It all begins with your electrical system. Your electronics performance depends on it.
Here are some key inspection points and procedures for checking your electrical and other systems.
When were your batteries last replaced? Consider replacing them after three to four years. Ensure battery terminal connections are tight and free from corrosion buildup.
Check that the wiring connections for all electronic and electrical devices make solid contact. Terminal connections can and do come loose from normal impact and pounding when underway. Also, check that all electrical connections are free of corrosion.
Get a voltmeter and learn to use it. It can help spot problems in the making. Be sure there is no more than one volt drop from your battery terminals to the closest connection point to your electronics when the equipment is on and operating.
Replace all nonrechargeable batteries in your portable gear and keep a fresh supply of spare alkaline batteries on board.
Perform a “self-test” on EPIRBs and PLBs per the manufacturer instructions, and check the battery replacement date as well
Preseason Electronics Checks
It’s a good idea to test your marine electronics at the beginning of each boating season. Here are tips for testing your critical navigation and communications electronics.
Make on-the-air radio checks. Automated radio checks are offered by Sea Tow as a public service in many areas across the country. Go to seatow.com and type in your location, and you will be advised if service is available in your area and which channel to use.
Confirm your GPS’s accuracy by making a positional check at familiar locations. Perform range and bearing checks to known waypoints. Call up the GPS status screen on your set. It is a positive indicator of signal strength and accuracy. It also monitors the number of satellites being received, which is a good indication of your set’s performance.
Confirm the clarity and resolution of short and long radar targets. View the shoreline as you leave your marina or anchorage. Does it appear as clear as in the past? Steer your boat directly at a buoy or other object and see if it appears directly in front of you or off to one side. If it looks off, your manual will show you how to adjust your radar’s heading.
Be sure that your autopilot holds a straight course, responds to steering commands and follows your GPS waypoint instructions. Check your pilot’s heading reading and compare it with that of your GPS while underway. If it is noticeably off, most autopilots can be adjusted by performing a simple calibration procedure, which can be found in your owner’s manual or online.
Depth and Fish Finder
Check shallow- and deepwater readings in familiar locations. Look for bottom detail, structure and fish detection to confirm your depth instrument is in normal working order. Be sure the face of your transducer is clean and without marine growth buildup.
Make sure your AIS is picking up targets in your area. Get a confirmation from another boat that your transmitted AIS signal is being received. Also, be sure your AIS is programmed to send all important data, including your boat’s name, vessel type (pleasure), your MMSI number, and boat’s length, beam and draft, as well as your radio call sign, if you have one. This information will add to your boating safety and can be critical for first responders in the event you need to issue a Mayday call. Check with your electronics dealer on reprograming your AIS if necessary.
Check the software versions in your GPS, chart plotter, depth/fish finder and autopilot. Compare those versions with the latest versions listed on the manufacturer’s website. Most current models will allow the latest software versions to be downloaded online and installed by boat owners. Do the same with your navigation cartography. Some software updates can be downloaded by the user. Older chart cards can often be updated by a dealer at a reduced price, while others can be updated online.