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Marine Electronics Journal Blog

Breathing new life into old electronics, part 2

Last week we introduced you to a few marine electronics dealers who have the components and skills to repair that old fishfinder or chartplotter you’ve relied on for years. All of them sell and service new electronics also---in fact that’s their primary business. It’s just that they’ve stockpiled old equipment and scavenged parts that are no longer available from manufacturers. Get these guys talking about their “boneyards” and you learn quickly that they have a lot of respect---and fondness---for the classic equipment.

Below is the rest of the story, including a company that deals exclusively with aging electronics.


By Jim Fullilove

MEJ Editor 


On the silver screen 

Another dealer who has sold legacy electronics and parts for years is Bob Koeller at Seatronics in Gloucester, MA. “We have a lot of CRT radars and sounders. There are people out there who have and like old equipment and want to keep it going.”

He describes his assortment of old equipment—stored in the basement and upstairs in the shop area—as “boneyards” and himself as “somewhat of a packrat.” Koeller says it pays off. “We can fix things that are 20 years old and even older.  People send us things for repair from all over, like Wood Freeman autopilots. We even get Raytheon paper recorders in for repair.”

There’s a method to his boneyard merchandising. He stores the oldest parts and other equipment in the basement, occasionally sorting through it and throwing out hardware that’s no longer useful. Newer but aging electronics—stuff from 15-18 years ago—are moved into the basement from upstairs, freeing up space in the showroom for more recent inventory.

Most of Seatronics’ classic equipment goes aboard commercial lobster boats, tuna fishing vessels and draggers. But some went to Hollywood to star in the movie, The Perfect Storm, a true story about the crew of the swordfishing boat Andrea Gail that went down with six aboard in a horrific storm in 1991. The 70 foot longliner was homeported in Gloucester.

He says the movie people came in with pictures of the pilothouse and wanted to replicate it, right down to the electronics, which didn’t have to work. ”I recognized a lot of the stuff and supplied it to Warner Brothers. I shipped eight to 10 antennas for a scene in which the film’s first mate, played by Mark Wahlberg, is trying to fix the boat’s antennas. I don’t know why they needed so many; I guess they did a lot of retakes.” In an ironic twist, Seatronics had also supplied some of the electronics aboard the actual Andrea Gail.

Seatronics ships a lot of its vintage electronics to fishing boats in California, Texas and Florida. Koeller regularly lists a couple dozen items on eBay, including discontinued or still-in-the-box old stock that hasn’t sold or used equipment that still works well. “It’s a little niche for us—it helps. Every week the price goes down a little.”

John Pittman, who owns Commercial Marine Electronics in Pompano Beach, FL, describes his inventory of old electronics as extensive—primarily Furuno, Simrad, Raymarine and a smattering of Garmin and other equipment. Most is relatively new, 10 years or younger.

A desire to keep familiar electronics working drives some customers to the shop. “People really like their old Northstar 952—they have all the old waypoints in it. They’d rather repair it than buy new,” says Pittman.

Another driver was the recession of several years ago when money was tight and customers opted to repair faulty equipment rather than replace it. Nowadays, if an older boat is being sold sometimes the owner wants to repair non-functioning electronics so the vessel will pass a survey.


An eye on the margins

Like other dealers, Commercial Marine Electronics generally doesn’t work on equipment that is cheaper to replace than repair. As an example of electronics they service, Pitman points to a system consisting of a Furuno NavNet VX2, radar, depth sounder, weather receiver and multiple displays. If one display goes bad you may have to replace the entire system because of compatibility issues associated with installing a new one from a different manufacturer. He says at that point it becomes feasible to spend $600-900 to replace the LCD display in one with another of the same vintage, rather than replace the whole system.

Customer repairs and refurbishment of electronics for resale represents about 20% of the full-service dealership’s business. Pitman says the margins can be good because they have little money invested in purchasing old parts and have an extensive service manual library and an array of test equipment.

“We get a lot of referrals from Simrad for their legacy equipment. We take in lots of equipment for repair from all over the US and outside as well, and also walk-ins. We buy from other dealers and from people doing refits with equipment they bought on the Internet—we buy their old stuff.” Commercial Marine also sells parts and reconditioned equipment on eBay. (Above are two Simrad autopilots from Howard Rock's extensive boneyard.)

But, as Pitman points out, dealing with legacy equipment isn’t for everyone. “Most retail dealers don’t want to work on old electronics or don’t have the experience or don’t have access to the parts or they don’t want to assume the liability of repairing something that is not backed up with manufacturers’ new equipment warranties.”

US dealers don’t have a lock on the vintage electronics business. Asked about his collection, Port Hardy, BC, dealer Doug Kemp of Stryker Electronics Ltd., says simply: “There’s a lot of it. Some is junk, some is good pieces. There’s a mix of parts and boxed equipment. We have requests every day, mostly from commercial guys; we’re in the repair business. There’s a lot of horse trading back and forth. You can’t throw anything away; you never know when you’ll need it.” 

Do they do any promotion? They don’t have to, Kemp jokes dryly. “People trip over it in the shop.”


Some legendary electronics

Like the other dealers, Howard Rock (Marine Electronics of the Outer Banks) has been stockpiling electronics for a long time. He says some of it dates back to 1977 when he launched his dealership in Virginia. Very little of the equipment is still in the original box because most of it has been “moved around.” He sells quite a bit of it to commercial fishermen, who he says are comfortable with the older equipment and want to fix it, or guys who bought older boats that had legacy electronics that needed repair or updating. Rock also sells and buys from other dealers.

