Benefits of Digital Switching

27th May 2022

Benefits of Digital Switching

For some time  now, digital switching has only been available on high-end vessels, or newly built boats, meaning older or lower-end have had to rely on manual switches. However, this is no longer the case, as plug and play digital units means that digital switches are now accessible for more of the boating community.

But what are the benefits of digital switching?

Benefits of Digital Switches

Although you may have used mechanical switches for some time, not only will introducing digital switching to your dashboard bring your sailing experience into the 21st century but you will incur a number of other more tangible benefits.

  • Lighter – One of the most tangible benefits is that digital switching is considerably lighter than mechanical switching. With traditional switching the central panel is attached to a series of batteries as well as to the circuit point of use. This can lead to a number of large heavy cables and copper wire. Considering the number of circuits which are required on a modern vessel this can amount to hundreds of kilos of extra weight, which is easily replaced by digital switching. Additionally digital switching can remove the need for large AC/DC panels replacing it with a streamlined, digital screen, reducing the weight carried even further.
  • Easier to control – Digital switching enables easy addition and removal of equipment. With traditional switching, anywhere another switch is required needs new cables to the new location. Therefore, a simple task like adding another control switch for a light can result in a time-consuming process as well as adding metres of extra wires. By connecting your digital switching system to an NMEA 2000 backbone, you can simplify installation and give you more control over what happens and where on your vessel. The information received is also easier to read meaning you will have more accurate data on which to act.
  • Less maintenance – Whilst the maintenance of digital switches involves computers rather than multi-meters, it is not needed nearly as often as with mechanical switches. Anyone who owns a boat will be aware that salt water and the marine environment can erode traditional switches which can ultimately lead to system failures. This can cost a fortune in repair and warranties. One of our clients, Pioneer Boats came to Veethree with this very problem. Digital systems are often built with corrosion and shock resistant components, are weather sealed and are comprised of fewer components which can go wrong. This means that while maintenance may not be as straight forward it is not required as frequently with digital switching.
  • Automated – As with anything digital, if configured in a particular way it can automate a number of manual actions. For example, through the NMEA 2000 network, it is possible to set a circuit where the freshwater pump is turned off for example, when the freshwater tank level drops below a certain amount. It is possible to set up a number of circuits meaning you no longer have to manually do these tasks, making for a more streamlined boating experience.
  • Easy integration – Digital switching makes integration a breeze meaning you can keep up with all the modern tech required to enhance your boating experience. With mechanical switches it can be expensive, and it can be time-consuming, but with digital switching and a network like NMEA 2000 you can integrate all your equipment under the same network. The CAN bus network on which it runs makes installing, monitoring and controlling third party equipment easy, and as they can be integrated onto a multi-function display you are able to reduce the dials and equipment required on your dashboard.
  • Cheaper – Since the introduction of digital switching systems the cost has come down substantially, and they are easy to install meaning there is no need to hire an engineer for the set up. With bespoke systems an option, you are also guaranteed to get everything you need for your vessel through one system, reducing the equipment you need. Although there is an initial outlay it will save money and time further down the line. As mentioned above, with digital systems breaking down less frequently, and if they do the digital systems can isolate the fault precisely making maintenance costs much lower than for traditional switches. Add to this the boat itself will be lighter due to the reduction in heavy cabling, which could also have an impact on your running costs.
  • Easy installation – Veethree’s digital switching systems are designed as plug and play, meaning no specialist engineer is required to set up the systems and adding or removing equipment is just as straight forward. With traditional switches, every switch needs a corresponding wired connection, with wires running all over the vessel. With digital switching, the wires are reduced and the connections easy to make.

Converting to digital switching

You will know when it’s time to upgrade your traditional switches to digital when readouts and connections are no longer reliable and compatibility with new equipment becomes problematic. Perhaps some of your systems are unable to load and run modern software meaning it has essentially reached the end of its life, or manufacturers are no longer offering support for the equipment. Of course, you can replace any analogue systems which aren’t functioning to full capacity, but it is a false economy when digital will solve current problems as well as pre-empt any future issues with the analogue switches.

It’s not difficult to upgrade your traditional switching system to digital but it will necessitate a little down time and a certain degree of preparation. You need to think about what you want the network to do; what instruments you require and whether they will need to be compatible with legacy equipment? But you can also consider how you want the new system to look and whether you are going for a bespoke product with choices and finishes to match the overall aesthetic of your vessel.

For older boats, laying the (reduced number of) cables is potentially the biggest challenge and having the plans of the boat and where the cables run and conduits are, can save a lot of time – whether your own or an engineer’s. But due to the simplicity of setting up a digital switching network like NMEA 2000 this should be the biggest challenge.

If you think it’s time to consider introducing digital switching to your vessel, whether to save on maintenance costs or to make installation and integration easier, then the VeeConnect 12-channel digital switching system could be just what you need. It is NMEA 2000 compatible, meaning not only will the data you require be available in one place but so will the ability to control the switches on the vessel such as the lights, power hatch and depth sounder.

To find more information on how the VeeConnect digital switching system can improve your boating visit www.veeconnect.info  or contact a member of our team today.