I once inspected a boat that had been tucked into a shed for the winter. It was neatly covered and the canvas was propped up to ensure good airflow to the cushions and gear stored inside. It wasn’t until we got the boat on the water and turned on the electronics that it became clear all was not quite as it seemed. The cover over the fixed-mount VHF radio was fused in place and the chartplotter was encrusted with salt. Why is it that some of the most important and expensive components on our floating toys are so overlooked and under-cleaned?
Although marine electronics have proliferated on boats of all sizes and it seems there’s more to clean these days, the job has actually gotten easier due to better technology. Dave Dunn, director of marine sales at Garmin, said Garmin’s products are waterproof to an IPX7 standard, so they can simply be washed with water.
“Most of the dash-mounted multifunction displays today — from us and others — are glass, and that makes things easier,” he said. “It used to be that a special antiglare film covered the screens, and that scratched easily. Today, the film is bonded between the LCD and the glass, so that’s no longer an issue.”
Jim McGowan of Raymarine agreed. “Instruments, VHF radios and other helmmounted devices can be lightly rinsed with fresh water — no high-pressure hoses, please — and dried using a microfiber towel that will prevent scratches,” he said. “It’s really simple.”
Some people like to use a diluted mixture of water and vinegar that cuts salt and grease nicely, but this can lead to yellowing, or it can break down the plasticizers in the case and the bezel. Never use ammonia-based cleaners on those sunscreen-induced fingerprints on a touchscreen.
Radar (open arrays and radomes), satellite TV domes and topside sensors (e.g., GPS, heading sensors) can all be washed with standard boat soap and rinsed during a normal boat washdown. A soft-bristle brush or microfiber cloth — not the hem of your T-shirt — is great for stubborn water spots or bug splatter. Dunn said that waxing radomes helps to keep the color from fading and keeps the enclosure from getting chalky and burned by UV rays.
Today’s marine cameras are pretty sturdy too. Whether it’s the bow camera on a Malibu towboat, a backup camera or a FLIR thermal camera, it’s best to use boat soap and microfiber on the camera body and the lenses. Dry everything thoroughly to prevent spotting on the lens. Beware rough deck brushes, however, which can scratch gelcoat much less a lens.
Transducers should be cleaned whenever the boat’s bottom is cleaned. Paddlewheel speed transducers should be checked and cleaned regularly for fouling as dictated by local conditions such as water temperature and growth. You can easily inspect a boat on a trailer at the end of a trip.
For boats that live in the water, transducer antifouling paints from manufacturers such as MDR or Petit should be applied to the transducer’s surface once a season.
“These paints are specially formulated to be compatible with the rubberized faces on the transducers and to not break them down over time,” McGowan said.
Dos & Dont’s
There are only a few ways to really damage today’s high-tech electronics when cleaning them. As previously stated, pressure is bad because most electronics are waterproof to normal conditions such as rain, spray, mist, and possibly short and shallow immersion. A pressure washer does not create normal conditions and may damage seals and gaskets.
Rinse first. Don’t rub salt-covered surfaces. You wouldn’t do that to your sunglasses, would you? If you’ll be away from the boat for an extended time, remove handheld devices such as a GPS unit and a VHF. Keeping them clean and out of the elements helps prolong their life. For long layups, put an open paper bag of rice or silica behind the helm of a center console boat to absorb moisture.
Another way to do damage is with chemicals. No ammonia cleaners — think Windex — should ever be on a boat, because they will harm other surfaces beyond electronics, such as Isinglass, Strataglass or Makrolon, which are normally used in enclosures. Don’t use alcohol wipes or detergents stronger than boat soap.
To make things extra shiny, some electronics service folks use Shurhold’s Serious Shine. This spray cleans and polishes and contains UV inhibitors and anti-fingerprint/ anti-static properties. It won’t leave an oily film and works on touchscreens, glass, frames, buttons, chrome, and the nooks and crannies of gauges.
Due to advances in the waterproof characteristics of today’s electronics and the quality of their construction, the best way to care for them is to power them down and rinse, wipe and cover them. Make sure the covers are clean, too, so you don’t need to use a screwdriver to pry them off after a long winter.