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This Raspberry Pi Boat Computer Is for Sailors

(Image credit: bearthesailor)

Ready to hit the water? This Raspberry Pi boating project was created by a developer known on Reddit as bearthesailor. Bareboat Necessities is a DIY Pi-powered computer designed with all of your boating needs in mind.

This project houses a Raspberry Pi 4 below deck, so waterproofing your Pi isn't necessary. The Bareboat Necessities has a panel of interfaces on the front and back with a wide selection of features. You'll find USB ports, voltage meters and power switches for different components. There are even RF connectors to use with antennas.

The maker has the Pi running the Pi's Raspbian operating system, along with OpenPlotter 2.0, an open-source sailing platform. Because the project uses a Raspberry Pi 4, you can use Wi-Fi to set up the software remotely and even access the boat computer using a smartphone or tablet.

Bearthesailor provided a big list of recommended software on the project Github page. You can find applications to display weather predictions, a compass, plus temperature and barometric readings. There are even marine-specific applications, like SailGuage to help monitor things such as speed over ground, course over ground and depth below transducer. 

Tuktuk Chart Plotter and KIP Dashboard interface with Signal K—an open-source self-described universal marine data exchange. And, of course, you can add a music player because boats absolutely need kicking tunes. 

Visit the official Bareboat Necessities Github page for an intricate breakdown of the project and how to create one yourself.

  • robotboy321
    admin said:
    This Raspberry Pi Boat Computer is for Sailors
    A boat computer for sailors? Are they sure it's not intended for those who travel by horse?
    Reply
  • derekullo
    robotboy321 said:
    A boat computer for sailors? Are they sure it's not intended for those who travel by horse?
    Powering a Raspberry Pi with a boat ... Easy

    Powering a Raspberry Pi with a horse ... Now we are talking

    A horse is theoretically able to make enough power to power a Raspberry Pi.

    https://www.britannica.com/science/horsepowerThe electrical equivalent of one horsepower is 746 watts in the International System of Units

    A just learned this today but a single horse can make more than 1 horsepower ... 15 peak horsepower to be exact
    https://energyeducation.ca/encyclopedia/HorsepowerLet's use 4 horsepower which I imagine would be a comfortable stride

    746 watts per horsepower * 4 horsepower = 2984 watts per horse

    The Raspberry Pi uses 7.6 watts at full load
    https://www.tomshardware.com/reviews/raspberry-pi-4-b,6193.html
    7.6 watts / 2984 watts = 0.00254% of the horse's comfortable capacity

    Even with horse to electricity conversion through some mechanism attached to one of the horse's legs, which would probably cut the horsepower by 1/4 if you only use1 leg, not being 100% efficient we only need much less than 1% of the horse's energy output.
    Reply
  • derekullo
    You could power a Raspberry Pi and a Wifi adapter to send an email from a horse.

    Horse powered email FTW.
    Reply
  • Darkbreeze
    The "E" in that E-mail, must stand for Equestrian.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    I would not trust a Pi for anything mission-critical. Get a proper industrial or marine PC.

    The one positive about this project would be if it's cheap enough that you could easily get two. However, there could be some batch failure that makes them both unreliable. However, I hear that mariners are wise to such issues, and often get backup systems that are an entirely different brand than their primary.
    Reply
  • GeoffreyMH
    bit_user said:
    I would not trust a Pi for anything mission-critical. Get a proper industrial or marine PC.

    The one positive about this project would be if it's cheap enough that you could easily get two. However, there could be some batch failure that makes them both unreliable. However, I hear that mariners are wise to such issues, and often get backup systems that are an entirely different brand than their primary.

    Having twice been struck by lightning (once mid-Atlantic, once at anchor in Belize) I notice that nature isn't picky about what brand or make of electronics equipment it destroys. Both times it destroyed both our Raymarine autopilots (yes, so much for backups!). Now I rely on my windvane (Monitor) self steering.

    Monitor offer a relatively low-cost autopilot (£800) that drives their self steering for those times when you are motoring in no wind. Meanwhile, I have written my own autopilot that runs very nicely on a £17 Raspberry Pi 3A and uses a £20 12v stepper motor instead of a linear actuator. I certainly wouldn't bother with a "marine computer" - a Pi 4 in an Argon 1 case will do everything you want. And it is tiny enough to fit in your oven or a small cake tin when there is lightning about. Loads of open-source software on the web for chartplotting, autopilots, etc (eg Open CPN, pypilot and so on) and LibreOffice leaves Microsoft Office for dead.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    Thanks for the reply. It's great to hear from someone with actual experience, which I clearly lack.

    GeoffreyMH said:
    Having twice been struck by lightning (once mid-Atlantic, once at anchor in Belize) I notice that nature isn't picky about what brand or make of electronics equipment it destroys. Both times it destroyed both our Raymarine autopilots (yes, so much for backups!). Now I rely on my windvane (Monitor) self steering.
    I gather the point about having a backup of a different brand was in case there's a bug or internal defect in the device. As you point out, it's not going to protect you from lightning.

    GeoffreyMH said:
    I certainly wouldn't bother with a "marine computer" - a Pi 4 in an Argon 1 case will do everything you want. And it is tiny enough to fit in your oven or a small cake tin when there is lightning about. Loads of open-source software on the web for chartplotting, autopilots, etc (eg Open CPN, pypilot and so on) and LibreOffice leaves Microsoft Office for dead.
    My concern about using Pi hardware is that it was built primarily to hit a low price point, and not to prioritize robustness or reliability. The first thing you want to look for is ECC memory, but industrial boards will also use higher quality components, PCBs, etc.

