Wireless Headsets – a vital accessory for larger boats

“Ok, Straight back. Ten feet, five feet, stop. Stop! STOP!” Have you ever been in a conversation like that with your spouse, on your boat? If your boat is reasonably sized then it has probably been pretty easy to talk to someone spotting your position or helping you with instructions from the lock master.

Now consider having to depend upon those same, important verbal queues on a much larger boat, perhaps one with limited visibility or a completely enclosed bridge.

Our latest boat, the MV KAYLA, is a good 15 feet longer and many tons heavier then our previous boat. While its larger size and weight has delivered comfort and stability, it has also proved more difficult to safely maneuver in tight spots – like our marina or the Ballard Locks. Even with the benefit that Zeus Pod drives and joystick control bring, there’s no substitute for clear communications among the crew when relaying important information.

No one wants to damage their vessel or, worse, risk injury with someone falling into the water while wrangling a line or assisting during docking.

When we first received the KAYLA last May we purchased a set of Eartec Simultec 24G wireless headsets. They promised clear, full-duplex (meaning we didn’t have to push any buttons and could have a normal conversation) communications that my wife and I would use when docking or transiting the locks. We used them a few times and, at in the beginning, they seemed to operate reasonably well. But, they weren’t very comfortable and the headset and radio were separate pieces that were, sometimes, hard to attach to our life vests.


More recently we upgraded to what we believed would be a superior headset – the Sena SPH10-10 Headset – and, so far, we’ve been very pleased. The units are easy to use and are far more comfortable than the Eartec units. The radio and headset are one unit. There’s nothing to dangle. No wires to worry about. The Sena headsets are all-digital, whereas the Eartec units were not and required flipping switches to change frequencies in case there was interference (we never had any).

Sena appears to be a recognized leader in wireless recreational headsets and counts the motorcycle market, among others, as their core audience. I first discovered them in a Yachting magazine and found that they were available directly on Amazon.com. At approximately $150 each they’re not inexpensive (the Eartec units are similarly priced). But, consider the cost of damaging your swim deck or the side of your boat because you couldn’t hear your spouse’s shouts from your pilot house or through the glass of your bridge.

Charging and setting up the SPH10-10 headsets was easy. Any USB power source will work, though the larger cubes designed for devices like iPads are better than the little ones that charge phones.

Configuring the units was also easy. We set ours up to talk to one another. However, the SPH10-10s can be configured to work with any Bluetooth audio device, such as a mobile phone.

Similar to the Eartec units, the Sena SPH10-10s allow you to conduct full-duplex conversations. That means you talk normally, as if the person you were talking to was directly in front of you. There are no buttons to push. Nothing to activate. The unit comes with two types of microphones. We opted to attach the included extension (and flexible) boom mic. When we’re in the locks I can usually hear the lock master as he or she delivers commands to Cathia at the same time she’s hearing them. When docking, and Cathia is near the swim deck, I can clearly hear her deliver distance and directional queues critical to my safely returning KAYLA to her slip.

There are other headsets available. Eartec even makes a professional set, but they’re way more expensive than the Sena units. If you’ve got a big boat, or one with limited access or visibility you might consider acquiring a set of wireless communication headsets. I’d label them important safety tools. Some have called them marriage savers.

Winter Crusing: Destination Vancouver

This year we decided to try something new for our winter break – cruise to Vancouver, spend a few days downtown and then bus to Whistler for skiing.

Planning started in early November when we began thinking about how we would spend winter break. Mixing cruising with winter sports seemed like a fun thing to try, but before committing to the plan we knew we’d have to do some research. Weather related boating conditions were something we knew we would have to take seriously.

I reached out to a few friends and posted a few notes online asking for opinions about winter cruising. While we’re year-round boaters, our winter water activities have usually been confined to Lake Washingtion, Lake Union and, occasionally, Bainbridge Island.

One thing that definitely influenced our plans, this time, was the fact that the KAYLA is almost four times heavier than the LAIKA. Were we to encounter rough seas we knew, with our newer vessel, we’d have a better chance of handling whatever we encountered.  Though, we weren’t foolish enough to think we’d be invincible, and safety and crew comfort were of paramount importance. In fact, our plans were designed to forgo the cruising component if weather dictated we travel solely by land.

Weather Guides

Since our journey would cover two countries, we’d have to rely upon two government-run weather and marine forecasting services: NOAA in the United States and the Canadian Government for waters North of San Juan Island and near Vancouver.

Weather conditions near San Juan Island

Wind forecasts around Vancouver, BC

One app I was referred to and became quite attached to was WindAlert. I used both their iPhone and iPad versions and it definitely helped with regard to understanding what we were likely to face the day we traveled North.

Sliding Between Storms

We planned to leave on Sunday, December 21, 2014. A week before that date the Puget Sound survived a minor windpocolpyse, with wind gusts reaching as high as 70mph on the coast. Another strong series of winds had been forecast for the 19th and 20th. Would they subside by the time we left Sunday morning? The forecasts said they would. So, we decided to commit to our trip and spend the evening on the boat in our marina so we could head out before sunrise.

That evening, though, the winds were definitely strong on Lake Washington. As we were moving some of our gear to the boat we witnessed several large powerboats returning from that evening’s Christmas Lights boat parade, and they had a heck of a time docking. The wind was so strong it pushed a 45 foot Bayliner into the dock, significantly damaging its stern fiberglass and chrome rub rail. That convinced me to add two more lines to our boat that evening, as well as another fender.

