The Basics of Marine Electronics

Understanding the many uses and functions of your marine electronic parts can be almost as difficult as navigating an expansive body of water without their help. Often, by the time you have finally mastered the electronics at your disposal, they have already become obsolete due to the release of new and updated versions. To help you understand what marine electronic parts you need on your boat, you must first understand the parts that are available to you. The most basic marine electronic parts at your disposal are AIS, chartplotters, EPIRBs & PLBs, fishfinders, MFDs, radar, and VHF radio. This blog will look at each of these parts and provide a brief explanation of them.


The AIS, or Automatic Identification System, is a machine with a transmitter and receiver that offers a means of identifying and informing users about various types of boats and commercial ships. The data provided by the AIS can range from a ship’s name to its size, destination, or speed.


Among the most important marine radar parts is the chartplotter. This is a part that displays digitized charts to provide a helpful navigation tool on a convenient LCD screen. The chartplotter provides a display of your location in real-time and allows users to create waypoints and routes, display navigational data, and more. Many modern chartplotters are integrated with other marine electronic parts such as fishfinders and MFD (multifunction display screens).


EPIRB (electronic positioning indicating radio beacon) and PLB (personal locator beacon) units both have critical roles. These tools broadcast SOS messages to satellites which in turn relay those messages to local rescue authorities such as the Coast Guard. EPIRBs are used to indicate that a boat needs assistance, while PLBs are intended for use by individuals. Depending on the model, both of these parts can be activated manually or hydrostatically (activated by coming in contact with water).

Fish Finder

Fish finders are sonar units that provide real-time imagery of the fish under your watercraft. Newer, more advanced fish finders are also capable of monitoring the area in front and to the sides of your boat and some have 3-D modeling capabilities. In general, fish finders are either integrated into the chartplotter or work within a network of systems displayed on MFD screens.

MFD Displays

MFD multifunction display screens are the screens on which the interconnected network of electronics can be viewed and monitored. They are usually found on the helm to allow the captain of the boat to display the fish finder and radar on another screen. A boat’s MFD screens can also be split into boxes with each screen displaying a separate display.


Radar on marine craft allows the user to understand what is around them beyond what can be seen with the naked eye. The radar antenna broadcasts pulses which are reflected back by other boats or land masses. Sometimes even heavy storms can show up on radar. Most recreational radar can send and receive signals for at least 20 miles and more advanced models reach upwards of 70 miles. The height of the radar antenna is an important factor in the radar’s range.

VHF Radio

The VHF radio is the primary communication system onboard a marine craft. It provides users with the ability to speak with other boaters and the coast guard. All new VHF radios feature digital selective calling, which allows the radio transmission to immediately contact authorities with your exact location in the event of an emergency.

Each of these marine electronic parts play an important role in the safe function of a boat or watercraft. At Buy NSN, owned and operated by ASAP Semiconductor, we can help you find all the marine electronics for the aerospace, civil aviation, and defense industries. For a quick and competitive quote, email us at or call us at 1-919-348-4040.


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