Stuff In The Bilge!

Note To Self: Do Not Drop Stuff In The Bilge!

The day before we left St Augustine, I was checking and topping off the oil.  I’m not sure why I did this, but I set the oil fill cap on top of the engine.  Shortly thereafter, I bumped into it and knocked it off the engine!

Fortunately it landed on a wiring harness, but in the process of fishing it off of there, it slipped down into the bilge.  If you remember from this post, the bilge is approximately 3 feet deep and sits directly below the engine.

Pretty much everything important falls into the impossible to reach zone.

Knowing this part could not be retrieved with a magnet this time (it’s plastic), I decided I would just buy another one (and a couple of spares!)  Apparently I have the unicorn of oil fill caps, because it’s practically impossible to find, and if found is about $60 (!!!)  We came up with a makeshift solution that worked for a week or so, but I knew we’d have to do something soon.

The oldest trick in the book – “Aluminum foil oil cap”.

In the end I was able to retrieve it with a simple fishing net, but not without some more awkward positions!

Bilge diving, again.
The elusive oil fill cap!


Gromit Gets an Electronics Upgrade

Gromit Gets an Electronics Upgrade

When we bought our boat, we knew something needed to be done about the electronics.  It’s a pretty good lineup and completely functional, but dated.  This is what we have:

  • Nexus Start Pack 3 wind/depth/speed (2014)
  • Furuno VX2 chartplotter with radar (2008)
  • Comnav Autopilot (2008)
  • ACR Nauticast AIS (2009)
  • ACR EPIRB (2009)

Here are some of the issues we’ve had with the current setup:

  1. The charplotter runs on 2GB chart cards, which are difficult to find and quite a bit more expensive than the newer chart cards.  They cover smaller regions so you have to buy more of them vs the newer chart plotters.  The boat did not come with any cards, so if we wind up doing a circumnavigation, we’d end up spending many thousands of dollars on chart cards.  The plotter still functions as is for displaying AIS data, and radar, but it is overlaid on a very crude chart with no details of buoys or landmarks.
  2. The EPIRB is functioning but expired, and the registration details are for the previous owners.  EPIRB stands for Emergency Positioning Radio Beacon.  In a nutshell, if something goes wrong and we need help, we press a button and it notifies the authorities via satellite and radio transmission, sending them our GPS coordinates.  An essential piece of equipment to have on board!
  3. The AIS is transmitting the wrong MMSI number.  An MMSI number is a unique number that represents our boat.  The AIS transponder transmits data about our boat, including the MMSI number, GPS position and heading data to other boats in the area.  It also receives data about other boats and displays it on a map.  Since the boat was Canadian registered, the MMSI number was Canadian and could not be transferred to us; we had to apply for a new MMSI number from the FCC.  It can be reprogrammed by the manufacturer, but they did not respond to our emails (thanks ACR!)
Without a chart card, the plotter thinks we are on dry land!

So, replacing the EPIRB is a no brainer. The new EPIRB’s have longer service lives (10 years vs 5 years) and are user serviceable (the one we have on the boat requires you send it to a service center to get the battery replaced… uh… no!)


On the chart plotter, I felt we had three options to move forward:

  1. Keep the chart plotter and buy the cards, the cost on this is north of $2800 for a circumnavigation, plus the cards are difficult to source.
  2. Buy a new chart plotter and radar.  This route would also require buying chart cards in addition to the equipment, but at least we’d have new state of the art equipment that can run the newer chart cards.  Cost $3k+ for the gear, another $2k for the cards.
  3. Scrap the chart plotter idea altogether, and navigate using iPad and a laptop.  Equipment is free (we already own), charts are $50-100 each and cover relatively large regions.  This is the lowest cost option and the one we chose.  With the money we saved on the the cards/equipment, we decided to install an NMEA2000 cabling system that would allow the laptop and iPad to see instrument data from our GPS, depth, wind and compass.

