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Spring cleaning for safety at sea: get ready for summer by servicing your boat's marine electronics and electrical gear.

Heading offshore for spring pelagics like dolphin, tuna and marlin? Maybe an island adventure? Time to check your systems.


Your primary means of communication aboard a boat is your marine VHF radio. Have a look at all the electrical connections to the radio and make sure they are corrosion free. If any appear to be in poor condition, now is the time to repair or replace as needed. Many of us only listen to other boats or weather briefings on VHF radios and don't talk much; well, now is the time to do an operation check of your VHF. Just make contact with another vessel by name (hail on 16 if necessary, then immediately switch to an authorized working channel, such as 68, 69 or 71) and make sure they are receiving you well, and you them. The last thing you want to do is be far out at sea, needing to make a call, and not be sure your radio is working correctly.

These days, most of us navigate our boats with an onboard mapping GPS chartplotter. These are great tools, but like any computer-based piece of electronics, they will likely need the occasional software and chart update. Most chartplotter makers offer free download of any software updates they make available for your chartplotter. Simply go to the company Web site, download the software, place it on an appropriate memory card, and then upload it to your machine. Instructions should be clearly spelled out on the manufacturer's site. You'll also need a card reader and the correct memory card; both are inexpensive and can be reused for other tasks.


Charts need to be updated as well, and your annual spring cleaning is the perfect time and interval. If your chartplotter has charts on a card, it will be a simple matter of replacing the old card with a new up-to-date chart card. Updating charts in a plotter with preloaded cartography will require a visit to the manufacturer's Web site for instructions specific to your machine.

An EPIRB needs an occasional look see, too. You will need to check the battery remains within its operational date range, perform a test (if your unit has this function), and make sure the unit mounting is secure and corrosion free. You should also visit the NOAA Web site ( and check that all your beacon contact information is correct and up-to-date.

Another critical piece of electrical gear you should inspect at least annually is your bilge pump(s). Don't just hit the switch and see if water pumps; you need to get down in the bilge and have a look at all the plumbing and electrical connections. Repair or replace anything that doesn't look to be in tiptop shape. The bilge area of a boat is especially conducive to wreaking havoc on electrical gear so a thorough inspection here is warranted often.

You should also inspect your bilge high-water alarm electrical connections and float switch for proper operation and solid electrical connections. The horn can be problematic on some of these systems, so make sure all is well here. If your alarm starts to sound sick it probably is and the horn should be replaced. If you don't have a bilge high-water alarm installed, now is the time. Many insurance companies will not pay a water damage related claim on a vessel without a high-water alarm. Check your policy.

One last thing you can do is fully inspect your wiring, fuses and circuit breakers. If you find anything with even a hint of corrosion repair or replace as necessary.

MMSI Registration

Any marine VHF radio you may have purchased recently requires the owner/operator to input a Maritime Mobile Service Identity or MMSI number. To get an MMSI number you will need to provide some basic information about your boat and yourself. You will also need to supply primary and alternate contact information. Even if you received and entered all the required information when you purchased your boat or radio you should check and update this information annually.

You can do so here:

Penalties for making a DSC call with no MMSI or the wrong MMSI in your radio can be severe. Don't get caught unaware.
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Title Annotation:ELECTRONICS
Author:Herum, Al
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Date:Mar 1, 2011
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