Rock’s tradition of keeping some old electronics rather than tossing it coincided with his obtaining a ham radio operator’s license about 50 years ago. He bought some surplus World War II equipment and began working on it. When he got into the marine electronics business he found he had to keep old parts around for repairs.

Among his current crop are some noteworthy pieces, including a suitcase-sized Loran A, Micrologic and Northstar Loran C’s, Magnavox MX 1105 GHS/Transit/Omega and a Decca Super 101 radar display. He also has all the parts and pieces of a vintage 25kW WOM High Seas Radiotelephone Service sideband, which was owned by AT&T and shut down about 15 years ago. In the photo above, a Loran A sits alongside the Magnavox MX 1105.

Pete Grant (Pete's Marine Electronics) says his oldest equipment is a handful of analog PPI (Plan Position Indicator) radar scope displays. “Those are the ones with visors; you had to put your face in to watch the sweeps fade out and come back around.” Like his father, he supplied a few pieces of electronics to the Rockland maritime museum but most goes to commercial fishing customers. To their credit, he says, they like to keep their older equipment working.

 ”I’m a little better than my dad about getting rid of stuff,” he adds, but it’s clear that Grant, like the other dealers we talked to, have a real fondness and respect for vintage equipment.

 “A customer gave me a box of Motorola Modar 55/75 VHF radios—they were the Cadillac of the line in the late 70s and early 80s,” says Grant. “One was from a gasoline-powered lobster boat that exploded. The front was mangled. We put in a power plug—and the damn thing worked! I have visions of fixing up two or three of them for display. They’re just waiting for me to work on them.”


Selling and servicing 'Old Stuff' only

Max Marine Electronics (MME) takes a different approach to the business of old electronics. In fact, the sale and service of used marine electronics is pretty much the sole focus of the seven-year-old company.

“A lot of dealers don’t have time to deal with old equipment, so we buy it, perform any repairs that need to be done then resell it with a 90-day warranty,” says company founder Max Stein. Most of the old electronics they get come from local installers and some out-of-state companies. “Once the bigger installers began hearing about us, they’d get in touch and say they had 20 years of old electronics in their shop or in storage. We’d buy the entire lot—we still do.”

MME also sells a wide variety of old parts on the Internet. “We started on eBay and we’re still there offering products,” says Stein. “We also have an eCommerce site, and get a lot of phone calls from dealers or customers’ friends. We’ve spent zero on marketing but a lot on eBay fees. Exposure on eBay is invaluable.” The company’s warehouse/workshop and office are located in Pompano Beach, FL.

Much of the equipment MME sells dates back to before Stein was born—he’s 33. “A lot of the old Hatteras yachts have a Furuno FR1411 radar made in the 80s,” he says. “They’re pretty bulletproof except for an occasional CRT module that goes bad.”

Stein says they have to be selective in choosing which electronics to repair. Not all manufacturers are forthcoming with schematics and many aren’t in business anymore. Repair strategies often involve reverse engineering. One repair request that worked out well involved a MAN Diesel display. “Since a new one cost $10,000, we said we’d give it a try. We now do 30-40 a year.”

“Most of the guys (who deal with old electronics) are borderline retired,” says Stein. “I started the business in 2011, mostly by accident.” He says the future looks even busier. “The life cycle of electronics is getting shorter. Manufacturers compete to come up with the latest stuff, which means people are constantly upgrading”—and trading in their old equipment.



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Comments | Leave a Comment
Page 1 of 3 ( 11 comments)

Hard-Over with Brushed APilot Pump:(12/18/2017 5:37:05 PM) "Jim.
What do you mean by ...."Garmin GHP 20 with SmartPump...Because it is a brushless system, it is fail-safe and won’t execute a hard-over turn the way a brushed pump can."

Thanks for the note. Since the description came from Garmin I contacted the company for an explanation. Here's what one of their engineers told me:

On brushed DC actuators, a single-point failure in the drive circuit (shorted wire or blown component inside the controller) could cause the motor to run full speed in one direction and take the rudder all the way to one rail. A brushless actuator relies on timing-controlled commutation, so a short or component fail would cause the actuator to stop moving rather than moving at full speed.

Hope this helps,

trawlerdeejay:(10/13/2017 3:46:51 PM) "Excellent article. I had no idea what the differences were between o183 and 2000, Thank you so much."
Darryl:(3/27/2017 10:17:15 PM) "Putting the MSRP with each unit reviewed would have been helpful. If each unit was actually tested, the reports on each unit would have been helpful too.

Thanks Darryl---we generally don't mention prices due to confusion over so many variations---MSRP (mfg. suggested retail price), MAP (min. advertised price), MRP (min. resale price) and then there are internet prices on some websites that go their own way. But your point is well taken--buyers need to know if something is in their price range. We'll work on it.
There is independent testing of some of these products on sites like but the information we receive from manufacturers rarely cites the results of any shootouts they may conduct against the competition's products. "
Laurie Seibert:(2/16/2017 2:00:20 AM) "Thanks EV Collier for sharing this informative blog. It is important to know the causes of EMI filters. We use these parts in our daily life in the electronic products so we should know that what are the causes are cures of EMI Filters.

Great job and keep updating!

Laurie Seibert"
Yes:(2/10/2017 7:22:40 AM) "EMI/RFI filter causes and cure. There are very few people who share such information with everyone. I was looking to read such informative blog!

Great job!

Lisa Wilson
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