Marine electronics like GPS chartplotters, VHF radios, and fishfinders can be finicky, but I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. The real question is, are your units working up the their full potential? Chances are, the answer is no. Use these three ways, to give yourself a serious electronic boost.
1. Hook up your VHF radio and your GPS, so you get DSC (digital selective calling) performance. Virtually all VHF’s have DSC capability (the USCG made it mandatory over a decade ago) but few can actually use it. In fact, the Coast Guard says that on about 9 out of 10 boats with radios, DSC isn’t active. Why? Because in order to take advantage of this feature, which beams your exact location, boat name, and description to the USCG if you make a Mayday call, the VHF has to be interfaced with your GPS. Fortunately, this is not a big deal–only two wires are involved. Unfortunately, most people have never bothered to even try hooking the systems together. It’s easy; check out this DSC VHF installation article, to get step-by-step instructions on how to make it happen.
2. Get a better fishfinder transducer. If you’re using the transducer that was sold along with your fishfinder, chances are you could get a serious performance boost with an inexpensive upgrade. Doubling the size of your transducer’s element has the same effect as quadrupling the unit’s output power – the difference is that significant. In fact, with a heavy-duty transducer, extremely low-grade fishfinders can see clearly through hundreds of feet of water.
3. Upgrade your chartography. It used to be that you’d buy a chartplotter, then buy a mapping chip to get the data into its brain. But these days, most manufacturers offer some level of chartography built-in. Problem is, we’re often misled to believe that it’s the best data available when the chances are, it isn’t… by a long shot. To find out if you’d benefit by adding a separate chip, go to a store that has the same type of unit you use on display. Zoom in on a familiar area to see the level of detail, then ask the store clerk if you can try it with a Navionics, C-Map, or other chartography chip (most decent-sized stores will have them on hand). Now, compare the difference – you could be in for a big surprise.