NMEA2000 is a network protocol where all instruments get their power from, and send their data through a single communications “trunk line”.  This means you can plug a device in anywhere in the network and it can see and use data from other instruments.  It’s simple and efficient.  Here’s what we bought:

  • Garmin GND10 ($171)  – This translates between the language our Nexus Start Pack speaks and NMEA2000, and was cheaper than buying NMEA2000 instruments.
  • B&G ZG100 External GPS w/built in compass ($199) – This will feed GPS and compass data to the iPad and OpenCPN (PC).  Technically the Comnav autopilot will also feed compass data to the network, but having this keeps us from having to run the autopilot for compass data, especially useful at anchor or when using our wind vane for steering.
  • Vesper XB-8000 AIS Transponder ($686) – Ouch!  This was the big one, but it will take in all of our NMEA2000 and NMEA0183 data and broadcast the output via USB and WiFi.

The large items and all of the related cabling: $1280.

At the same time we also bought:

  • ACR GlobalFix v4 EPIRB ($399) – has a 10 year service life, and user replaceable battery!  We’re going to keep the old one, as a backup.
  • Balmar External Voltage Regulator ($432) – Not navigation related.  We were having issues with our alternator either putting out too much or too little voltage. This will hook up to the alternator on the engine and regulate it a lot better than the internal regulator does, hopefully extending the life of our battery bank (which is very expensive to replace!)

“Hey you must be rich!”  Not really.  This is a pretty modest budget for an electronics upgrade, some folks spend $10’s of thousands of dollars!  In fact, this upgrade allows us to reliably use our existing iPad and laptop for navigation, and was cheaper than buying new cards for, or replacing, the existing chartplotter!  This was also part of the “start up” budget which had already been planned.

The girls helped with the unboxing.

Despite the small-ish budget, a project like this takes careful planning.  All of the wiring needs to be special ordered to length, so I had to pre-plan where all of the components would sit and take careful measurements on the boat.  That being said, things never go to plan and adjustments had to be made as I was installing.  For example, I had planned to have the GND10 in the bow of the boat, but instead mounted it in the Nav station.  I found a cable on board (from the previous owner) that allowed me to do this, saving us a few bucks as we were able to return the cable we bought.

The existing equipment (black) and new equipment (blue).
I added a couple of wires to power the network… see the red one?
The Nexus black box and power junction for the new network under the nav station.

While the new wiring spans the entire length of the boat, most of the work took place on the stern, where I had to remove the existing AIS and AIS antenna, then add the new AIS, AIS antenna, GPS/Compass antenna and fabricate a bracket.  All of the antennas sit on the davits with the wiring run through the lazarette, which meant emptying all of the contents onto the deck.  I hate having messes on the boat, and this one persisted for almost a week!

That’s me in there, good times!
Cozy in the aft lazarette, it wasn’t worth it to take the spare anchor out.
At least it was big enough to comfortably run the wiring!
Marlee supervising to make sure I’m doing it right.
Try to keep the wires tidy and out of the way – to prevent snags when pulling items out of the lazarette.
GPS and AIS antennas on a bracket I made (the picture is strategically angled to hide my inability to cut a straight line).
AIS in the aft cabin, this keeps the length of the VHF antenna cable short, which reduces RF interference.

And the result is, somewhat anticlimactically, shown below!

iNavx on the iPad showing AIS targets and heading information, all via WiFi!
OpenCPN showing AIS and instrument data!

I contemplated our options for a really long time (like 5 months) before we pulled the trigger on this, debating whether to buy cards, a new chart plotter, or go with the system we implemented above.  This system gives us the most bang for the buck, and gives us flexibility in the future should we choose to add more components, I suppose you could say it was the “wise” path.

But also this gives us another layer of redundancy.  These days we are so dependent on GPS to navigate – we now have more GPS devices on board in case one fails.

The new EPIRB sits in its cradle next to the old one.  In an emergency we’d grab the new one first, both of them if we have time.  The older one still works, for now.

EPIRB under the companionway steps.  And the the shoe basket, very important.


Boat Projects: Lights, Heads, Action!

Boat Projects: Lights, Heads, Action!

This month we got back to the boat after spending 3 weeks in Houston selling off the rest of our belongings!  Truly an unexpected change of plans (I feel very bad about leaving my work on such short notice, sorry guys).

