Marine electronics: Expert advice for boaters

March 2024

There are more marine electronics options than ever. With so many high-tech toys to choose from it can be hard to know what you really need when replacing or upgrading your existing gear. To make it easier we had a chat with Will Rutherford from Nav Station, one of Auckland’s leading retailers of marine electronics. 

Marine electronics now and then 

If you’re ready to upgrade your boat’s electronics or you’ve got a cash settlement from an insurance claim, we’ll often direct you towards someone like Will. Someone who sells a range of different brands and can provide expert advice on what’s right for you.   

This extra help can be a godsend because if you haven’t upgraded your gear for a while you may be surprised by what’s available:  

“Traditionally, in the early 2000s, even 2010s, seven inches was a big screen. Now we’re all the way into nines, 12s, 16s and right up to 24s. And now screens have moved into what we call multi-function format.”  

Because of this ‘multi-function format’, boaters no longer need to buy individual chart plotters, radars and fish finders and have separate screens for all of them. Now one or two screens can do it all: 

“They’re also integrating more into screens these days - things like cameras, power management modes, digital switching, engine data and stuff like that.”  

Fish finding has changed too. They used to use one particular high or low frequency, but now we’ve moved into digital and what we call chirp fish finding. This uses multiple frequencies then the screen selects and combines them into the best picture - enabling you to see more fish and get a better idea of where the bottom is.   

Another trend is that we’ve moved away from traditional analogue radars, towards digital, broadband and Doppelganger radars. These tend to provide more information, with less tuning required from customers - plus the ability to have targets changing colours depending on whether they’re safe, or you’re heading towards or away from them.  

How many screens are we talking? 

You need to have a good think about what you want to do with your vessel before you buy any electronics, according to Will:  

“The question is what type of boating do you do? A lot of people want to put everything on but they’re not going to use it. You need to think about what you’re doing and how you’re going to integrate it.” 

Next, you’ll want to think about screen size and ask yourself:  

  • How much space do I have for screens?  
  • Would you prefer one big screen, or two smaller ones?   

Then you’re going to want to consider what gear you actually need. By making a few smart decisions you could save thousands and still get all the functionality you want and need: 

“You know, if you’re a person who fishes in the Hauraki Gulf 70-80 metres max, we don’t need to go and overpower you with the huge expense of transducer fish finding. We can get great results from something much cheaper.”  

If you do want the extras later, the great thing about gear these days is that most of it is upgradeable: 

“You might start with just a transducer into the back of your screen, but if you start going deeper you may want to add a sounder module down the track. Once you buy something and it leaves the shop it’s not necessarily going to be like that for the rest of its life. You can add things to it.” 

To save some more and avoid wastage it’s also worth having a good think about what gear you already have on your vessel. For example, you can look at the tag on an existing transducer so you know what you’re working with and you may be able to use that with the new gear.  

Time for the fun part: Installation 

When you’ve figured out how many screens you need and what gear is essential it’s time to install it all. If you don’t have someone looking after your boat for you Will says it’s always best to ask the advice of the guy selling the gear: 

“They usually have someone they recommend that they know does a good job. It’s worth asking the installers about qualifications too. Don’t be afraid to make sure they have the tickets and insurance for what they’re installing.”  

When you’re installing new gear it’s also a great time to look at the power on your boat and make sure your batteries, supply and charging are in good nick. When new gear goes on it often picks up the power faults that were already there, so if you don’t check, you may find out the hard way. Owners of bigger boats may also want to consider something to monitor their power: 

“You can install a box on the boat that measures your battery state and enables remote turn off. It can also tell you whether your 240 volt at the Marina is still connected or not … You get an alert on your phone or an email so you can get someone to click it back on before you lose your bait, or your Christmas hams.” 

There’s (almost) no limit to what you can do 

When it comes to the technology on your vessel you can go as far as you want. For example, remote monitoring technology can utilise geo-locks so that you get an alarm when someone opens the doors, the bilge pump goes off or the vessel leaves the marina (which can be great for theft). Autopilot can even take most of the steering off your hands, but there is a limit, according to Will: 

“We had a guy who wanted to put autopilot on his boat and when we asked how he wanted to control it he said from his bedroom in his house. Not on the boat. He wanted to dial it in through Starlink. In the end, I chose not to sell him a pilot for what he wanted.”  

As long as you’re not wanting to control your vessel from your phone James Bond style, Will and his team at 103 Westhaven Drive or can help you. Getting good advice early in the process and considering all the tips outlined in the video could save you thousands of dollars - and ensure you end up with the right technology for better boating.