Masthead Wind Sensors: Wired vs. Wireless

Posted by Bill Bishop at 03:18PM - Comments: (6)

The Nexus nWind (top) wireless wind sensor and Raymarine Tacktick (opened back of display shown below) both use solar-charged batteries to operate.

Does a wireless masthead wind indicator make sense? This is a good question, and there are certainly some pros and cons to consider. For sailors with wiring-unfriendly masts, the wireless approach is a good one. These include wooden spars, ones with conduits that are already full with other wiring, and masts that are regularly unstepped. The downside of going wireless is that the batteries will need to be changed on occasion, and in some cases, signal interference is possible.

Testers looked closely the Garmin/Nexus gWind/nWind and Raymarine Tacktick’s wind sensor batteries. The gWind’s NiMH battery life is about three to four years, depending on usage; it is easy to replace and costs about $20. The Tacktick TA100’s battery life, according to Raymarine, depends on usage. The replaceable lithium batteries cost about $65 and are fairly easy to install, but they may require removal to allow easier access. All current Tacktick Micronet displays have replaceable batteries with an estimated 10-year life.

Wireless interference issues are possible in a few cases. The Tacktick system uses 916 MHz for wireless data transmission. This is close to the frequencies of some GSM-based cellphones and other wireless devices such as PC keyboards/mouses and some hobbyist gear. The nWind/gWind system transmits at 2.4 GHz. This frequency is also in the Bluetooth range, along with some WiFi devices, cordless phones, and older microwave ovens. Overall, reports of interference problems are few. Sailors should note that typically anything that conducts electrical current can act as a radio frequency block, and this can include sails with high carbon-fiber content.

Bottom line: For sailors who want wind data and and have wiring-adverse spars, wireless is the way to go. On the whole, we had no issues with the tested wireless systems. Both promptly connected and worked well. The Tacktick display does need to have close to a line-of-sight location relative to the wind sensor. The Nexus/Garmin system offers additional flexibly because the wireless receiver’s location can be optimized. If you don’t need wireless capability, stay with the hardwired systems.

Sarasota-based marine electronics installer Bill Bishop blogs at the Marine Installer's Rant.One of his recent blog posts describes efforts to create a modern open data format for marine use called “Signal K” that would be compatible with NMEA devices like chartplotters, friendly to WiFi, cellphones, tablets, and the Internet—a format available to everyone, where anyone can contribute.

Comments (5)

I'm glad to hear the effective range mentioned. I have a ~40' mast. Last winter, I asked a Raymarine rep. at Strictly Sail Chicago about installing a wireless wind sensor, and without hesitation, he said it would not work, and that it was intended for smaller boats only. I could not find any firm specs, recommendations, or even requirements about mast height in any of their literature. Nor could I find it mentioned in anyone else's.

Was this part of the tests that Practical Sailor carried out? Do any of the manufacturers make any official claims about signal range?

Posted by: MARK G | July 1, 2014 1:27 PM    Report this comment

Pat A, the gWind/nWind with the WSI box will easily have at least a 300' range or more. The big plus of their approach is the WSI receiver box can be located in a place (protected from the elements) that will provide overall good reception. Your 63' mast shouldn't be a problem.

Posted by: BILL B | June 29, 2014 4:51 PM    Report this comment

I returned my tacktick for a full refund from the supplier due to unacceptable radio interference causing grossly inaccurate readings in a broad area of my home waters of northern San Francisco Bay between Richmond and Angel Island. Tacktick's tech support person initially denied interference as a reason but eventually agreed. Now back to Raymarine ST60 and happy

Posted by: brian b | June 25, 2014 3:14 PM    Report this comment

Good information. Are there advertised transmission limitations? I'd like to go wireless but I have been told that a 63 foot mast height prevents their use.

Posted by: Pat A | June 25, 2014 11:23 AM    Report this comment

We got the Tacktick as soon as it came out as we have the legacy wiring in the mast problem. We've had interesting issues with the Tacktick. It took three installations to get one that was able to transmit from our taller than average mast. These days, it occasionally Whigs out and displays 24 knots in a calm anchorage, but overall it is working reasonably well.

As cruisers, however, we had sailed for several years with no wind instrument and subscribed to a simpler theory of measuring wind that tells us everything we need to know. There is either not enough (flat calm) requiring the engine, light breeze (5-10 knots - no white caps but small wavelets) requiring spinnaker, just right (10-15 knots - small white caps on the crests of small waves) allowing full sail but no spinnaker, or too much (18 knots+ on a boisterous sea) requiring reefing. It works pretty well.

Posted by: CruisingKitty | June 25, 2014 10:46 AM    Report this comment

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