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  1. #1

    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    Verona, VA

    VHF Radio Installation in a PWC

    Why mount a 25W marine radio in the PWC?

    Well, this could be a personal preference. You might be a Public Safety professional or because most of the marine hand held radios are only 1W and 5W selection for transmitting. Granted, you are not trying to transmit over 25 miles unless certain physical and weather conditions are right since you only have a 3-foot antenna. It might also be where you are riding your PWC; inland waters or fishing offshore 5-10 miles.

    My choice is both personal and because I patrol for the USCG Coast Guard Auxiliary on a large body of water at Smith Mountain Lake. Smith Mountain Lake is located about 30 miles south east of Roanoke, VA. It is about 45 miles long with 500 miles of shoreline and many coves. In a straight shot down the lake, my transmit range is about 3-5 miles, on a good day. I can hear the station fine, but they cannot hear me after that range. When we patrol on PWC’s, we can go out two different ways. Either two PWC’s go out in a pair or we ride shotgun along with another vessel facility. One of our PWC Operators at SML affectionately calls it “ticking”. No USCG Auxiliary PWC can patrol alone. We use mostly hand-held radios and have cell phones as backups. There are just too many coves with dead spots so we do keep in touch with boat with both the radios and cell phones. When we ride along with a vessel facility, we sometimes act as the forward scout. Our rules are to stay within 1 mile and stay in touch with the boat. We normally take the PWC’s up the many coves to make a USCG Auxiliary presence on the lake and see check out the area while the patrol boat continues down the lake. It takes a whole lot less time for a PWC to make the cove runs versus the patrol boat. Should we come upon a stranded boater, we can call for help. Should someone call the boat or the station for help, we can run ahead on the PWC and see what assistance is really needed.

    This installation instruction is intended to be generic. Proper installation of a VHF-FM marine radio in a PWC would depends on several factors:

    • PWC Make
    • Year and Model of PWC
    • Storage compartment space
    • Type of VHF-FM marine radio
    • Configuration of VHF-FM Antenna and mounting bracket
    Depending on the make and model of your PWC, there are several places to mount a short whip antenna utilizing a “lift and lay” antenna mount, or make it removable without destroying the hull integrity. Of course the best way to try and mount a radio is to make completely removable so you will not advertise you that you have a $150 - $300 VHF-FM radio.

    Anyone that sees a VHF-FM antenna mounted on a PWC can just open up the hatch, cut the wires and remove it while it stored at the lake on a lift. We will first start with the VHF-FM marine radio design.

    You could mount a standard fixed mount VHF-FM marine radio by being very creative. You would of course have to route the handheld mike cord throughout the PWC upper hull via the handlebar exits to avoid drilling holes. There are several other designs to avoid drilling holes. Some of the standard VHF-FM marine radios offer the second or remote handheld mike. These can be either with a cord or wireless. Of course we all know that the less hassles we want, the more the cost goes up. The remote or wireless mike has all of the same controls and the integrated speaker/mike built in to the handset. Some have an exterior connection point on the dash. The wiring then goes from the connection plate to the radio that is mounted inside a compartment or cabin. If it is wireless, it’s a matter of programming the handset and the main radio to talk to each other.

    The radio that I’m installing is the Northstar NS100 SS VHF FM marine radio into a 1998 Yamaha XL760 3-seater PWC. The radio was on sale online for a ridiculous price, $78.00 and I couldn’t say no. I was going to order a second one for future use, but the price went back to about $275. The first step is to assemble all of the components of the radio, the antenna, hook it up to a battery and test it. Let’s make sure it works before cutting any holes. The radio consists of the black box with the connection ports, the remote wired handset, an external connection port for the handset, an external speaker with the power switch and the all of the necessary wiring and mounting hardware. The instructions are pretty straight forward with very little diagrams for installation. My plan is to make the radio installation so that the antenna, remote speaker and handset are removable. This will allow for the family to use it and not break the antenna or play with the remote speaker. Also, thieves will not know I have a radio onboard when the cover is on it.

    The placement of the exterior connector for the handset, the external speaker box, the main black box and the antenna needs to be determined ahead of time based on the model of your PWC. I would try several temporary placements options to get the best signal without any electrical interference with the radio and the PWC electronics. There are recommendations in the radio installation instructions. For the exterior connector and cap, an inconspicuous place where the cap cannot be seen, or somewhere on a cover or lid that’s not too expensive to replace when it comes time to sell the PWC and keep the radio. My radio has the option of using the exterior connection jack. Since the connection point for the handset and the exterior port are same, I can eliminate the exterior port and extra cabling to make it easier to install for a patrol and remove when I’m done for the weekend. The antenna cable and wires for the remove speaker will transverse to routing cable bushing located just above the box hatch compartment. The holding point of the handset will be placed somewhere on the handlebar cover or side housing.

