Boat Electronics: Maintenance, Care, & Cleaning Guide
Marine electronics are a modern wonder. Multifunction displays tie in all sorts of critical boating information like charting and navigation, radar, fishing/sonar, entertainment, engine information and more. They do a lot, but they can cost a lot too, and if you want them to last, you’ll need to set aside time for their proper care.
After a day on the water, your GPS/chartplotter or fish finder may be mess. What do you do with the water spots, salt crust and sweaty fingerprints? Furthermore, if you put your boat in longterm storage, how do you prepare these important instruments so they’re in good working order when you’re ready to head out again?
How to Clean Your Boat Electronics
Salt, dirt, fish guts and sunscreen—a lot of stuff gets on marine electronics and the temptation is to wipe it off with a paper towel (or even your shirtsleeve), but that would be a mistake.
- First, power the unit down. You don’t accidentally change any settings, like feet to meters or English to Greek in the base language.
- Next, spritz some fresh water on the unit, but don’t douse it even if it is “waterproof.” This will remove any salt that could scratch the glass when wiped.
- Check to see if the manufacturer recommends a specific cleaner or detailing spray. If not, wipe the units with water and a mild soap.
- Never use ammonia-based glass cleaners, bleach, harsh soap or citrus cleaners as these can break down the screen’s coating and turn it yellow. You can use a 50-50 mix of distilled water and isopropyl alcohol or vinegar but make sure the solution is no stronger.
- Clean and dry the unit with a microfiber cloth or mitt. Never use paper towels because they’re abrasive and also because they’re impregnated with chemicals that can leave streaks.
- Don’t press too hard—some screens are just glued on so they can be delicate.
- While you’re at it, wax the radome and GPS antenna because these plastic pieces need UV protection.
- When not in use, keep your screens covered to keep the sun and dust off, even if you’re just sitting at anchor for the day.
Winterizing Your Marine Electronics, or Preparing for Long Periods of Disuse
Opinions vary as to what really needs to be done with electronics that will have to endure a cold and damp winter, or even long stretches in storage. However, a safe bet is that the more you prepare, the more you reduce unpleasant surprises later.
1. Clean and cover your electronics as mentioned above.
A microfiber cloth will also pickup any dust tucked in around the buttons. This would also be a good time to clean fish finder and depth transducers and check their mounting and alignment.
2. Remove the electronics if possible, for two reasons.
- First, if you have them at home, they will be stored in temperatures that are less extreme than outside or in a storage facility.
- Second, if your boat will be spending the winter in a dry stack or other third-party warehouse, the electronics may not be covered for theft or damage by that party’s insurance.
It may not be practical to remove flush-mounted electronics but bracket-mounted units, like your fish finder, are easy.
3. If you’re leaving your electronics onboard, disconnect the batteries.
Also, put a paper bag of rice or silica bead packets behind the helm to absorb moisture near the wiring harness.
4. During long layups where the electronics stay onboard, turn them on for a few minutes periodically to reduce internal moisture buildup.
Check contact points and cables and wires for corrosion or chafe. Mice and other rodents love to chew on cables so trace them as best you can from screen to power supply and transducer. Do it at layup and again at launch time.
Pre-layup is a good time to back up your waypoints and favorite fishing spots. That way, if your hardware does have a problem next season, at least your data is available.
Whether your boat will be in a slip, your driveway or in a storage facility, a few minutes spent on cleaning, securing and checking your marine electronics will make you a happier boater when it’s time to go cruising or hunting for fish again.
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