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Maintenance functions for non-specialists

Jan 19, 2010

The importance and proliferation of marine electronics is practically taken for granted as are the high reliability of these various and diverse devices, but failures can and do occur and usually at the worst possible times. What can you as a boat owner do to maintain this often-vital equipment? What steps can you take to safeguard it from failures? 

First of all, there are very specific and limited maintenance functions you as a boat owner/operator may perform on marine electronics, especially if it is communications equipment or radar systems; these require a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) General Radio Operator License (GROL) with a radar endorsement. Unless you have the proper FCC licenses, you are not authorized to make any internal adjustments or alignments to this communications or radar equipment, not only that but if you do make adjustments and are caught you can be fined or even put in jail. As the operator of the gear, however, you are the best person to determine if your electronics are operating at a reduced level or if certain functions are working or not. At the first sign of reduced functionality of any electronics you should contact your nearest National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA), Certified Marine Electronics Technician (CMET) dealer. 

Let me introduce you to the NMEA and their CMET program. To begin with, NMEA is a global organization that was established back in 1957 and currently has more than 550 members manufacturing and servicing dealers. These members work together very closely to provide the boating public with quality marine electronics, installation, networking, and maintenance. NMEA is so serious about your boat's electronics that they have instituted a program for certifying marine electronic technicians and installers. There are three categories of CMET: Basic, Advanced, and Senior. Even the Basic CMET are required to hold an FCC GROL with a ships radar endorsement, have one year of verifiable experience in the marine electronics field, and to pass the CMET exam with a score of 70 percent or better.

Your boat represents quite an investment and it is very important not to skimp when it comes to installing, maintaining, troubleshooting, and repairing your vital electronics. There are certain simple electronic maintenance chores that can be performed by you as a boat owner and/or crew, as follows:


• Visual inspection of equipment

• Tighten control knobs and panels

• Check cables and connectors

• Replace indicator lamps

• Replace defective fuses

• Reset tripped circuit breakers

• Inspection of antenna and components

• Perform on-air verification checks

• Remove stack deposits and debris from radome

• Maintain antenna clear of soot, paint, ect.

• Adjust any front panel controls

• Logon traffic and logoff functions

• Entry of position data and selection of CES

• Run available diagnostic routines

• Replace printer paper, ribbons, toner, etc.

• Testing state of battery charge

• Replace computer/MFD monitors


The Titanic wireless spark gap radio equipment has always fascinated me mainly because it was so simple and so intuitive compared with today's highly technical and complicated radio systems. Back in 1912, basically what you saw was what you had and the various components were much bigger, and much more accessible. Because of this they were also much easier to troubleshoot and repair, but today our electronics have been shrunk down and became a million times more complex.

Today electronic components are most likely surface mounted and with ever-greater pin outs and ever-increasing pitch densities. This makes replacing them, even if you have the spare parts, all but impossible. This is why we need professional help if our electronic problems cannot be fixed by performing the limited list above and why I highly recommend that you as a vessel owner seek out a qualified CMET to troubleshoot and repair your faulty electronics and electronic systems. To find one is really easy, just go to www.NMEA.org, click on "find your nearest NMEA dealer," click on your state and an NMEA dealer directory will appear giving Web site and e-mail addresses. Until next time...Fair skies and following seas!

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