Modern boaters rely a great deal on electronics such as sonar and Global Positioning Systems (GPS) to guide them through the water. Devices that are intended specifically for use on boats, bought from marine supply stores, will in nearly all cases come pre-weatherproofed as their manufacturers are well aware of the conditions in which they will be used. There are, however, a variety of electronic devices brought aboard that are not designed for use in maritime conditions. Radios, phones, cameras, and other such things are not as weatherpoof as we would like them to be.
Below is a guide to weatherproofing the electronics that need it, dealing mostly with waterproofing, as water damage is the greatest danger facing electronics at sea.
A very basic method for waterproofing anything, including electronics, is to cover it with a plastic bag. Some marine supply stores sell bags made specifically for that purpose, but you can also use ordinary bags from a grocery store. Seal your device in the bag – it should still be usable through the cover. Though it sounds silly, you may also wrap electronics in balloons to protect them from the water and salt air. Saran wrap sealed with a twist tie can also serve the same purpose. Electrical tape around certain delicate or exposed areas will protect them from a limited amount of water damage.
If you would prefer to purchase your weatherproof devices, many companies make bags designed for that purpose. A particular advantage to these is that they are often constructed with buoyant materials, so you do not have to worry about fishing your phone from the bottom of the ocean. There are also cases for phones that will make them easy to use but still protect them from the elements. Unlike bags, cases have a depth limit beyond which they will fail and begin to let water seep in.
Brands such as Rust-Oleum make sprays that claim to waterproof electronics. Rust-Oleum’s spray does work, but it can leave a white coating on your electronics and also tends to degrade in the sunlight, so the covering will need to be redone every summer. When using this method, make sure that you coat the target entirely; be thorough. Also, sprays such as Corrosion X will reduce corrosion in electronics, something that happens much faster on sea then on land. The same principle applies here – make sure to coat the device entirely or your work will not be of much use.
A very common method of waterproofing is through the variety of silicone sprays. These are relatively cheap and widely available, and are both easy-to-use and relatively effective. Silicone sealants come in a variety of forms, so if a spray is not what you are looking for, other methods are easy to find.
Very recently, scientists have discovered a new and extremely effective method of waterproofing. This method, called nanotexturing surfaces, has a variety of uses, but when the nano-structures are in the form of cones they are entirely water-repellent. Expect to see nanotextured devices more and more as this technology becomes perfected and more widely available. It seems that this is the most effective waterproofing method in existence, but at the moment it is very expensive.
One last suggestion is to either store the electronics in a sealed compartment, or if they are in use have them strapped to your wrist or to your lifejacket. If you are going to be on the water a lot, also consider buying ruggedized devices that will be able to survive a fall in the water without any sort of extra coating.
Whatever means you choose to weatherproof your devices, remember that salt is corrosive, so make sure to coat your electronics and check them for damage or disrepair often. Though securing your camera or radio may seem like a waste of effort and using your phone through a plastic bag may seem like an annoyance, especially on calm and sunny days, you will be immensely grateful when swells come crashing over the side or your hand slips and the camera falls into the sea.
“It is better to be safe than sorry” applies twice over to boating, so take every precaution and you will be sure to have the best boating experience possible.