How To Put Together a Full Feature Electronics Suite

Building an electronics suite while building a boat will put you on the water more quickly-if you can manage the whole project.

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The build of a new 72-foot Brier Patch at the Merritt yard in Pompano Beach, Florida, was a sight to behold: The project moved along swiftly with no hang-ups or delays. We were on course for our year-end delivery and we got more excited as we executed our electronics selections and began to receive the hardware and prepare for installation. It was a daunting task to review, choose, and integrate all the gear that will take us to sea and provide vital information and data to help keep me and my crew safe, catch us more fish, and get us to our destination on a timely, cost effective course.

Buying a complete electronics suite for a new boat can be a formidable project. With so many manufacturers, categories of equipment, models, and features, it is hard to really understand all the nomenclature and determine what we really need. Then throw in manufacturers that release products with unrealistic delivery dates and mix in installation times provided by installers that are usually much longer than they promised. Throughout the process, it became evident that preparation and a full understanding of the scope of the job are more important today than ever before. Failure to make hard decisions in a timely fashion can cost you thousands of dollars and create completion delays that are unecessarily frustrating.

Where to begin on such a large, comprehensive project? Take control by really understanding exactly what equipment will suit your needs and how those different pieces of the puzzle will fit together to give you the performance you need for safety or maximizing your fishing time. Never buy equipment thinking it will enhance the resale of your boat. The guy buying the boat from you will want his own gear- buy what you need for your use.

Be honest with yourself and select items that you can operate easily, understand at a glance, and are pertinent to the types of cruising and fishing you do. Buying electronics that you dream of using on a fantasy trip, or because your buddy has them on his boat, are sure ways to break your budget. It may seem simple just to get the same package as the guy down the dock, but it will only let you down and certainly will not give you the results you're looking for in a setup built from the ground up. Also be sure to consider what may be required equipment to have aboard for the geographical area in which you will operate, including the outer edge of your cruising range.

Sometimes people start talking about how great a new piece of equipment is, and then someone buys it because they heard it was the flash new deal. It may be a good piece of gear, but in my experience it probably won't do what I need or enhance my navigation or fishing situation. Much of the time, the guy doing the recommending can turn it on, but that's about it. Consider where you get your advice: I don't put much stock in people who use their gear on a part-time basis. I look to the professional captains that are regularly using the stuff and putting up a lot of hours doing so. They know the strengths, weaknesses, and nuances of the gear and also how it will hold up.

Be sure to consider the learning curve of using an entire new suite of gear. If you have become familiar with a particular manufacturer's operating system, it is wise to look there first for your new or replacement gear. If possible, use that new equipment before you buy: Get a feel for it, and understand how it would suit your needs. I would also say that if you need to replace one piece of your suite, try to stay with the same manufacturer as the rest of your gear so you have compatibility. Invest carefully in the gear that will perform at your expectation level and gives you the most comfort while using it. It's practical to perform your due diligence and research on other manufacturers' equipment and make comparisons to be sure that you are selecting the gear that best suits your needs, and goes with the boat you have. Installing a 72- mile radar on a 38-footer is overkill.

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At the same time, if you're serious about fishing, the highest-quality transducer money can buy is the best investment you can make. It doesn't matter whose fishfinder you buy-if you get a lousy transducer, you get lousy performance. The brand name of the fishfinder does not let you see the bottom or mark fish better than any other. The transducer does- so don't skimp there. But be sure the machine you select is compatible, and can process the information the transducer can gather.

I also believe that you get what you pay for, especially when it comes to the components you buy or the installer you choose. Go for the best hardware and make sure your installer is using quality fittings and components when assembling your package. When getting quotes on gear and installation, if one is very cheap, there is a reason and it usually isn't a good one. Fortunately, the same holds true for the installer that is too high with his estimate.

Be sure to select a reputable and reliable electronics installer. The best way is to purchase the gear through the same outfit that will do the install. There are a lot of logistics involved in integrating the suite: miles of cable and wire, many connections, too many data streams to imagine, and a pile of components that all have to talk together to get the most from the package. Hiring a sub-par firm will only lead to more delays and mountains of frustration as you begin to use the system and expose the gremlins that lie within. A reputable firm may not exist where you are, so plan to have the boat moved to a location where you can have it worked on, but also have you or your crew there to monitor progress and assist by making the on-scene decisions that seem to come up on a daily basis. Having the personnel on site to make those decisions can save money and reduce completion time.

It all gets back to having a good working relationship with the boatbuilder, dealer, electronics dealer, and installers. If everyone is upfront with one another, it will go a long way to setting a time line for completion and establishing realistic milestones to complete the job within the budget. Also really plan ahead with enough lead time for the manufacturer to have their gear on site and ready to install as the job begins. Some equipment is built to order and takes time to assemble. Having a plan and timetable in place to deal with lead times and potential setbacks is key. And having the boatbuilder involved in the process and understanding your intentions regarding your electronics package from the outset will also help eliminate wasteful change orders that are always expensive, frustrating, and even detrimental to the overall project.

Being prepared, setting a gameplan, and being realistic about executing the plan will make that new electronics suite a whole lot less painful and costly. Give the entire process enough lead time to be completed and you will reap the benefits of that package every time you leave the slip.