My alarm sounded at 6:30am and I began preparing to leave. The plan was to allow my wife and daughter to continue sleeping, at least until we made it to the locks.

I made it outside to happily discover a glassy calm on the lake. So far, so good. The first job was to get the generator going and disconnect from shore power. I did that without delay. Next, I got our lines untied and slowly left the marina. A hundred yards out I stopped, donned my life vest and brought up the fenders. Though, this time I decided to do something differently. Since it was still dark outside I knew no one would see our fenders. So, I put them in position for the lock, and kept them dangling from both sides of the boat. Ease of planning and safety would trump boating style, this time.

Safely back at the helm I started off across Lake Washington. At 7 knots it would be a relaxing, almost serene start to our journey. If we met with similar conditions in Puget Sound it would surely be a fantastic vacation.


As we approached Union Bay (and Husky Stadium) Cathia came up and joined me. She took command of the vessel while I fixed a cup of coffee. I also got a chance to take some pictures. As the sun had yet to rise we enjoyed some beautiful scenes on the water. Best we could tell there were no other boats near us. This was the first time we had left so early and it was really quite beautiful starting off in the dark and then watching the sun rise.


Union Bay early in the morning


University Bridge before sunrise

Locking through there have only been a few times in our boating experiences that we’ve approached the locks and were flagged right through. More often than not we encounter a decent wait, whether it’s because there’s a bunch of enthusiasts waiting to transit through or an Argosy boat “reserving” their spot a good twenty minutes before reaching the area.

The sun had been up just shy of an hour by the time we exited the lock into Puget Sound. It was high tide as we began heading North. Within moments we were planing at 24 knots and would pretty much maintain that speed through the journey.

The biggest obstacle we faced wasn’t weather so much as a massive amount of floating debris – mostly large logs. We encountered them throughout the journey but they seemed to appear mostly where opposing currents met one another near large land masses. We couldn’t avoid hitting some small pieces but, luckily, didn’t make contact with any large ones, or anything that could cause damage.

As we neared the body of water between Lummi Island and Orcas Island we encountered a bit more chop, but it was nothing too severe. While it did require us to hold on while moving about the boat, it didn’t prevent me from making my way to one of the big windows and capturing some video. Though, video always seems to make the conditions look calmer than they really are.

Lummi Island

Once we entered the Strait of Georgia and found similar and increasingly improving conditions we knew our trip would, ultimately, be successful. Once we entered the bay West of Vancouver we stopped to capture some of the sights, including some massive ships that were anchored. I noticed on the back of them the same kind of emergency evacuation capsule that was depicted in the movie “Captain Phillips.”

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Escape capsule on the back of the cargo ship

As we approached Lion’s Gate Bridge we were greeted by a massive hovercraft. Within minutes we were circling the North part of Stanley Park and would, shortly thereafter, arrive at Coal Harbour Marina.

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BC Hovercraft outside Vancouver near Lions Gate Bridge

The only problem we encountered was the floating gas station just outside the marina had lost power. So, we’d have to wait another day to top off our tanks in preparation for our return journey. Which, incidentally, may prove more exciting. There’s another storm coming, so we’re figuring out which day, exactly, to plan our return. Stay tuned!

An ideal smoke alarm for boats

Did you know that boat manufacturers (from small cruisers to big yachts) continue to sell and deliver their products without installing integrated smoke alarms? Boats with enclosed cabins will typically come with carbon monoxide detectors, but it’s rare for smoke and fire detectors to be present – despite the clear and obvious benefit to health and safety.

Recently I discovered a smoke and fire detector that seems purpose built for boats. It’s small, battery powered, easy to install and has a piercing audible alarm. Manufactured by First Alert, the SMOKE1000 Atom Micro Photoelectric Smoke Detector has found a place aboard our boat the MV KAYLA.

First Alert Smoke 1000

Although I’ve linked to Amazon for the SMOKE1000, I discovered them at Loews for a few dollars less at under $20/each. If you need several there’s also a three-pack available through Amazon.

If your boat has an enclosed cabin with sleep quarters and you don’t have a smoke detector it’s imperative you acquire and install one. Don’t wait until it’s too late!


Destination Princess Louisa Inlet

This July I finally made it to one of the Pacific Northwest’s premier boating destinations – Princess Louisa Inlet. Sheltered by Fjord-like mountains, the idyllic location is beautiful and tranquil.

Leaving Malibu Rapids heading toward Princess Louisa Inlet

Leaving Malibu Rapids heading toward Princess Louisa Inlet

Facing Chatterbox Falls from the dock

Facing Chatterbox Falls from the dock

The facilities, while remote, are well maintained. There’s a ranger’s station and home, though we didn’t see that person during our short stay. We were lucky to have found space on the dock, which only provides about 300′ of useful space. Were we forced to anchor a long stern line would have been needed to secure the KAYLA and keep is aligned in one direction.

Chatterbox Falls

Chatterbox Falls

The Falls, themselves, are nice, but not remarkable. They’re not at all very large. If you look up into the mountains that surround the small inlet you’ll see numerous smaller falls appearing hundreds and thousands of feet up. These, to me, were more impressive, and beautiful.

Water flowing from the falls

Water flowing from the falls

Glassy morning water

Glassy morning water

Small boat moored in the inlet with a stern line to shore

Small boat moored in the inlet with a stern line to shore

Majestic view of Princess Louisa Inlet

Majestic view of Princess Louisa Inlet


Walkway to Chatterbox Falls

Walkway to Chatterbox Falls