The cheapest way to add Wi-Fi to any camera (or your boat)

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When you’re boating or backpacking, it’s not so easy to just pull out your camera’s memory card and dump the photos onto a computer. Half the time I have the camera sealed in a dive case or wrapped up in plastic to protect it from the elements, and most of the time I don’t even have a computer with me.

When we were in the Spanish Virgin Islands I really appreciated the fact that my Sony had built-in Wi-Fi. I could climb back on the boat, towel off, then turn on the Wi-Fi to send all my snorkeling photos to my iPad for review without ever having to take the camera out of the dive case. I could then Instagram a good one and hop right back in the water to dive some more. I didn’t have to worry about unsealing and resealing the dive case, defogging the lens again, or any of that rigmarole.

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Unfortunately, not all cameras come with Wi-Fi. However, Wi-Fi SD cards have been around for a few years now and are getting better all the time. You might have heard of Eye-Fi. They were the pioneers of Wi-Fi SD cards, but an Eyefi Mobi Pro card still runs about $99. There’s also the Transcend Wi-Fi option.

I was almost ready to spend the money on an Eye-Fi when I came across the Toshiba Flashair. Apparently, the FlashAir has never been too popular, and the iPhone and Android apps were downright terrible when it first came out. However, a 32GB FlashAir SD card is now only $30 (I ordered mine on eBay). At that price, I decided to give it a try.

FlashAir01

Setup of the card was easy. You just pop it in the camera and download the free FlashAir app to your phone. Each time you launch it after the card has been formatted, it gives you the option to change the Wi-Fi name and password. This is a nice feature if you were shooting a professional event where lots of people might be using Wi-Fi, however, it has one major flaw. Every time you format the SD card in the camera, it resets the SSID and Password to the factory default. I might format the card three times a day when I’m working, so I gave up on setting a custom Wi-Fi name.

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Once the app is launched, your phone or tablet will automatically connect to the Wi-Fi generated by the SD card and allow you to browse the photos on the card. (I found Android devices are much faster at connecting than iOS devices, which sometimes need help finding the network.)

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Just select the photos you want to download to your phone, and it beams them right over. But here’s the cool part, the FlashAir app doesn’t just work for photos. It also does music and movie files, so you can use it in other devices like a Zoom recorder or a video camera.

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Perhaps you do have a computer, but you don’t have an SD card reader available, or maybe you just hate installing apps on your phone. If you connect the computer or a phone to the FlashAir Wi-Fi and then open the web browser, it reads the card in the web browser and lets you browse and download the photos that way as well.

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But wait, that’s not all! If you stick the FlashAir in an SD card reader, it still generates Wi-Fi. That means, if you need Wi-Fi on your boat, you could grab one of these FlashAir cards and a card reader, stick it in an SD slot on your chartplotter or even a 12 volt DC plug and suddenly have a portable Wi-Fi network for all the devices on your boat.

Now don’t get too excited. It won’t give you Internet, just a Wi-Fi network that allows all of your devices to connect to each other. For instance, if you have an AIS system that needs Wi-Fi to send info to your chartplotter, this $30 SD card will allow that. It can connect up to six devices. (However, if you do have an Internet connection, it also allows Internet pass through.)

So what’s the downside to a Wi-Fi SD card you ask? Well, although the transmitter has a very low power draw, it still drains the battery faster. Cameras with built-in Wi-Fi like the Sony are able to turn it on and off to conserve battery, but with the FlashAir, from what I can tell the Wi-Fi is on all the time. However, in use I can’t say I’ve seen a noticeable change in battery life.

Yes, the FlashAir app does transfer RAW files. I shoot everything in RAW, but I honestly don’t know why anyone would want to transfer a 45 MB file over Wi-Fi. I shoot RAW + 1.2 MB JPG Small. The RAW is for my photo archives and for making prints. I download those files when I get home. The JPG small file saves space on the SD card and my phone or tablet but has plenty of resolution for social media. Here’s a few examples straight out of the camera via the FlashAir card.

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So there you have it, the Toshiba Flashair 3 Wi-Fi SD card, the $30 solution to adding Wi-Fi to any camera.

Maintaining the raw water system: seacock, strainer, impeller, zincs

My sailboat to-do list has been growing all year, and there was no way around it, this weekend I had to do some maintenance and work off some of my lingering projects.

Universal 2420 Diesel

Auxiliary power on Gimme Shelter is supplied by the original 1982 Universal 5424, a marinized Kubota diesel. This weekend I decided to work through the raw water system.

Raw water seacock

I checked to make sure it moved freely open and closed. I checked the hose for cracking, and I checked to make sure the hose clamps did not show any signs of corrosion. Everything looked fine, so I closed it and moved on to the next piece of the system. (Closing the raw water seacock is a key step in all raw water maintenance and repair, as is opening it before you start the engine again!)

Raw water strainer

The strainer is basically a jar with a metal basket inside. Water is pushed through the top of the basket, and then shoots out all of the tiny holes of the metal strainer while leaving debris inside the metal strainer basket. If you look at the photo above, mine is very easy to access on the port side of the engine. I pulled out the strainer basket and found just a little mud, sprayed it with the hose and put it back together. No problems.

Raw water pump impeller

It’s recommended that you change the raw water impeller annually. I hadn’t had any water flow issues, and we hadn’t put many on hours on the engine, so I had let Gimme Shelter go two full years without replacing it. It was still working, but when I pulled it out, I could see the difference between the old and new impellers.

impellercomparison

I really like the Oberdorfer pump because it’s easy to access on the front of the engine, and it only takes four screws to open it up.

rawwaterpump

The impellers just push onto the keyed center shaft, and you’re ready to go. The only catch is that you have to replace the paper gasket every time you open the pump. You also have to make sure you remove all of the old paper gasket before you install the new one or you won’t get a good seal. In the past I have resorted to cutting a new gasket out of construction paper with a pocket knife, but it’s definitely easier just to order a new gasket when you order the new impeller.

Sacrificial zinc anode

From the pump, the raw water moves to the heat exchanger where the antifreeze moves through tubes and transfers the heat of the engine into the seawater before it’s sent overboard in the exhaust. A sacrificial zinc anode is screwed into the heat exchanger to protect it from corrosion. If the heat exchanger tubes corrode out, you’ll end up with seawater in your antifreeze and vice versa, so this zinc is very important.

I’ll admit it. I’d been as lazy about the zinc as I had been about the impeller, and it hadn’t been changed in two years. When I unscrewed it, this is what came out.

zinccomparison

On the left is the two-year-old zinc. On the right is a new pencil zinc. This was bad. However, I didn’t have any seawater coming out of the hole, so I resorted to taking a selfie with the heat exchanger to see what was going on down there.

heatexchangerselfie

There was still zinc left in the hole. However, two or three pokes with a screwdriver, and that little bit of zinc left crumbled to pieces and fell right out. I then installed the new zinc and promised myself I’d start checking it every six months.

zincinexchanger

Once the new zinc was installed I opened the seacock and watched for leaks from the strainer lid as it filled. With no leaks from the strainer, I cranked up the engine and looked for waterflow from the exhaust. Water was flowing, so I popped back into the cabin to check for leaks from both the raw water pump and then zinc.

Once I’d verified that my maintenance hadn’t caused any new problems, I moved on to my next project, which I’ll blog about tomorrow — installing a NMEA 2000 backbone.