The Watchmate 850 AIS depicts the position of vessels transmitting AIS data.

The Far Reach, Moored, Elephant Bay, St Thomas, USVI — As moat readers familiar with the Far Reach are aware we have very few systems on board–no electric interior lights, no electric running lights, no fixed mount VHF or SSB, no radar or refrigerator, or water maker, no inboard diesel engine, etc. I did install a 30 watt flex solar panel prior to our passage to the BVI in December. It has proven to be a wonderful addition. It keeps the phones and iPad charged. It runs a couple of clip on 12 volt fans the few times we have used them and it powers a small hand held 12v vacuum. It’s takes a compelling reason to convince me to add complexity to the Far Reach.

With a couple of single-handed passages looming on the near horizon I have put a great deal of thought into watch standing. Automatic Identification System (AIS) seemed like it would be a smart addition to the Far Reach. I researched all kinds of units reading reviews till my eyes glazed over. A new friend showed me how he operates an AIS over his iPad, so I read about those–very neat. But it requires the iPad to be operating, adding to current draw and also adding another electronic device to the operation of the AIS. I needed a simple reliable unit with a very low current draw. I looked into the Standard Horizon VHF with an integrated AIS receiver. It seems like a nice system, But it can’t transmit and still draws too much power for my small 100ah AGM battery. I finally decided on a Vesper Watchmate 850 Class B transceiver after reading a very positive review in Practical Sailor as well as on a couple of sailing forums. It’s a stand-alone unit. It has an internal GPS so I did not need to purchase and install a separate GPS antenna. For the required VHF antenna I installed a 4′ Shakespeare fiberglass antenna mounted on a SS ratchet adapter secured to the aft starboard stanchion.


The 4′ fiberglass antenna mounted on the aft stanchion.

I also applied for and received an FCC issued shipboard radio license and MMSI number in only three days using their on-line application! Many thanks to my brother Brad for researching and submitting the correct forms to make that happen.

It took a while to figure out how to run the wiring to make it invisible yet accessible. I also had to determine where to mount the display unit where it would be convenient yet unobtrusive. I decided to install it under the bridge-deck where I can manipulate the controls while comfortably sitting on the watch seat next to the chart table.


I positioned the display in a convenient yet out of the way location.

This past week, while anchored in Elephant Bay, St Thomas, USVI, I installed the system. It is a pretty simple to operate unit. The power draw in receive only mode is about .3 ah. I believe it uses about 1.5ah in the transmit mode.

I am interested to see how it works on passage.