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Old 09-12-2015, 13:52   #1
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I want to be a marine electronics tech - how?

Ex USN submarine radioman here. Long time sailing enthusiast. Still dreaming of the perfect liveaboard!

I would love to shift my lifetime tech career efforts into installing/supporting all manner of marine electronics. I have massive experience in electronics, design/planning, installation, and troubleshooting. I'm honestly "a natural," at these kinds of things. Got a degree in computer networking, even; been a sys/net-admin for most of my career. Who also loves sailing!

I realize there are several marine electronics certifications. I would obtain the first, or more. I would likely need to move to "where all the boats are" that do their boating year round (currently in NYC area; not the best choice for this plan, by far).

I also realize many cruisers or other thrifty folks (myself included) just do their own work. So I'd probably want to target an area with plenty of wealthy boat owners and big boats, who wouldn't hesitate to pay for service. Try to find a solid/successful service business to get my foot in the door with...

So, short of getting a cert' and moving to FL, what advice have you all got for me? I eagerly await your suggestions!
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Old 10-12-2015, 15:56   #2
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Re: I want to be a marine electronics tech - how?

I haven't yet been full-time for longer than 3 months at a stretch as a marine electrical tech, but I have worked some, and here's what I did:

  • Like you I already had extensive experience in electrical and electronics
  • At one point, I did some moonlighting doing the in-store electronic repairs for a marine electronics shop
  • One year when I was bored, I actually apprenticed for 4 months at a marine diesel shop; they taught me about diesels and boat maintenance, and I did their electrical installs and repairs
  • When I thought that I might like to transition into this fulltime, I joined ABYC and successfully completed their Marine Electrical certification
  • I did another spell as an "apprentice", this time for a marine electrical specialist, and attended a few manufacturer's seminars
At this point, I feel that I could be successful if I wanted to go out on my own as a marine electrician. I haven't done so, because I found some aspects of it hard on my old bones, but mainly because I can still make twice as much writing software. For now, I do free boatwork for friends...


Another more electronics oriented certification is NMEA.


In your shoes, yes I would get a cert and move to FL... or some other coastal place with many recreational boats. (I would expect that there's still alot of boatwork in/around NYC... ask around) You're more likely to get that first opportunity in a bigger market, working at a dealers or a service shop. This is when you really learn the business and make those important connections which will help you stay informed of opportunities. The boat service industry is not that big. If you're good, dependable and make some friends you'll have a career; if you suck that will get out as well.


There's also some seasonal opportunities around popular lakes, if you don't insist on saltwater.


Best wishes.
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Old 10-12-2015, 16:15   #3
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Re: I want to be a marine electronics tech - how?

Forget about working on little sailboats. Big Sport fishermen, Motor yachts etc. This way you too can afford a boat by being able to actually charge for all your time.
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Old 10-12-2015, 16:30   #4
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Re: I want to be a marine electronics tech - how?

Greetings and welcome aboard the CF, kleet.
What Lake-Effect & Guy said.
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Old 10-12-2015, 17:23   #5
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Re: I want to be a marine electronics tech - how?

Get an STCW '95 with Manila Amendments 2010.
Get an ENG1 Med certificate.
Join Facebook "Crew Helping Crew" and others,
Post your CV as an ETO (Electro Technical Officer) on Megayachts
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Old 10-12-2015, 17:30   #6
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Re: I want to be a marine electronics tech - how?

Thank you so much everyone, for your guidance/advice! And thanks for such a meaty response, LakeE! Especially the bit about making double the money coding! Although among sailors, max income isn't always the primary goal; right?

All comments were valuable food for thought, that I'm savoring now...
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Old 10-12-2015, 17:45   #7
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Re: I want to be a marine electronics tech - how?

Just to confirm Lake E I think that most people who work on boat electronics need to have other boat related skills in order to keep busy in the marine industry year round. I met a diesel mechanic who said he had to learn some electronics installs to be busy in San Deigo. Good luck with it and thanks for your service.
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Old 10-12-2015, 19:09   #8
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Re: I want to be a marine electronics tech - how?

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Originally Posted by Charlie View Post
Just to confirm Lake E I think that most people who work on boat electronics need to have other boat related skills in order to keep busy in the marine industry year round.
Hi Charlie,

I do know a couple of guys in our sizable boat market who are just about 100% doing boat electrical (one- or two-person operations)... Ok, maybe just 95% cos I caught one doing shrink-wrapping as well

And CF's electrical guru MaineSail - I believe he's about 100% electrical.