    The exterior speaker/power switch was going to a challenge. Since the size of the speaker is 6” x 6”, placement will have to be based on being able to hear the volume while on the PWC. Two options come to mind. One, I can fabricate a mounting bracket for the speaker that can be removable to the exterior lip of the handle bar base covering, provided I have enough cable. Two, mount the speaker just inside the bow hatch so that with the volume all of the way up I can still hear the radio with the hatch shut. After testing the unit, I found out that a speaker is also built in to the handset, which is a plus. With that said, I can mount the external speaker/power switch on the inside of the hull and run the wires up through the hull cable bushing. No holes to drill, yet……….

    I will be using the TRAM 1600-HC 38” VHF-FM Maine Antenna. There are other brands of smaller 3-foot antennas, but this one seems to fit the application and price range. The mounting bracket that came with the antenna will be used as a template to fabricate a mount that will hold the antenna base and that can be removed from the hull without drilling too many holes. The water-tight integrity of the hatches and the seals must not be compromised. I will be making a custom antenna mounting bracket that can be attached with screws to the inside lip of the air intake cowling outside the bow hatch opening and route the cables to the control cable bushing that goes into the hull with the other PWC control cables. This way, when family members use the PWC, I can remove the antenna and bracket and stow the cable. See Figures #1 and 2.

    I made a cardboard template for the mounting bracket and transferred the dimensions to the aluminum sheet. The dimension for the antenna base hole is also measured and transferred. After cutting and bending the bracket to the hull, (2) mounting holes were drilled. A piece of neoprene or silicone pad is attached to the backside of the bracket that rests against the hull to keep it from scratching the gel coat. Placement and drilling of the mounting holes in the air intake side cover lip that lines up with the bow hatch cover is based on the placement of routing the antenna cable. I used (2) #10-24x ¾” stainless steel screws with nylon lock nuts and a small stainless backer plate for mounting the bracket. See Figures #3. After attaching the antenna bracket, I attached a 90 degree fitting to the antenna to make less a strain of the antenna cable. I then ran the cable through a notch in the side cover, up to and behind the hatch bracket and down to the bushing that goes in the fuel tank area. See Figure #4.

    The black box of the radio is mounted somewhere inside the PWC in the compartment behind the forward bow tub. The box has all of the connections for the antenna, speaker/power switch and the power wiring. There is a mounting template that came with the radio so you can mount it on a bulkhead or shelf. In the case of the PWC, and after the 4th design change, I fabricated (2) mounting bars to mount to each side of the black box mounting holes. These were made out of 1/8” x 1” wide aluminum bar stock. The mounting bars are then attached to the ½” steel hull support bar with clamps. See Figure #5 and 5A. The placement of clamps actually lined up with two of the black box mounting holes. This would secure the black box and keep it steady. At least with this type of installation, if I sell the PWC and can remove all of the components and the power wiring in a matter of about 15 minutes. For patrols, the black box and associated cables would stay in the PWC. The power wiring harness runs from the black box over the starboard side of the interior hull and is routed down to the battery connectors. I attached the wiring lugs and attached it to the battery terminals separate of the main power cables. The PWC battery is stock and I don’t plan on using the main radio while the PWC is not running. At 25W transmitting and drawing 6.4 amps, it will kill the battery in no time. If I do have battery power issues, then I’ll have to bump up the amperage from 19a to 25a.
    Some of the wiring harnesses were moved and rearranged to accommodate mounting the black box and the speaker/power switch.

    I mounted the external speaker/power switch on top of the black box with nylon zip ties on the ½” steel support bar that runs the width of the upper hull. The extra cabling is routed behind the speak/power switch. See Figure #6. All I have to do now is remove the forward storage tub, turn on the power and leave the volume on low. There are volume controls on the handset and I can adjust it there. The connection point for the handset from the speaker is also routed through the hull cable bushing. See Figure #7. The handset will then plug into this connection point and run underneath the forward hatch in the water drain channels up to the handlebars. All of the excess wiring and cabling were coiled up and nylon tied together. I then secured this bundle to the other wiring connection points.

