Five Marine Electronics Disasters – Don’t Do This!

Avoid making any of these mistakes with your marine electronics, at all costs.

What’s almost as bad as getting into a situation where you need to apply emergency boating survival techniques?

Getting into a situation where your uber-expensive boating gear doesn’t survive. And we’re not talking about bending the blade on a prop because you cut that channel just a little too tight, or having to replace a VHF antenna that you forgot to lower down before trailering home. We’re talking about those massive mistakes that can result in utterly dead electronics systems. So keep a firm grip on your wallet by making sure you don’t engage in any of these electronic errors.

marine electronic tips
Killing that electronics system would be a very costly mistake.
  1. The Cut-and-Splice – We’ve all cut and spliced wires a time or two, so why should it be any different with marine electronics? In many cases, it isn’t. And if you have 20 feet of unnecessary cabling coiled up and hanging behind the helm or a fat connector you’re trying to run through a narrow channel, it’s awfully tempting to do some chopping. But you can run into serious problems if you attempt to cut and splice a radar wire, GPS receiver wire, or transducer wire. What gives? Impedance issues can arise in some cases when you change cable length; moisture intrusion is always a risk when you make a new connection, and causing shorts and/or shielding problems are common. Your unit may appear to be working fine, when in fact sensitivity may have been diminished and performance may be degraded — and you might never even realize it. Worse, in the case of shorts or miswiring, you may damage the hardware. Oh, and BTW, if you cut the cable and spliced it back yourself you’ve probably just voided all the warranties. Then if that digital critter goes belly up, you’ll be out of luck.
marine electronics
If this is what your wiring jobs look like, we seriously hope you don’t attempt a cut-and-splice on your boat any time soon.
  1. Fuse Games – We’ve done it and we know you have, too: the dang fuse keeps blowing, so you crunch up the tinfoil, wrap it around the dead fuse, and congratulate yourself for out-smarting the problem as you go about your day. There’s just one problem — you can’t out-smart electricity. There’s a reason why that fuse is blowing and if you don’t trace it down the issue is likely to get worse, not better. And when the issue is involved with your electronics, you’re playing with fire in a big way. As in, you could fry your entire system. When fuses start blowing don’t look for an easy way out, because there isn’t one. Instead, you have to bite the bullet and start troubleshooting the system until the problem can be isolated. Unless, of course, you had planned to upgrade those electronics asap, anyway.
marine electronic tips
Ummm, yeah. This could lead to problems… Photo by Tydence Davis
  1. Chemical Confusion – Hopefully you already know to use marine cleaners, only, on your boat. This is never more important than it is with electronics. The plastics in both the bezels and the LCD screens can be damaged — severely damaged — if you spritz them down with an ammonia-based cleaner. They cause the plasticizers to leech out, and then the plastics becomes brittle, cloudy, and yellowed. Note to self: what you wipe those electronics down with counts, too. Stick with clean microfiber cloths, and leave those old T-shirt rags for less delicate jobs.
marine electronic tips
Don’t try to cheat when it comes to cleaning your marine electronics.
  1. Gory Details – Another way people often damage the screens on their marine electronics is by manipulating a touchscreen with a finger that’s slimy with fish gore, or encrusted with salt. Or both. Truth be told a little chum smear never hurt anyone. The problem is, cleaning off the goo can be difficult, and often leads to overly exuberant rubbing and wiping.

Now add an abrasive like some crusty salt or a fish scale or two into the mix, and… we think you know where we’re going with this.

marine electronic tips
Chummers have a well-deserved reputation for getting things a bit messy, and in the case of a touch-screen LCD, that can lead to big problems.
  1. All Washed Up – Yes, many modern marine electronics are supposed to be submersible, much less waterproof. But that doesn’t mean it’s smart to blast them with a washdown hose at the end of the day. Seals wear out over time and especially in the marine environment, that time can be a lot shorter than we’d all like. In truth, many boaters kill their electronics out of pure laziness because they simply don’t take the time and effort to cover them up before washing down the helm station. Don’t let this end the life of your $500 VHF nor your $5,000 MFD. Simply put on the covers before you do your washdown, then take them off and clean the units properly before putting your boat to bed.
marine electronic tips
Yes, modern marine electronics are made to be watertight, and then some. That doesn’t mean we need to push the issue, does it?

Somehow, we haven’t even mentioned mixing up the red wires for the black ones, voltage spikes, and bent pin connectors. No worries. As you doubt already know, there are plenty of ways to kill your electronics. But hopefully, none of these five will be how your system meets its demise.

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...