Installing An Engine Room Camera

Article & Photos By Mark Corke

Keeping tabs on what's happening under the hood is easy when you have an engine-room camera.

Engine room camera

When I'm motoring, I like to check the engine room every hour or so. Having a peek at the beast in the bilge will often alert me to something wrong, long before it becomes a major issue or one of the alarms goes off.

My boat has two helm stations, one at the forward end of the main saloon and another on the flybridge. In good weather, I like to operate the boat from the flybridge, or as my family calls it, up top. This is great, but the helmsman is farther removed from the noise, smells, and other quirks of the engine room, so spotting something amiss is just that much harder.

I had often thought the idea of an engine-room camera would be an excellent idea for remote monitoring without physically lifting up the cabin sole, but the $400 price tag for a marine engine-room camera was a bit pricey. I then realized that a truck backup camera would be a far cheaper alternative. It even has UV LED lights, which illuminates the engine space when the hatch is closed. As long as your multifunction display (MFD) has a video input — most do — you're good to go.

I have a diesel engine, but if you have a gasoline motor, any electrical appliance that you use in the engine room, including a camera, needs to be ignition protected as per American Boat & Yacht Council (ABYC) and U.S. Coast Guard guidelines.

Jargon Buster

You'll often hear the term "chartplotter," and that's because a few years back when electronic charting first appeared, that's all it did — show the chart. Nowadays, chartplotters are capable of so much more, like displaying everything from a sonar chart, radar, engine gauges, and even controls for autopilot and stereo. Because of this, it is more correctly called a "multifunction display," or MFD for short, but lots of folks still call it a chartplotter!

In essence this project is fairly simple. The hardest and most time-consuming part is likely to be running the cables neatly, and that was certainly true in my case. All boats are different, but the principles are the same. Here's how I went about installing an engine room camera on my boat.

Camera with wide-angle lense

1. All cameras of this type have a wide angle of view, but I spent some time choosing the best spot to site the camera. I temporarily connected the camera to the MFD so that as I moved the camera, I could see how that affected what was shown on the screen.

Screwing camera into place

2. I chose a spot at the aft end of the engine room so I could easily see the transmission and engine. Had I mounted the camera at the forward end of the engine block, the view would have been obscured, and I wouldn't have been able to see the transmission.

With the location decided, I screwed the camera into position using some stainless steel screws. After a final check that the displayed image was correct, I disconnected the cables from the MFD and power supply and set to work on making a neat job of the installation.

Plastic cable clamps to attach wires

3. ABYC standards say that cables should be supported at least every 18 inches, so I used plastic cable clamps to attach the wires to the wooden overhead supports. Aim to keep the wiring as neat as possible and ensure there are no dangling loops that can get snagged, especially by rotating machinery.

Adding RCA plugs

4. I routed the cables through to the MFD and made the final connections. It's perfectly OK to coil up any excess video feed cable, but for a neater job, cut off the excess and add a new RCA plug, which can be purchased for less than a dollar, either online or at a local electrical parts store. Note that unlike many transducer cables, it's perfectly fine to shorten the video feed to the MFD.

I have a Simrad MFD, so the RCA plug connects to a special adaptor cable that, in turn, plugs into the rear of the display. Other manufacturers may have proprietary adaptors.

Properly crimped connectors

5. I also made the electrical connections that power the camera. The power consumption of cameras is modest, but you'll need to ensure that the circuit is protected with a fuse. I added an inline fuse holder complete with a 1-amp fuse as specified in the instructions that came with the camera and ensured connections were made using properly crimped connectors. Refer to the instructions that come with your particular camera for the exact fuse size you'll need.

Turning on the camera

6. Double check all your work before turning on the camera, and then make sure that the image is showing correctly on the MFD display.

Connection Selection

Can I connect the camera to my chartplotter? The quick answer is probably. Many older units did not have the capability to connect a video camera, but units built in the last few years do. You'll need to check the owner's manual for your particular multifunction display (MFD) if you have any doubt.

Most connect with an RCA plug, which will either go directly into the rear of the MFD, or more often, the connection requires a unique lead, which in turn plugs into the back of the unit. This cable is often sold as an accessory by the MFD manufacturer.

Note, too, that connecting a video source to an MFD will allow it to play on that unit and only that unit. Although I have a fairly extensive suite of electronics on my boat with MFDs at both upper and lower helm positions, the camera image will only display on the MFD to which it's connected. If you want to see a picture on an additional MFD, as I did, you'll need to install an extra camera, but at $30 that's no big dent to my wallet. The only real downside is that you'll have to run an additional set of cables. 

— Published: April/May 2018


Tech Support

Degree Of Difficulty
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Tools and Materials:

  • Screwdriver
  • Drill
  • Crimper
  • Flashlight
  • Pliers
  • Camera
  • Cable clips
  • Connectors
  • Fuse holder
  • RCA plug
  • Stainless screws
  • Appropriate wire if needed for the extra wire run

Time:

Depends on the difficulty of running cable. Mine took 4 hours.

Cost:

Depends on the camera chosen. I spent $30 for a Camecho backup camera on Amazon. Additionally, I needed a special interface cable, which cost $40, to connect my MFD to the RCA connector.

 

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