Wired vs Wireless

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tacktick

To wire, or not to wire? This is a good question, and there are certainly some pluses and minus 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 at the Garmin/Nexus gWind/nWind and Raymarine Tackticks wind sensor batteries. The gWinds NiMH battery life is about three to four years, depending on usage; it is easy to replace and costs about $20. The Tacktick TA100s battery life, according to Raymarine, depends on usage. The replaceable lithium batteries cost about $65 and are fairly easy to install, but 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 916MHz 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 2.4GHz. 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 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 receivers location can be optimized. If you don't need wireless capability, stay with the hardwired systems.

Darrell Nicholson, editor of Practical Sailor, grew up boating on Miami’s Biscayne Bay on everything from prams to Morgan ketches. Two years out of Emory University, after a brief stint as a sportswriter, he set out from Miami aboard a 60-year-old wooden William Atkin ketch named Tosca. For 10 years, he and writer-photographer Theresa Gibbons explored the Caribbean, crossed the Pacific, and cruised Southeast Asia aboard Tosca, working along the way as journalists and documenting their adventures for various travel and sailing publications, including Cruising World, Sail, Sailing, Cruising Helmsman, and Sailing World. Upon his return to land life, Darrell became the associate editor, then senior editor at Cruising World magazine, where he worked for five years. Before taking on the editor’s position at Practical Sailor, Darrell was the editor of Offshore magazine, a boating-lifestyle magazine serving the New England area. Darrell has won multiple awards from Boating Writer’s International, including the Monk Farnham award for editorial excellence. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license and has worked as a harbor pilot and skippered a variety of commercial charter boats.

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