A marine electronics box mounted directly under a top, whether a hard fiberglass T-top, or soft canvas, or the overhead in a cabin can be a convenient and useful storage space for your marine navigation and communication devices.
Many new boats are sold with an electronics box as standard equipment for mounting marine electronics. With the right installation, you really can’t go wrong with these compartments. Even if you have no need for the additional electronics space right away, it will always be there in case you add components later and want to put the space into service. In the interim the box can serve as a storage compartment for a variety of other boating gear.
Should you put all or some of your electronics in the box and make full use of it? Are there certain types of marine electronics that make sense mounted in this space, and others that would do better on the console? These are good questions, and there are others. Just as with any decision involving the outfitting of your boat, you need to weigh the pros and cons.
Marine Electronics Box—Pros
The most obvious positive of an overhead electronics box is the offer of a lockable storage space for your valuable marine electronics. It’s no secret—marine electronics are among the most expensive pieces of equipment you will likely buy for your vessel. Some electronics boxes are sold with lockable latches, and if they are not, you can easily add one.
The overhead location of an electronics box also helps protect your devices from the weather—much more so than electronics flush-mounted in a console. And we’re not just talking about rain and spray. Sunlight over time can damage your unit display screen.
On a small boat with a center console, there’s a good chance there’s little room for flush-mounted electronics. So, an electronics box provides relief in this area. One of the more popular components for the electronics box is a boat’s VHF radio. And the main reason for that? Unlike GPS chartplotters, radar and sounders, the skipper doesn’t need to constantly look at the display of the VHF radio. In fact, the boat is usually off plane and visibility ahead is less of a concern when the skipper is broadcasting.
Other logical devices for storage in an electronics box include your backup VHF handheld radio and GPS handheld. Safety gear, such as whistles, mirrors, Personal Locator Beacons (PLB) and Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRB) can also find a comfortable home here.
You can flush mount electronics in an electronics box by installing a panel in the front of the box. This would likely make it easier to see the display screens, especially from the cockpit or other aft areas. It will also make for a cleaner, neater installation of your units.
The price of these boxes is reasonable. An internet search yielded prices from roughly $200 to $400. Manufacturers include Todd, C.E. Smith and Taco. Most mount to the T-top piping or other framework.
Marine Electronics Box—Cons
One big drawback of an overhead electronics box is possible impedance of the helmsman’s visibility. On some boats, there is simply not enough room in the overhead space for an electronics box without having it encroach into the skipper’s line of sight. This can create an unsafe condition.
Another concern is the possibility of the helmsman hitting his or her head on the box in rough seas or in a moment of inattention. Either could lead to a serious injury at sea.
Mounting your GPS, radar and sounder displays in the electronics box may put them too far outside of your line of sight for easy veiwing. In other words, it may be quicker and more convenient to peer down slightly at flush-mounted displays than craning your neck up, sometimes are severe angles, to monitor these display screens in an overhead compartment. In my personal experience this has been a real problem.
Many of these boxes have dimensions of roughly 24 to 30 inches wide by 9 to 10 inches in height and 12 to 16 inches deep. For most electronics, that’s really not sufficient space, so you’ll be limited to smaller display units. That’s why units with large front panel footprints may be better console mounted—either with the supplied bracket or permanently mounted flush.
Make sure the marine electronics box you buy has adequate gasketing to keep out water and moisture. Check the shell, door, and hardware for strength and quality. You want to avoid having a hinge break or a door crack at sea where an injury could result. Most boxes are constructed of composite material with doors usually made from acrylic plastic with stainless steel hinges. Some higher-quality units may also have stainless steel lift springs to support weight of the door when open.