Marine Electronics Repair

Deciding on a marine electronics repair or opting for replacement is a topic just about all boat owners will face sooner or later. Today’s marine electronics are reliable and durable, but one day they will all face the need for service.

Boat owners watching their budgets are likely to try to get their GPS chartplotters, fishfinders, radar, or VHF radios fixed rather than buying new products at the first signs of trouble.

The process of getting your electronics repaired is nearly the same for both the owners of products that are in warranty or timed out of warranty. Of course, you will have an easier go of it if the product is still covered under warranty.

Marine Electronics Repair—Diagnose First

First thing’s first: If you are having a problem with a piece of marine electronics, read the product manual troubleshooting section before you go any further. For some equipment you may have to download the manual from the manufacturer’s website or simply view it online. It will likely tell you to check all the connections, shut down, and restart.

One last resort, that has worked for me in several occasions is to reinstall the latest software update for the product. This can sometimes solve problems with a multifunction display as well as any associated gear connected to the MFD via network. Many times a particular MFD software update will also have updates for all other equipment that could be part of a networked system.

Talk to the Manufacturer

Your next step is to call customer service and have a representative troubleshoot with you over the phone. If that doesn’t help, you might try using a friend’s similar unit, whether it is a GPS, radio or sounder, on your boat. This will help you determine whether the problem is an internal to the unit or somehow associated with a your boat’s electrical system.

Still no luck? Then it is time to consider sending the unit back to the manufacturer for diagnosis and repair. Here’s where the warranty starts to become a factor. Different manufacturers handle product returns in different ways, says Dave Laska, who owns a marine electronics business in Connecticut, “One major manufacturer might take anything you send them, while another manufacturer might drive all the repair work through its dealer network.”

A marine electronics unit that is sent to the manufacturer for repair by a dealer will get higher priority and a shorter turnaround time than a unit sent by a consumer, says Laska. “So it may benefit you to use a dealer,” he says. “There’s definitely a pecking order when it comes to manufacturer repair work.”

A product under warranty will be serviced before one that is out of warranty. And if a consumer sends in a machine that is out of warranty, the turnaround time can be up to eight weeks at the height of the boating season, says Laska.

“It’s the legacy products that are four or five years old but still perfectly good that may have the longest wait because [the manufacturer] may only have one or two technicians who can handle that particular product.” says Laska. “People have to remember there are not a hundred guys at the factory waiting for this stuff to come in. It’s 15 guys handling 20 years of product working their butts off.”

How far you delve into the repair process depends on your personal situation. For instance, if buying and installing a new GPS chartplotter is going to require major helm surgery, then the boat owner would be best to exhaust all efforts to repair the current unit as long as he is generally happy with its quality and operation, or try to find an identical used model.

“Sometimes an owner’s autopilot dies and that’s the best thing that every happened for the owner because it was never set up properly or worked properly,” says Laska, an expert in marine electronics repair and installation.

But if there are no installation issues, spending hundreds of dollars on troubleshooting and repair an old product makes little sense.

Most manufacturers back their products with a warranty of 2 or 3 years on parts and labor, and a 90- or six-month warranty on repairs.

Marine Electronics Repair—Warranty Fine Points

You need to know your warranty to take full advantage of it when your gear needs a repair. Read up on your warranty information in the unit onwer’s manual or online at the manufacturer’s website.

One sticky issue I’ve dealt with in the past in the warranty activation date. Some marine electronics makers begin the product warranty a fixed number of days after the products ships to the retailer. This could be an issue is a product sat on the store shelf for a long period of time. You will need documentation to show the maker when you actually bought the product.

The bottom line: Ask yourself how much you want to spend on the repair, which will depend on the usefulness of the product. It’s kind of like an old boat. You may sink a load of money into the vessel if meets your needs.