    The magnetic mounting clip for the microphone was finally attached to the outside of the glove box lid. It’s out of the way and will not bother anyone when not in use. With this arrangement I can hear the volume fine facing me. Also, since the throttle lever is on the right hand grip and can use my left hand to work the radio. See Figure #8 and 9.

    When the PWC is not in use for USCG Auxiliary patrols, I disconnect the antenna cable; remove the antenna bracket with the base; disconnect the remote handset and stow the cabling. The only items left in the PWC are the black box, antenna wire and the power wire. Protective caps are put on the ends of the cables for storage. The only holes drilled were for the antenna bracket, the magnetic mounting clip. After turning on the radio, getting a signal check and programming the channels and DSC, it was off for a test run and then an actual patrol. I’ll be carrying my handheld for backup and an extra one in a waterproof bag for those situations that can happen. In TCT, Team Coordination Training, we are taught that “things always change” and we have to adapt to those changes. It is funny how these changes always happen when you don’t want it too.

    The long awaited patrol and try out for the radio came during the Bassmasters Elite Fishing Tournament held at Smith Mountain Lake 15-18 April. After arriving at the station, I checked to see if the radio mount and wiring survived the 125 mile trip on the trailer. I figure if it survives the road trip it should hold on during an 8-hour patrol. To setup the radio for patrol, I attach the antenna bracket to the bow hatch lip and connect the cable to the antenna base. The handset is plugged into the connection point near the cable bushing, turn on the power and shut the hatch. After a pre-underway check of the all the PPE and the PWC, we headed out to the tournament. The only problem that I did encounter while getting underway, was transmitting on 25 watts. As soon as I keyed the mike, all of my gauges rebooted as if I had just started the PWC. After checking the manual, I switched to 1 watt power and everything was fine. I will either change out of the battery, or find extra space inside the battery area to install a 2nd battery dedicated for the radio. The handset is rated for JIS-7 waterproofing, which is submerged at 1 meter for 30 minutes, so the occasional dunking from wakes will be fine.

    After two days of patrols, everything worked out fine. I did try transmitting on 25 watts while the PWC was shut off and I still had enough power to restart the engine. As soon as I get the extra battery power needed I’ll do more testing and report back. Have fun with your radio installation and a second person is always great to help you with last minute design changes and small hands to get inside the PWC where you cannot reach.
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  2. #2
    Click avatar for tech links/info, donation request K447's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    near Toronto, Canada
    Nicely done article

    Was the battery a traditional lead-acid PWC battery, or an AGM type?

    An AGM PWC battery might be able to supply enough current for 25 watt radio operation without excess voltage sag resetting the PWC gauges.

    A dual battery configuration does seem like the most reliable solution, with a battery combiner linking the two batteries.

  3. #3

    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    Verona, VA

    Battery question

    It is the standard PWC battery that came with the ski. However, I do have a second battery that is a sealed type. I do not think that it is an AGM. I have also looked at installing a larger deep cycle marine. It is a bit larger, but the weight was too much, 45 lbs!

    I'll have to check the other battery this evening and get back with you. Thanks for the input and advice.

  4. #4
    Click avatar for tech links/info, donation request K447's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    near Toronto, Canada
    Factory sealed AGM is the way to go. High power output, no leaks, no venting, vibration resistant, and long life.

    Low self discharge rate makes storage easy.

    The Odyssey PC-625 is considered a top notch example.

  5. #5

    Join Date
    Nov 2008
    Verona, VA

    Battery Update

    ok. The original battery that came with the ski was a Extreme Magna Power ETX20L AGM battery. It is a long story how I wound up with 2 batteries. The one current running the ski is a typical wet-cell battery.

    I'm looking at mounting the AGM in the same compartment as the standard battery. I'll have to be creative as to how to mount it. Here is what the compartment looks like. I' m looking at moving the cuurent battery holder and adding a second one, or fab a platform that will hold both. The problem I would see with that is adding an additional 16 lbs to the starboard side. I'm also looking at above the pump housing. Bolting an aluminum angle for the battery to sit on and strapping it to the bulkhead.
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  6. #6
    Click avatar for tech links/info, donation request K447's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    near Toronto, Canada
    Quote Originally Posted by gillman81 View Post
    ...The original battery that came with the ski was a Extreme Magna Power ETX20L AGM battery.

    ...The one current running the ski is a typical wet-cell battery...
    A pair of AGM batteries would be optimal, long term.

    ETX20L sounds like a Deka (East-Penn) battery code. I have several Deka AGM (ETX16LM) - they seem to be fairly good overall.

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