These 10 commandments might have nothing to do with religion and the law, but if you want your marine electronics to have a long and healthy life, you’ll live by them as though they were carved upon stone tablets. Want those electro-goodies to last for an eternity? Then have faith, and always remember:
- THOU SHALT NOT wipe the smudges off your LCD screen with the corner of your T-shirt, a rag, or anything other than a clean microfibre cloth. Those other fabrics might feel soft, but they can have small bits of grit or even dried salt crystals stuck on them which will scratch the screen. Keep a dedicated microfibre cloth in a plastic bag, remove it only when you’re cleaning the screen, and if it’s exposed to dirt or salt spray, wash it before you use it again.
- THOU SHALT NOT use improper cleaners on your LCD screen; those with ammonia, ethyl alcohol, methy chloride, or even strong soaps can cause it to turn yellow and brittle over time. The use of household window cleaner (which usually contains ammonia) is one of the most common ways to accidentally damage your own electronics. Instead, use only a dedicated LCD screen cleaner like iKlear (www.klearscreen.com), a 50-50 mix of distilled water and isopropyl alcohol, or (to remove hard water spots that seem “etched” into the screen) a 50-50 mix of vinegar and water.
- THOU SHALT NOT press hard on the screen, while cleaning it (or for any other reason). The edges of an LCD are usually held to the inside of the housing with mere glue, and it’s easier than you’d think to break this seal. Do so, and it won’t be long before water migrates into the unit’s innards. Visible water droplets behind the screen or a noticeable gap between the screen and the housing are dead giveaways that the seal has come unstuck. If you see either problem, send the unit back to the manufacturer for repairs, immediately.
- THOU SHALT NOT take a binnacle-mounted unit on and off the boat every time it’s used. Though this may prevent theft, the plastic connection plugs tend to break after a few dozen in-and-outs. And in the case of fishfinder transducer and GPS antenna plugs, one or more of the many wire prongs commonly become bent or even break off. If you store your boat in an area where theft is too big a problem to ignore (haven’t they ever heard of “thou shall not steal”?), consider installing a locking cover that fits over your helm. Otherwise, limit unit removals and installations to winter lay-up and spring commissioning.
- THOU SHALT NOT attempt to splice a GPS antenna or transducer wire. Though it may seem like an easy operation, these units are finicky. Slight changes in wiring can seriously degrade performance. In some cases, antenna cables include power feeds and a botched splice job can damage the equipment. If you have a break in the line replace the entire cable. If you’re trying to fish a thick plug-end through a tight hole, enlarge the opening.
- THOU SHALT regularly wax radomes, GPS antennas, satellite radio antennas, and other electronic sensors which are housed in plastic or fiberglass and are exposed to the weather. Fail to protect them from UV rays and they’ll turn brittle and yellow and age prematurely. Occasional application of a product that includes plasticisers, like Plexus (www.plexusplasticcleaner.com), is also a good idea.
- THOU SHALT cover all electronics when they’re not in use. Flush-mounted units need faceplates, and binnacle-mounted units should also be protected by a canvas cover with vents or breathing holes, so condensation doesn’t build up inside. Center console owners are best served by having a cover made for the entire console, which keeps rainfall out but allows for plenty of air flow.
- THOU SHALT NOT ever try to quick-fix a blown fuse by patching it with aluminum foil, or by circumventing the fuse altogether. It blew for a reason, and wiring and electrical problems don’t mysteriously fix themselves—going around that blown fuse merely ensures that you’ll damage your unit next.
- THOU SHALT place an open paper bag full of rice or packets of silica beads behind the helm during extended lay-ups. The rice will absorb moisture, and help keep it from encroaching upon your wiring and electronics. This is particularly important if your units are flush-mounted and can’t be removed and stored inside during the winter months or while your boat is out of the water for repairs.
- THOU SHALT add drip-loops to all electronics wires that are physically higher than the unit they attach to, including those leading to the black-box brains tucked away inside consoles or stowage compartments. If you have wires which are higher than the unit, gravity will cause water to drip down and into the connectors. Even if the unit’s in a protected place this can become an issue from condensation. To prevent this problem, all you have to do is mount the wire with a loop that goes lower than the wire’s junction with the unit, so water drips down and off of it instead of into the unit.
Now go and spread the word of these ten commandments of marine electronics. And if you see any burning bushes along the way, steer clear—open flames can damage your electronics, too.
Lenny Rudow has been a writer and editor in the marine field for over two decades and has authored five books. He runs his own web site at HookedOnFishingBoats.com and writes weekly for Boats.com reviewing new models and covering marine electronics.