How to manage your helm electronics for the best results

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Don’t let the electronics on your boat bring a sudden halt to your outing. Do you know what to do in the event of an electronic problem on your boat? Here are some of our top tips to help you get started with figuring out what the problem is with your electronic system and whether you need to bring in professional advice.

Helm Eletronics Doug Zurn design Avalon in Portsmouth RI
Helm Eletronics Doug Zurn design Avalon in Portsmouth RI


Keeping a log on your boat makes good sense. Make notes regarding any repairs and inconsistencies that occur. Whether it’s the replacement of a wiring loom, a fishfinder that is giving anomalous readings, or an auto- pilot that is taking you in every other direction, if you can pinpoint, through the notes in your log the conditions and circumstances when the problem began, it can often lead to the sorting out of the problem.

Helm Eletronics Doug Zurn design Avalon in Portsmouth RI
Helm Eletronics Doug Zurn design Avalon in Portsmouth RI


The smartphones of today are perfect for documenting the electronic problems that occur at the helm, particularly intermittent problems. Taking a photo when the intermittent problem occurs will allow you to show this to the technician who will then be able to make a more informed diagnosis of the problem. Another use for the smartphone camera is to take a photo of the back of a difficult-to-get- to unit to get its serial number and this can then be relayed to the technician. Another advantage of taking a smartphone picture behind the unit is to see if all the connectors are properly in place, without removing the entire unit and tearing apart the helm.

Helm eletronics top tips
Helm eletronics top tips


Is there preventative maintenance that can be done on the electronic items housed in the helm area? The answer is definitely yes. A visual inspection can be done on all the connectors to the instrumentation to make sure they are properly connected without any chaffing. Boats often take a pounding when on the water and this can lead to loose connections and the failure of electronic components in the helm. If you have complex wiring going on behind the scenes at the helm, it might be an idea to use colour-coding to ensure the correct wires go to the correct places.


To keep pace with the ever-increasing technological advancements of the helm instrumentation, updates need to be installed from time to time to keep abreast with the latest functionality. Often, the updates will also fix certain bugs that have been appearing in the system prior to the fix. When the initial install of the device is underway, ensure that nothing impedes the install or you might have a software problem that only the manufacturer can sort out by getting in a technician or sending the entire unit back to the factory for a complete software reset or reinstall. Never shut off power when installing new software or during updates as this can also cause critical setup failure.


The electronics on any boat needs regular care and maintenance to ensure that it stays in top condition. Keep the helm clean as there will often be a buildup of salt deposits on the instrumentation. Do simple wiring checks to ensure all connectors are securely in place, and finally do the necessary software updates to keep your systems as current as they can be.



If you are not technically minded, it might be necessary to hire an installer. There are the installers who will try and sell you everything you need and everything you don’t need for your helm. Go by your gut and find a reliable installer who has contactable references. Ask fellow boaters who they use and try and build a long-term relationship with the installer as the chances are you will be using him on various different occasions during your boating career.


Different electronics brands have always had their strong suits. Some brands are better known for fishfinders, others for VHF radios and others for autopilots. Carefully select the instrumentation that you find works best for your application and then enquire with the installer about his thoughts on the different combinations you have come up with.


Finding the correct mix of electronics for your boat is a decision that needs to be made early, with the help of the installer. Do you really need the autopilot if you only use your boat for short trips? Try to set a careful budget before diving headlong into the newest electronic gear to hit the market and, do some research beforehand.


Today’s electronics are much more user-friendly than their cumbersome predecessors. Instead of complicated sub-menus, that are difficult to reach, the new electronics are intuitive and easy to use. This makes their operation that much easier, often in touch-screen format. Smartphone interfaces are also much more common now and this also makes helm operation that much easier, but, this does not mean you need to discard perfectly working older units. These older units can often be integrated with newer systems.


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