Using online tools to troubleshoot electronic gear

I don’t normally recommend trying to repair today’s advanced electronic communication/navigation equipment, however, for those of you who are experienced in electronic repair and hold a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) General Radio Operator License with a Radar Endorsement it may be necessary to do some at-sea or in-port emergency repairs. For most of you, the in-port online toolbox will be more easily accessed than if you are way out to sea, unless, of course, your vessel has broadband through Inmarsat or some other satellite provider.

If you are able to access the Internet from your boat’s laptop computer then it will be a big help during the whole troubleshooting, parts procurement, and repair process. A good printer is also important and enables you to print out vital troubleshooting information necessary for fixing the broken equipment. If you do not carry aboard the operator’s/maintenance manual for the suspect system, the first thing to download are vital tidbits of information regarding the proper operation, control settings, and meter readings to make sure that your problem is not just “operator error.” If it has been established that there is indeed a problem with the equipment, then your next step is to download any applicable troubleshooting diagrams/flow charts, part lists, illustrated parts breakdown diagrams, and repair instructions.

Many times the available equipment documentation is not in-depth information and you may need to find out what a particular integrated circuit actually does in the circuit or you need its pin-out or operating voltages. In the old days one would need a whole library full of data books in order to get this type of IC or microprocessor information, but not today thanks to our online toolbox which allows us to download information on any electronic device of our choice. My favorite online site for this type of specific information is at:

Now that you know what a device is for and have determined that it is not working because it is either hard down or intermittent due to an upset caused by a stray electrostatic discharge, it is time to get a new one on order ASAP! There are several outstanding parts vendors that I use and recommend for any electronic parts procurement:;;;;

Sometimes you can’t get certain parts anymore and in that case you must resort to a good parts cross-reference where you can find a substitute part that will do the trick. The online cross-reference that I use with lots of good results is: One other important hyperlink for boat owners is for the National Marine Electronics Association:

The modern computer is a wonderful tool for helping technicians to troubleshoot and repair defective electronic systems, modules, discrete components or networks. With it you can download tutorials, product manuals, functionality documentation, schematics, pin-outs, IC data sheets, parts catalogs and even order those parts online. Modern electronics also require a laptop computer with the proper software downloaded in order to view specialized interface screens that allow real-time historical problem analysis, alarm summary screens, conditions summary screens, module status screens, alarm detail screens, and alarm history screens. This information makes it easier to troubleshoot certain problems and by using the user system interface you can also perform provisioning and reconfigurations as necessary. Before attempting any USI-LAN communication, make sure that your computer is capable enough for the specific software load, that the proper software is downloaded, and that you are using the correct interface cable.

In closing I want to remind readers that in order to legally perform adjustments and alignments to marine radio communications equipment and radar systems, one must possess a General Radio Operator License with a Radar Endorsement from the FCC or have your work supervised and signed off by someone who does. To find one of these FCC licensed technicians, go to the NMEA website and click on CMET (Certified Marine Electronics Technician) under the “NMEA Trained Individuals” link.

Fredrick Gary Hareland holds an AAS degree in rescue and survival operations and in avionic systems technology and is a certified marine electronics technician and NARTE certified telecommunications technician. He has served in the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, the Military Sealift Command-Pacific and has worked for Maersk Line Limited and Norwegian Cruise Line. Hareland currently works at China Lake Naval Air Warfare Station as a microwave-communications technician. He lives in Ridgecrest, Calif.

More articles by Fredrick Gary Hareland:
Cell phone boosters

Check your shore power

SpotHug GPS ship security alert system

Green solder blowback

Bumps in the night

By Ocean Navigator