Over the past few weeks I’ve been pondering a few things with regards to our navigation electronics and other related gear. First of all I had a few projects that I wanted to do that required having a computer aboard, but as we all know sailboats have limited space and computers take up space. Of course a laptop is a good choice for general computing, but I also want to have a server with an attached storage device to be able to archive, back up, and save all the raw video to prior to editing. But what we really don’t need is a desktop-sized server that would also be power hungry!
My solution? Meet my Raspberry Pi. A complete computer for $38. As you can see from it pictured next to my mouse, it is really small. It sports a quad core processor and a gig of RAM, along with four USB ports, a MicroSD slot for storage and an HDMI output for video. You can install several flavors of Linux on it and configure it as a file server. I have a WiFi card plugged into one of the USB ports, so I don’t have to run a cable to it for connectivity, but WiFi is much slower than a wired connection, so eventually I will probably end up running Cat 5 cable from where the server is mounted to where my workstation is. With the cost of USB storage at an all time low, I think you can get a 5 TB backup drive for around $140 on Amazon, creating a network with a sizable storage device could not be easier or cheaper. And with how small the Raspberry PI is, it could easily mount under a cabinet or under the nav station and be out of the way. Throw in the fact that a 12 volt to 5 volt converter that could run both the Raspberry Pi and the external drive are around a couple of dollars, and you have yourself a low-power and really small server!
Next project for a Raspberry Pi is as a navigation package. My plan is to have one installed close to the nav station and have an HDMI switch box so that I can toggle between a monitor at the nav station and the TV in the aft cabin. It never hurts to have two sets of eyes on things, especially when one is resting while the other is on watch. Being able to look up in the aft cabin and see course, speed and how close you are to your next anchorage will be a real help.
As a side, think about being out on the ocean and having your navigation setup go out on you. Then someone comes along with a turnkey setup, including navigation software with GPS puck and maps, that will get you going again. What would THAT be worth to you? Unless you have all the paper charts for where you are and where you are going, and know how to read a sextant, then you’d be really thankful that someone was there with a computer that you could connect and get running in minutes. We may have to take several Raspberrys and GPS pucks with us for trade!