    In conclusion, I'll just say that if it were my ass on the line, I would go the industrial PC route and not rely on a Pi. Also, beware that flash drives and SSDs have data retention issues, if you leave them unplugged for too long. So, I would chose my storage wisely. Some filesystems, like BTRFS, even have a checksum. So, you can simply check it before launching, to verify that your data is 100% intact.
    Reply
  • GeoffreyMH
    bit_user said:
    Thanks for the reply. It's great to hear from someone with actual experience, which I clearly lack.


    I gather the point about having a backup of a different brand was in case there's a bug or internal defect in the device. As you point out, it's not going to protect you from lightning.


    My concern about using Pi hardware is that it was built primarily to hit a low price point, and not to prioritize robustness or reliability. The first thing you want to look for is ECC memory, but industrial boards will also use higher quality components, PCBs, etc.

    In conclusion, I'll just say that if it were my ass on the line, I would go the industrial PC route and not rely on a Pi. Also, beware that flash drives and SSDs have data retention issues, if you leave them unplugged for too long. So, I would chose my storage wisely. Some filesystems, like BTRFS, even have a checksum. So, you can simply check it before launching, to verify that your data is 100% intact.

    The Raspberry Pi was not built to hit a low price point but to educate peope to use computers and electronics-driven equipment. There is now a vast knowledge base on the Pi to support anyone who wants to learn.

    Sure, your ass is really on the line when you use any kind of electronics on the boat. Lightning strike is far more common than people tell you - in Florida, for example, 20% of boats get hit a year. Especially vulnerable is the modern diesel engine with electronic not mechanical fuel injection, or the smart (microprocessor-cotrolled) relays that replace a 1-2-Both switch for battery charging.

    And then there is the cost. The key sensors of an autopilot (gyroscope, accelerometer and magnetometer) are packaged in the Raspberry Pi Sense Hat for £30 from Amazon. It was tested in space flight. While the B&G "marine" Halcyon Gyro Stabilized Compass Pack costs $1,796. Think of it, the requirements to stabilise a £20 drone are far more rigorous than those to steer a relatively slow-moving sailboat.

    Then there is the obsolesence, a huge factor for electronics-intensive power boats. Who is going to service and maintain ten year old systems, and at what cost? Hence the marine electronics engineers's quip: "if it ain't broke, change it out any way". A self-sufficient sailor in the world of electronics needs to be more than able to backup micro SD cards.

    Of course such problems go far beyond boats to afflict our modern cars, bikes, etc. A good friend who is a long-distance motor-biker tells of an acquaintance whose fancy new BMW packed up in Kurdistan (fortunately the only one of the 'stans with a BMW dealer). So he put his bike on the back of a pickup and drove the 1400 miles to the nearby dealer... only to find once the diagnostic computer was plugged into his engine that it was an intermitent fault on a light bulb that had immobilised his bike. Swearing to be never caught this way again, he spent £7,000 on a laptop plus all the software to go with it to take on his next trip with him. Needless to say, three weeks into that trip the valuable laptop was stolen.

    Live by the sword, and you die by the sword. True. But the Raspberry Pi is a wonderfully cheap and mind-sized little sword!
    Reply
  • bit_user
    GeoffreyMH said:
    The Raspberry Pi was not built to hit a low price point
    Yes, it definitely was. The Pi's creator has previously stated that price was everything. They tried to pack in as many features and as much functionality as they could, and still have an entry price of $35. But, at the end of the day, that price was non-negotiable.

    It was not built for reliability or robustness. The overheating problems are evidence of that. The Pi v3 could even be driven to malfunction, under stressful workloads.

    GeoffreyMH said:
    but to educate peope to use computers and electronics-driven equipment.
    Yeah, that's the motive. But that same motive drove them towards maintaining a low price point.

    GeoffreyMH said:
    There is now a vast knowledge base on the Pi to support anyone who wants to learn.
    Which I'm sure is going to be a great source of comfort, when you're stranded in rough seas, with a Pi that keeps crashing or won't boot.

    Look, do whatever you want. I was just explaining my concerns, what I'd use, and why. The cost of an industrial PC is probably insignificant, by comparison with boat maintenance, operating, and storage costs.

    GeoffreyMH said:
    And then there is the cost. The key sensors of an autopilot (gyroscope, accelerometer and magnetometer) are packaged in the Raspberry Pi Sense Hat for £30 from Amazon.
    Is there no USB peripheral available with those sensors?
    Reply
  • mikanesh
    bit_user said:
    ...
    GeoffreyMH said:
    ...

    Hi bit_user & Geoff,

    i read with great interest this debate as a newbie wannabe sailor looking into setting up my own centralized nav system for our soon to be bought cat.
    So thank you to you both.

    This being said, with the lack of practical experience that i have i'm totally failing to understand you bit_user.

    Do you really rely on electronics and proprietary systems for your safety ?

    In my understanding this thing is for comfort, to make it easy for the wife & mate to help with navigation during a crossing while i'm sleeping.
    it's easy& cheap to backup & it's possible to fix any failure anywhere whenever one component fails (save the topnotch radar antenna obv), you can vacuum bag spare SBC & cards backup, to store in foam coated metallic box. Again it's your own, it's cheap & easy : exactly the opposite of what you propose.

    Me inexperienced sailor but software developer for my safety, when thinking about us getting caught by mistake in an unexpected storm i want for my family mechanical backup for autopilot, winds, atm pressure and i want handheld (above) marine grade vhf & gps that can last ages without recharge whatever happens.

    Never ever i would consider putting the safety of my family in any PC, even marine grade (industrial grade is way far below, no industry are working in salty environment) and moreover when the software is proprietary.

    As a software developer i will cut cost on all the comfort items especially if it helps making them my own & easily & cheaply maintainable or replaceable.
    But never i will cut cost on the backup safety stuff (that i hope i will never need but that i believe we all need), whatever the fancy or not, cheap or expensive, nav system we install.
    Reply