Marine Electronics

As little as thirty years ago, marine electronics was in its infancy, at least as far as pleasure boating was concerned. Chart Plotters and GPS were unheard of, radar was uncommon and an expensive luxury and logs were mainly mechanical. Most boats electronics kit probably consisted of an echo sounder and maybe a radio direction finder or Decca.

What a difference a few years makes! The electronics revolution has provided boat owners with a confusing assortment of sophisticated equipment which unquestionably improves the performance of their boats and increases the safety and convenience of life on board. The difficulty is to choose the right products for the particular job and to make sure that they are correctly installed and compatible. There is no room for carelessness or short cuts in the world of modern marine electronics. They depend on very sensitive radio receivers and data handling circuits and have to amplify and process weak signals, while being able to cope with radio and electrical interference. The materials must be able to stand up to fatigue and especially corrosion when exposed to water and sunlight.

The Equipment


These are a crucial element in a vessel's electrical system, but the huge array of different types, terminology and cost make it easy to make an expensive mistake by choosing the wrong one. A battery designed for one particular use may not be suitable for another. A battery used for starting a diesel engine must discharge very high currents in short bursts, while a battery used for lighting or running a fridge will be discharged more slowly but for a longer period. Getting it right requires not only common sense, but knowledge; and it is worth investing in good advice from an expert.

GMDSS (Global Maritime Distress and Safety System)

Though initially for the benefit of commercial shipping, nowadays the majority of recreational sailors have a DSC/VHF radio for communication and for summoning help if in difficulty.

GPS and Chart Plotters

Electronic position fixing takes much of the time and effort out of finding out where you are, and has now become widely used in the world of recreational boating. In my opinion though, it should never completely take the place of paper charts. Remember that whilst the GPS may be accurate, the chart may have been taken from terrestrial data, leading to inaccuracies between GPS and chart.


Radar equipment is becoming steadily more affordable and easier to operate. Whereas a few years ago it would usually only be found on larger boats, the advent of the cheaper LCD systems and compact antennas has brought radar within the budget of most recreational small boat owners. There is a vast difference though between a budget set and a top-of-the-range model. Choose one which really suits your needs.

AIS (Automatic Identification System)

Now used extensively on commercial vessels over 300 tonnes and on most passenger carrying vessels, many recreational boaters have started using AIS thanks to low cost Class B transponders and 'receive only' systems. AIS has probably made the largest improvement in marine navigation safety since GPS became affordable over 25 years ago.


These are being used more and more on board. They can be used as a tool for navigation, weather forecasting, communication and entertainment, but think what you want to mainly use it for and research the best ones for the job. They do tend to be a bit more costly if you want waterproof computers or waterproof cases. There is also the option of using Ipads, as they take up less room. You can buy cheap Apps for them, but they might not link up so well with the rest of your equipment and could be more vulnerable to water/ knocks etc.

EPIRB (Emergency Positioning Indicating Radio Beacon) and PLB (Personal Locator Beacon)

There has been a huge growth in the use of these, with 40,000 emergency distress beacons currently registered in the UK. This has been due; to a large extent, to reduction in cost and technical innovation.

Network Instruments

Individually the instruments on your boat are able to provide you with a huge amount of useful data, but linked together they can exchange information between themselves and their capacity becomes much greater. For example, your chart plotter can be integrated with other electronic equipment so that not only do you see your position, but also the position of other vessels (transmitting on AIS), an overlay of radar information and overlays of tidal, wind and weather data.

These are just some of the marine electronics which will help you to enjoy safer and more comfortable voyages. There are many useful websites which will keep you up to date with the latest gizmos. Remember the field of marine electronics is growing rapidly, so do keep up with the trends, unless of course, you are a traditionalist and like to work things out for yourself (nothing wrong with that). Whatever your preference is, enjoy your boating.

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