How to choose the right electronics for your sailboat
How to choose the right electronics for your sailboat

Equipping your sailboat with the right electronics is crucial for a safe and enjoyable sailing adventure. This comprehensive guide will help you choose the best options for your specific needs.

How to Choose the Right Electronics for Your Sailboat

Embarking on a sailing adventure with your family is an exciting and fulfilling experience. However, to ensure a safe and enjoyable journey, it’s essential to equip your sailboat with the right electronics. In this comprehensive guide, we will discuss the various types of electronics you may need for your sailboat, their functions, and how to choose the best options for your specific needs.

Table of Contents

Navigating the open sea can be challenging, especially for those new to sailing. Modern technology has made it easier than ever to plot your course and stay on track. Here are some essential navigation electronics to consider for your sailboat:

GPS Chartplotter

A GPS chartplotter is a must-have for any sailboat. This device combines GPS data with electronic charts to display your boat’s position on a digital map. It helps you plan your route, monitor your progress, and avoid potential hazards such as shallow waters or submerged rocks.

When choosing a GPS chartplotter, consider the following factors:

  • Screen size and resolution: A larger screen with high resolution will make it easier to read charts and navigate, especially in bright sunlight.
  • Touchscreen vs. buttons: Touchscreen chartplotters are more intuitive and user-friendly, but buttons can be more reliable in wet conditions.
  • Built-in vs. external GPS antenna: Built-in antennas are more convenient, but external antennas may provide better reception in some situations.
  • Expandability: Some chartplotters can be connected to other devices, such as radar or AIS systems, for additional functionality.


An autopilot system can be a valuable addition to your sailboat, allowing you to maintain a steady course without constantly adjusting the helm. This can be particularly useful during long passages or when sailing in challenging conditions.

There are two main types of autopilot systems:

  • Wheel or tiller pilots: These are simpler and more affordable systems that attach directly to your boat’s wheel or tiller. They are suitable for smaller boats and less demanding conditions.
  • Below-deck autopilots: These systems are more powerful and reliable, with a separate control unit and drive unit installed below deck. They are suitable for larger boats and more challenging conditions.

When choosing an autopilot system, consider factors such as your boat’s size, the type of sailing you plan to do, and your budget.


Radar can be a valuable tool for navigating in low visibility conditions, such as fog or heavy rain. It uses radio waves to detect objects, such as other boats, buoys, or land, and displays their position on a screen.

When choosing a radar system, consider the following factors:

  • Power output: Higher power output will provide better range and resolution, but may also consume more energy.
  • Antenna size: Larger antennas will provide better resolution and range, but may be more challenging to install and require more space.
  • Display options: Some radar systems can be integrated with your chartplotter, while others have a separate display.

Communication Devices

Staying connected while at sea is essential for both safety and convenience. Here are some communication devices to consider for your sailboat:

VHF Radio

A VHF radio is a crucial piece of equipment for any sailboat, allowing you to communicate with other boats, marinas, and emergency services. It is also required by law in many countries.

When choosing a VHF radio, consider the following factors:

  • Fixed vs. handheld: Fixed VHF radios are more powerful and reliable, but handheld radios can be useful for dinghy trips or as a backup.
  • DSC capability: Digital Selective Calling (DSC) allows you to send a distress signal with your boat’s position at the push of a button. This feature is highly recommended for safety reasons.
  • AIS integration: Some VHF radios can be connected to an Automatic Identification System (AIS), which displays information about nearby boats on your chartplotter.

Satellite Phone

A satellite phone can be a valuable addition to your sailboat, allowing you to make calls and send messages from anywhere in the world. This can be particularly useful for emergencies or when sailing in remote areas.

When choosing a satellite phone, consider factors such as coverage, call quality, and data capabilities. Keep in mind that satellite phone service requires a subscription, which can be expensive.

Weather Monitoring

Keeping an eye on the weather is essential for safe and enjoyable sailing. Here are some weather monitoring devices to consider for your sailboat:

Weather Station

A weather station can provide valuable information about the local conditions, such as wind speed, wind direction, temperature, and barometric pressure. This data can help you make informed decisions about your sailing plans and anticipate changes in the weather.

When choosing a weather station, consider factors such as accuracy, ease of installation, and compatibility with other devices, such as your chartplotter.

Weather Receiver

A weather receiver allows you to receive weather forecasts and alerts from official sources, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the United States. This can be particularly useful when sailing in unfamiliar waters or during severe weather events.

When choosing a weather receiver, consider factors such as coverage, reception quality, and ease of use.

Safety Equipment

In addition to navigation and communication devices, there are several electronic safety devices that can enhance your sailboat’s safety:


An Automatic Identification System (AIS) is a valuable safety tool that allows you to see and be seen by other boats. It transmits and receives information about your boat’s position, speed, and course, as well as other nearby vessels, helping you avoid collisions and navigate crowded waters.

When choosing an AIS system, consider the following factors:

  • Class A vs. Class B: Class A AIS systems are more powerful and feature-rich, but are also more expensive and typically used on commercial vessels. Class B AIS systems are more affordable and suitable for most recreational sailboats.
  • Transponder vs. receiver: A transponder both transmits and receives AIS data, while a receiver only receives data. A transponder is recommended for enhanced safety and visibility.


An Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) is a critical piece of safety equipment that can help rescue teams locate your boat in the event of an emergency. When activated, it sends a distress signal with your boat’s position to search and rescue services via satellite.

When choosing an EPIRB, consider factors such as battery life, ease of activation, and compatibility with the international Cospas-Sarsat system.

Entertainment and Connectivity

While not essential for safety or navigation, entertainment and connectivity devices can make your sailing experience more enjoyable and comfortable:

Marine Stereo

A marine stereo can provide music and entertainment while you’re sailing, helping to create a pleasant atmosphere on board. When choosing a marine stereo, consider factors such as sound quality, durability, and compatibility with your preferred music sources (e.g., Bluetooth, USB, or satellite radio).

Wi-Fi Booster

A Wi-Fi booster can help you stay connected to the internet while at sea, allowing you to access weather forecasts, communicate with friends and family, and stream entertainment. When choosing a Wi-Fi booster, consider factors such as range, compatibility with your devices, and ease of installation.

Power Management

All of these electronic devices require power, so it’s essential to have a reliable and efficient power management system on your sailboat. This may include:

  • Batteries: Choose high-quality marine batteries with sufficient capacity to power your electronics.
  • Charging system: Ensure your boat’s alternator and/or solar panels can keep your batteries charged.
  • Inverter: An inverter converts your boat’s DC power to AC power, allowing you to use household appliances and charge devices.

Final Thoughts

Equipping your sailboat with the right electronics is essential for a safe and enjoyable sailing adventure. By considering your specific needs and preferences, you can choose the best navigation, communication, weather monitoring, safety, entertainment, and power management devices for your boat. Happy sailing!