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June 13, 2014

Marine Electronics Installation Choices

Go with a professional, or do it yourself?

Do you enjoy comparing wire gauges, discussing connection points and terminators, and drilling holes in fiberglass? Then you just might be a do-it-yourselfer.

If not, you’re like me and many other boat owners — in search of a trusted technician to wrestle all those cables into order, orchestrating a suite of functional electronics aboard our beloved vessels. All we want to do is push the power button and go fishing.

But whether you choose to craft your own helm systems or pay someone else, you should know what to expect, and you should ask a lot of questions.

“I fully support DIY,” says Johnny Lindstrom, chairman of the board for the National Marine Electronics Association. “But the bottom line is the individual needs to have an honest look at what he or she is attempting to do, and make an honest evaluation of the skill set to do it.”

Lindstrom, who engineers and designs marine-electronics installations on large vessels at Westport Shipyard, says most electronics that anglers and others buy are safety related, “so it’s a good idea that they work when you need them. The reality of that is installation.”

Initial Incentives

In today’s market, anglers can acquire new electronics in three primary ways:

 

  • At the boatbuilder’s factory, when your new boat is constructed.
  • At the boat dealership, when you buy a boat.
  • From electronics retailers, with professional or DIY installation.

 

When you use the first two methods, the boatbuilder or dealer supplies the trained installer. Be sure to ask about service on electronics after the sale. If you’re angler No. 3, more variables exist.

It benefits any marine-electronics manufacturer to please customers from the moment of interest, so the company that makes your sounder/plotter, VHF, radar and other devices has a vested interest in installation. That company usually offers a variety of support options, some even for DIYers.

“We think it’s important that a product gets installed right the first time,” regardless of who does it, says Louis Chemi, executive vice president and managing director for the marine division of Navico (parent to the Simrad and Lowrance brands). “We offer something called an Owner Advantage Program, designed around the consumer having a trouble-free experience.”

Under the program, an angler can install his electronics unit, and then have it inspected and tested by a certified dealer at no cost. “The consumer gets an orientation on the products, and we pay the dealer for it,” Chemi says. But if consumers don’t ask, they won’t necessarily find out.

Furuno offers a credit program that pays dealers to help DIY installers resolve problems, although it does not cover all products. A dealer might still charge a fee, but the rebate, of sorts, encourages dealers to work with such customers.

Without these programs, DIYers face fewer options for support after installation. They do retain the warranty on the unit itself, but — in most cases — they either have to fix problems themselves with online or phone support, send the unit to the factory, or hire a technician.