But yeah, the more arrows in your quiver, the better.

kleet - what Charlie said: thanks for your service and good luck in your new path
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Old 10-12-2015, 20:01   #9
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Re: I want to be a marine electronics tech - how?

kleet...

In Florida, the one thing you can do to distinguish yourself as a marine service technician is:

Show up at the boat when you say you will.

This is a rare commodity, IME.

Good Luck
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Old 12-12-2015, 08:12   #10
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Re: I want to be a marine electronics tech - how?

Thanks for all the advice, everyone!
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Old 12-12-2015, 09:35   #11
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Re: I want to be a marine electronics tech - how?

As an interim assignment you might consider working for a West Marine in their electronics sales department. It will prepare you for how to work with retail customers, broaden your knowledge of specific equipment that the customers are looking at, allow you to see the breadth and complexity of work in this field. Electronics for yachts and commercial work boats is unlike big grey boats. And, once you get your feet wet, you will find that West will be your best referring partner, giving your biz cards to their customers. Good luck!
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Old 12-12-2015, 10:19   #12
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Re: I want to be a marine electronics tech - how?

Google marine electronics in Ft Lauderdale, Annapolis, San Diego, San Francisco, and Newport RI and start calling them to see if they are looking for more help. Ask them what certifications they are looking for. Don't be afraid of the phone--these are fellow techies you will be talking to.
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Old 12-12-2015, 11:08   #13
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Re: I want to be a marine electronics tech - how?

I started out with zero boat experience from a white collar career but always interested in electricity and electronics. I apprenticed at a boat yard for electrical and general tech work (e.g. also put in my share of toilet troubleshooting and crap). I got my ABYC electrical cert which was nice but not critical. If you do get a cert it does show that you are more serious than some others so it might help you. The customers want you to do a good job and word of mouth counts for much more than that. It is helpful if you are starting your own shop for marketing. I convinced by bosses that I could put in chartplotters, GPSs, radios, radars and such rather than just subbing that work out. So I started doing that but we didn't do enough so it was hit or miss.

After I came back from cruising a few years I got a job as an electronics tech from a friend who worked there. They valued my boat and electrical background and the electronics I had done. Most installs are not all that technically challenging but they are, like most things, common-sense challenging. If I were you I would try to get on as a tech for a shop which needs help and learn your way in to more and more challenging projects - designing complete systems, larger more complicated boats, etc. The bigger boats can be very challenging indeed and to my knowledge there really isn't a school or course which has all the knowledge you get from experience figuring out the integration of systems across vendors and different tech.

There are some basic tech classes you can take from NMEA though, e.g. NMEA 2000 networks and devices. But the real value to a shop is experience doing things. So you need to find a way to break in and start getting the experience. If you lived near a vendor, e.g. Furuno USA, you "might" be able to get in with your general electronics background but that is not the same work as a field tech.

Start visiting some shops. Buy one the techs a lunch or a beer or just go to lunch with them if you can. Ask them. Every shop is always interested in meeting quality talent even if they aren't hiring. Not all of them but most IME.

Good luck.
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Old 13-12-2015, 05:39   #14
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Re: I want to be a marine electronics tech - how?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Lake-Effect View Post

And CF's electrical guru MaineSail - I believe he's about 100% electrical.

But yeah, the more arrows in your quiver, the better.

kleet - what Charlie said: thanks for your service and good luck in your new path
I acquire new customers for electrical stuff but once you have them you must be a jack of all trades. A good customer will always ask you to do more than electrical. There are only a few things I don't do such as varnish and glass work (unless autopilot or seacock etc. related).

FWIW I never go looking for marine electronics installs, I do marine electrical... There is very little money in electronics. You are an unpaid field tester for manufacturers who very often produce unreliable an untested crap loaded with software glitches, bugs and compatibility issues and then they don't reimburse you for their errors. You are also a tutor to owners who simply don't understand the technology. They don't expect to pay for "simple questions" yet you can't bill another customer for the hour you just spent explaining something that is right in the owners manual.

I could write pages on the state of marine electronics and why it is only about 5% of what I do but I won't bore you with the gory details other than to say good luck if you expect to do just marine electronics..
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Old 13-12-2015, 11:39   #15
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Re: I want to be a marine electronics tech - how?

True words from Maine Sail on this. Boat electronics is not a slam dunk, doe the install and walk away. There is high rework, much of which may be from customer-selected equipment that does not work as advertised, for which the customer may believe you should be responsible for (on your nickel). And, spot on on being a jack of all trades - I have done toilets and rewired electrical panels after installing electronics. But you can decide not to do it. I think MS is also implying that you may be in a position where you need the work since you may not have your order book completely full all the time. I personally like the variety of work.
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