Buying the right electronics for your boat is only half the job. The other half? Getting the equipment properly installed. Here's my list of the most common installation foul-ups, bleeps, and blunders.
The Right Spot. Can you easily see the display without moving from your seat? Can you reach the controls without standing, leaning forward, or bending? Essential electronics should be no more than your arm's reach away -- especially the VHF. Avoid mounting anything directly behind the helm's wheel -- you don't want to reach between the spokes of the wheel.
Glaring Omission. If the equipment you're buying will be used in the open, make sure it's rated for sunlight viewing. If mounted on a gimbal, can the unit be easily tilted a few degrees for better viewing? Adjustable swivel mounts are available from National Products (www.rammount.com) to help compensate for glare.
Sound Judgment. All speakers (stereo, VHF, intercom) contain magnets, which can play havoc with your steering compass, autopilot sensor, or any fluxgate or gyro compass aboard. Solution? Keep all speakers 3' away from compasses and heading sensors. No choice? Poly-Planar (www.polyplanar.com) produces low-magnetic field marine speakers that can help eliminate these problems.
Wild and Wired. Wiring that's drooping, dangling, tangled, or unsecured is asking for trouble. When hunting down electrical problems, the bywords for proper wiring are straight, bundled, secured, and easy to follow.
Cable News. When running power cables, size matters. The wire gauge size must fit the situation. The current draw and the length of the cable run dictate wire size. Consult your owner's manual. If you're still not sure, use the "wire calculator" in the Support Center found on Marinco's Web site (www.marinco.com).
The Long Run. Resist the temptation to stretch short cables. A wire with too much tension can pay you back with an open or short circuit. Never force a sharp bend in a cable run. If the wire is too short, get a longer piece. Also, never make a 90-degree bend in a cable to make a connection at the back of an instrument. Either remount the instrument to provide ample room behind the set or use a 90-degree adapter. Insert some extra length of cable so the unit can be easily removed for servicing.
Connection Crimes. a) Connector misdemeanors include "octopus" connections, cramming too many wires into a screw terminal. Keep down your connections to two or three. Use a proper crimping tool, too. Using pliers often results in poor or high resistance connections.
b) Never use "barrel splice" crimp connectors in main power wires. And never, never use home electrical twist-on wire nuts. And I never want to see you twist two bare ends of a wire and wrap the connection with electrical tape.
c) Improperly installed PL-259 antenna connectors on a VHF can cause radio failure. If the connector isn't factory installed, solder-on connectors are preferrable to the crimp-on type. Twist-on TV and video connectors also have a reputation for bad behavior.
Bad Bunch. Don't cluster your antennas together. A GPS antenna needs a 360-degree unblocked view of the sky. Use an extension pole to elevate a GPS, satellite radio, or TV antenna above a radar antenna to avoid interference. Keep VHF antennas perpendicular to the horizon.