Handle With Care

15 Tips to Protect and Troubleshoot Your Marine Electronics

January 24, 2013
Protect electronics

Protect electronics

Use a micro­fiber cloth and eyeglass cleaner on screens. Furuno USA

New electronics generally come with a manual, and manufacturers’ websites are filled with answers to frequently asked questions. But to cut through some of that research, I compiled these 15 tips, suggestions and advisories that can benefit any boating angler.

I queried the service specialists at Furuno, Garmin, Raymarine, Simrad, Lowrance, and Humminbird to tell me about common issues and common solutions. Here are some of the many thoughts they provided:



| |Back up waypoints to a memory card. (Courtesy Furuno USA)|

1. Back up waypoints and settings on a memory card. Most units use SD cards now — a 2GB SD card from a company like SanDisk should work. Manuals offer instruction, though the process is fairly common. Note: Any time you have to do a master reset of your MFD, it wipes out all waypoints. So back up frequently.

2. To prevent fouling, paint your ­transducer with water-based paint made for transducers. Brands include MDR, Woolsey, Pettit and Sea Hawk. Never use spray paint or ketone-based paint.


3. Protect power and data cables from ­corrosion by covering connectors left exposed to the elements. Most companies include a protective weather cap for cables. If your cables have these covers, use them every time you unplug the connectors. If you don’t have such covers, find an area to store the connectors that’s completely dry and covered.

| |(Courtesy Furuno USA)|

4. Just as home computers are ­susceptible to power surges, so are the electronics aboard your vessel. Take care to isolate electronics from surges. That may have been done during installation, but if you’re not sure, never start the vessel’s engine(s) with the electronics turned on. It can cause equipment lockup, loss of data, or damage the unit.


5. Never leave a fish finder in a closed car or trunk. Extremely high temperatures can harm the unit.

Easy Fixes/Shortcuts

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| |(Courtesy Furuno USA)|


6. If you’ve stored your boat, the ­autopilot might misbehave during spring commissioning. If the vessel indicator on the display starts crabbing or shows the wrong direction, try recalibrating the electronic compass (check your manual).

7. Use a labeling machine (like a Brother P-Touch) to identify cables, especially if the displays are coming off the boat for the season. It can also be useful to create a wiring diagram, and even list the NMEA 0183 and/or 2000 data messages being sent to and from data ports.

| |(Courtesy Furuno USA)|

8. When one device stops working, make sure that piece of equipment is receiving power from the battery. While most newer boats have gauges that display battery power, they can’t indicate a problem with a cable or connection. A handheld voltmeter (or multimeter) can be used to test a cable for proper voltage.

A voltmeter has two leads: red for positive, black for negative or power ground. Remove the power cable from the back of the nonfunctioning device. Attach the red lead to the positive connector and the black lead to the ground connector on the cable. The reading should closely match the reading from your battery gauge. If there’s a significant difference in voltage, the power-cable installation should be inspected. If the meter reads zero, check the in-line fuse on the power cable.

Periodic Checks

9. Ensure that all DC contacts on your boat’s main DC bus panel are clear of corrosion, and that all connections are tight.

10. Regularly inspect radio antennas for any cracks or crazing in the epoxy finish that could allow in ­moisture and cause failure.

11 The autopilot pump and its ­associated fittings and tubing should be regularly inspected for fluid leakage. Loss of fluid can lead to deteriorating performance or outright autopilot failure. A leaking fitting can allow air to enter the system, causing additional performance issues.

12. Common troubleshooting checks for fish finders:

• Set all features to auto or restore defaults.
• Check connections and pins (make sure they haven’t been bent, broken or pushed in). Broken pins can be straightened with needle-nose pliers, but that might also break the pin.
• Check cables for nicks and cuts. Repair nicks with electrical tape.
• Check accessories: Unplug all ­accessories except the power cable to the fish finder. If it operates properly, reconnect the transducer and accessories one by one till the problem returns.
• Check for proper voltage to your sounder at the connection to the battery or at the fuse panel. Check with all electrical equipment and main motor running. (Operating-voltage range is found in your manual.)
• Check for electrical interference by first operating your sounder with all electrical equipment and motors off. Turn on each additional piece of equipment one at a time until the problem recurs.


13. When washing your boat, keep hose streams away from the rotary joint of any open-array radar. This point of rotation is protected via seals and gaskets, but high pressure can force water into the radar, which can ­ultimately lead to the unit’s failure.

14. Keep your screen clean by using eyeglass cleaner and a cloth. Use only nonsolvent (no alcohol, no ammonia, etc.) cleaners. In most cases, clean water and a 3M microfiber cloth eliminate most smears and particles. Avoid using boat soaps on screens; use only microfiber cloths — no paper towels, boat rags, shirttails, etc.

15. If your boat remains in the water for a long period time, algae and other marine growth can reduce the effectiveness of a transducer. Periodically clean the face of the ­transducer with liquid detergent.


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