Here are the boat projects we’ve finished so far:

Cleaning the water tanks and installing water filtration at the sink

When we first arrived to the boat in September we were pretty put off by the quality of the water in the tanks, what came out of the faucet was cloudy and odd smelling.  We could actually see bits of algae floating in the tank, which was continually clogging the filter just before the water pump.  Granted, the previous owners lived with this (I think they used a Brita) and no one got hurt, but I need to keep the Mrs. happy!  The remedy was a somewhat long process, which I’ve only completed for the port side tank so far.  For the mean time that is good enough since we have 165 gallon capacity per tank.

First I removed the two inspection covers and drained the tank completely using the on board water pump, toward the end I had to use a hand pump since the pick up is not in the very bottom of the tank.  The tank has 4 baffles to prevent sloshing when under way, but with only 2 of them accessible the best solution I could come up with was to blast the debris out with a water wand (similar to this one).  After that I filled the tank to the brim and shocked it with chlorine, I also ran each faucet in the boat so the chlorinated water would have a chance to sterilize the lines as well.  After 12 hours of that, I drained and filled it twice to flush the system.

The aluminum inspection covers had some kind of epoxy paint on them which was flaking off and would have resulted in a poor bond to seal them back down.  I ground this off with a wire wheel brush, and was intending to repaint it, however I have not been able to find a good “potable water” epoxy to apply that is sold in small quantities (most of what is available is industrial and sold in 5 gallon buckets).  I re-installed them bare and will tackle that later!  I’m thinking about just replacing the whole cover with a sheet of Plexiglas.

Port side water tank inspection cover, re-installed.
Port side water tank inspection cover, re-installed.

Now, the only problem here is that eventually the tank will get nasty again, its the nature of water tanks.  However there are some measures we’re taking to keep it clean:

  • Filter the water going into the tank – install a whole house filter on the water spigot when you fill your tanks.  You might think municipal water is clean, but maybe not!
  • Keep chlorine in tank – Chlorine, even if it comes from a city tap, will evaporate out of the water in a short time, add chlorine (google the correct ratio).  I have also heard of Chlorine Dioxide which is sold in tablets and is supposedly healthier / greener for the environment, but we haven’t tried it yet.
  • Keep only as much water as you need – stale water breeds bacteria and algae.  While we’re near plenty of places that have water we’re only going to use one of our water tanks.  The other one is filled as ballast, but isolated from the system.
  • Install filters at the sink – despite all of the above, I still installed a filter at the sink.  A 5 micron filter will remove chlorine and much of the taste from the water.  Smaller micron filters can remove bacteria, but that is what the chlorine is for.  We were able to re-purpose a couple of house filters that were in the engine room.  They had been set up to filter water for the entire boat, but that was just too much for the water pump to keep up with.
Filtered water dispenser next to the hand pump, yes we cleaned the sink just for this picture.
Filtered water dispenser next to the hand pump, yes we cleaned the sink just for this picture.


Engine room plumbing panel, the two house filters are circled in red.
Engine room plumbing panel, the two house filters are circled in red.

The Forward Head

In a previous post I explained that when we first arrived the forward head worked, but the aft head did not.  As luck would have it, almost as soon as we fixed the aft head, the forward head stopped working.  For those of you don’t know, a head is a toilet.  Google tells me this term comes from when the “bathroom” used to be at the head of the ship, over the front, directly into the water!

Now, the aft head was easy, because it had never been used, but the forward head….

Our shining Raritan PHII manual pump toilet (actual toilet not pictured)
Our shining Raritan PHII manual pump head (actual toilet not pictured)

Well, it had been used, quite a lot.  The fix was simple, but smelly.  The “joker valve” needed replacing, for one thing.  This is kind of like a one way valve, as you pump the handle waste goes out but does not come back in.  Over time this wears out, the result is that the suction stroke doesn’t suck as much “waste” out of the bowl as it should.

The other issue, and this was quite silly really, was that the thru-hull handle was in the wrong position.  A thru-hull is a fitting on the hull of the boat that opens and closes to control water entering or leaving the boat.  What I thought was open, was actually only partway open.  The result was toilet paper and “waste” clogged up in the opening.  I had to pull the hose off the thru-hull and clean the “waste” out by hand.  (I trust you know what “waste” is).

