You're standing in the store, staring blankly at a hodgepodge of marine electronics. Trying to woo you and instill you with confidence, the packages scream "rugged," "weather-proof," "splashproof," and yada, yada, yada. You make your choice, certain that once you install this baby, your life on the water will be sunshine and lollipops.
Not so fast, buddy. Poor installation practices can do a real number on your electronic equipment. For this very reason, we interviewed those harried tech support shock troops who work for the major electronics manufacturers to find out how their customers commonly cook their electronic units. We got a useful list of dos and taboos that may just keep you from being stuck up a cyber creek without a virtual paddle.
1. Too Much Juice: The most common situation that ruins electronic devices occurs when you install units directly to your boat's electrical power. Regardless of whether you're hooking up a GPS, autopilot, depthsounder, or radar, if you wire in too much power, say 24 volts to a device that's only designed to accept 12, you can quickly end up with Kentucky Fried electronics. To avoid such a disaster, check the power requirements listed in the owner's manual or on the label on the device itself, and then double-check your wiring. Also, take care not to reverse the polarity. Normally, red is positive and black is negative, but there are exceptions so check the manual.
Most units are designed to accept a range of incoming voltages and have built-in protection, usually a replaceable fuse, to shield them from excess power. So if you connect too much voltage to your electronics or reverse the polarity, the device's over-voltage protection may stop any damage, but the unit won't turn on. Rewire the power, replace the fuse, and try again.
If a black cloud has been hovering over you and the device is not circuit protected, you may hear a crackling sound or see smoke rising out of the case. If it looks and smells like burnt cheese, it probably is. In this case, you will need to send it back to the manufacturer for repair.
Tech support experts from the companies that we interviewed all had stories of customers incorrectly wiring devices. In most cases, the fuses stopped any harm. However, some customers, who were in too much of a hurry, bypassed the fuse. Can you spell Z-A-P? So in addition to checking your wiring and power source, never bypass a device's built-in protection.
2. Got Your Wires Crossed? Most electronic devices come with connectors and cables, a bundle of colored wires inside a common insulator, that you connect to your boat's power and other electronics. Two of the wires connect to power. Others connect to NMEA ports, allowing the device to share information with other units. Still others connect to transducers, alarms, and external speakers. Mix these wires up, and you may send direct power to a portion of the device that's not meant to handle the surge. The end result is that your unit won't work, and you'll probably have to return it to the manufacturer for repair. Studying the manual's schematic will go a long way.