5 Signs It’s Time For New Electronics On Your Boat

If your boat’s electronics suite shows any of these critical weaknesses, it’s time to invest in an upgrade. 

Unless you’re working with a full suite of the latest gear, there’s a good chance a marine electronics upgrade will help you catch more fish. But like everything in life there’s a catch: new electronics are expensive. Oh, and on top of that let’s not forget about the fishing time you’ll lose while the boat’s out of action, being outfitted. So, investing in an electronics upgrade does come with some costs. How will you know when it’s necessary to take the leap? Any of these five signs are a clear indication that the time has come. 

1. Your MFD doesn’t have WiFi. Wait a sec—who needs WiFi in a chartplotter/fishfinder? Everyone, for one simple reason: WiFi on fishing boats allows for seamless software updates. That means that moving forward as new tech rolls out, you’ll be able to merely get within range of a hotspot, press a button, and suck the updates right out of thin air. In many cases your fishfinder becomes upgradable only needing a new transducer and your chartplotter becomes upgradable only needing a new sensor or antenna, instead of having to buy a whole new MFD. On top of that, with WiFi at the helm you may be able to upgrade your charts, add a security system, or interface with the wireless devices that are becoming more and more common on boats by the day. 

2. You don’t have self-charting capabilities. All the modern systems can do it, and in many cases this is a critical capability. It’s also one that’s vastly underutilized, because most of us tend to trust the electronic charts showing on the LCD screen. At least, we do right up until the moment the chart says it’s 10 feet deep and you feel the props scrubbing bottom. Sure, modern digital charts are light years ahead of the old paper ones, but they’re still imperfect. Setting up your MFD to create your own digital charts for the areas you fish is, bar none, the best way to get uber-accurate contours and soundings you can depend on. 

Gather your own chartography data, and you’ll be surprised at how much changes on the screen. (Old at left, new at right)

3. Gremlins are a regular issue. When you have to jiggle a wire to power up, tap the dark screen to make it light up, or press a button with all your might to trigger it, you’re in a fight with electronics gremlins. And in many cases you can carry on for quite a while without replacing the gear. But when one gremlin pops up it’s a sign that more are soon to follow. Electronics don’t always age graciously and once one piece or part gives way, you can bet that others are getting ready to do the same. You might be tempted to send your unit out to be repaired, but that often costs more than it’s worth and unless the unit is relatively new and expensive, chances are that a full upgrade is a better move. 

4. You’re still only looking straight down (with your fishfinder, that is). This one doesn’t apply so much to offshore guys, but inshore and bay anglers who haven’t yet taken advantage of side-finding and 3D fishfinders are totally missing the boat. In many ways these systems are over-hyped and putting one on your boat won’t turn you into a fish-slaying machine overnight, but anyone who uses them can tell you that at certain times in certain situations, they can be invaluable for locating structure and/or fish. 

Sure, in some cases side-scanning and 3D may be over-hyped. But in others it’s an awesome tool; this fish was picked off a previously unknown rockpile in 15 feet of water, found on side-scan literally moments before the cast.

5. A big safety boost would come with an upgrade. Look, we don’t want to sound all PC or anything, but if you’re driving a boat miles and miles from land in search of fish, safety really does need to be considered a critical factor. This is especially true when it comes to boat safety equipment for offshore anglers. Would an electronics upgrade bring DSC capability, a clearer view on the radar, or AIS? If so, it’s probably time to pull the trigger. 

In many cases an electronics upgrade can provide a boosted safety margin — always a good thing.

You say you’d love an electronics upgrade but your spouse needs a new car? Remind them that biking to work every day would be great exercise. The kid’s college tuition bill is sitting on the kitchen table? Let those young’uns learn how to stand on their own two feet. The roof is leaking? Get a bucket out of the shed. Because if you recognize any of these five signs, it’s time for new electronics. 

Lenny Rudow …has been a writer and editor in the marine field for over two decades, and has authored seven books. He is currently the Angler in Chief at Rudow's FishTalk Magazine, is Electronics and Fishing Editor for BoatUS Magazine, and is a contributing editor to several other publications. His...