Somehow I always find myself in these hard to reach places...
Somehow I always find myself in these hard to reach places…

The Galley Light

We have these very nice LED lights all over the galley, nav station and saloon.  They are energy efficient, which is good for our batteries.  The galley light actually worked but the button in the switch was stuck.  This was slightly more complicated than just replacing the switch because it had circuitry in it to down-convert the voltage from 12V to whatever the light needs.  I wound up using a solder gun to soften the solder and remove the old push button switch, then installed a jumper cable across the contacts.

I'm learning that jury-rigging is an important skill, since we don't have money to buy new.
I’m learning that jury-rigging is an important skill, since we don’t have money to buy new.

I re-routed the 12V supply for the light through a new push-button switch, this one conveniently installed on the galley bulkhead.

New LED pushbutton switch installed.
New LED pushbutton switch installed.


Yes that is an actual pot of food, we didn't just stage it for the picture.
Yes that is an actual pot of food, we didn’t just stage it for the picture.

Upcoming projects:

  • Reprogram MMSI numbers in all the radios and the AIS
  • Install a gimbal lock on the stove
  • Mount the dinghy on the davits (our Portabote didn’t come with any attachment points)
The Bilge Pump Switch Adventure

The Bilge Pump Switch Adventure

Saying “adventure” always makes it sound like more fun right?  Well this wasn’t too much fun, but it was necessary, and I’m glad we got it fixed.  Remember back in this post when I mentioned the bilge pump switch not working?

The bilge is where the water collects in the bottom of the boat.  Ideally you don’t want too much water collecting down here on a day to day basis, but there are various parts of the boat that leak a little, some by design and some not.  Every boat has one of these, and there is a switch and a pump in the bottom of the bilge so that when the water gets high enough the pump kicks on and sends it outside the boat.

Here’s a highly sophisticated diagram of how the bilge is set up on our boat.  The squiggly line going into the bottom of the bilge (under the engine) is the switch and bilge pipe.  The actual pump is mounted up on the wall next to the engine.  As you can see, half of the assembly sits in the “impossible to reach” zone.  The bottom of the bilge is maybe 4 feet under the engine.


So this is a side profile of the bilge, but if you were to look at it head on it is very narrow at the bottom, maybe 8″ wide at most.

Most float switches are mounted to the bottom of the bilge and have an arm that floats up, like this.

Image result for bilge float switch
A typical bilge pump float switch.

However, since you can’t get anywhere close to the bottom of the bilge in our boat to mount a switch like this, the previous owner used a sump pump float switch.  This isn’t typically what you would see in a boat, but I like it, it’s simple and effective (and probably cheap too, since it’s not “marine”).  The entire plastic housing floats and there is a contact switch inside, as the bilge fills with water once the switch is close to vertical it activates the bilge pump, and as the water level goes down it turns it off.

Image result for sump pump float switch
A household sump pump float switch.

However, since the entire plastic casing floats, and seemed to float in whatever direction it wanted to, the float switch kept getting stuck against the sides of the bilge, either in the off (didn’t come on when it was supposed to), or on position (didn’t turn off when the bilge was dry).  This isn’t as disastrous as it sounds because we have a backup bilge pump that kicks on when the bilge is a little more full, but then where is the backup for the backup?

So to get it out, I had to snake the semi-rigid plastic tube out of the bilge in between the bottom of the boat and the bottom of the engine, which involved lots of hanging upside down.

Fixing the bilge pump switch
Playing in the engine room.

Once out, I zip tied a small piece of PVC tube to the assembly, at just the right spot so the bilge pump switch would rest against it.  My hope was that this would give the pump just enough tilt so that as the water rises in the bilge it will float up in the right direction.  I dropped the whole assembly back into the bilge, and hooked everything back up.

Bilge pump switch solution
PVC pipe zip tied to the bilge pump float switch / pipe assembly.

To test it, I used a water hose to fill the bilge a few times, everything seemed to function fine.  However I thought the current of the water rushing out of the hose might be affecting the results, so I turned it down to a trickle and ran it through 2 more On/Off cycles, after which I was satisfied.  It seems to be working so far, in the 5 or so days we’ve had it rigged up this way it has turned on and turned off at exactly the right times.