Smear Campaign

After a few coastal cruises or hardcore fishing trips, it’s not uncommon for the display on a boat’s sonar, chartplotter or multifunction navigational system to end up covered with smudges, smears, fingerprints and salt crystals. Add in some rain or windy weather, and the problem is compounded with water droplets and abrasive salt spray. And with most manufacturers moving toward modern touch screen or hybrid touch screen display technologies, the need to keep screens clean will be even more important as boaters and fishermen routinely tap and drag their grimy digits across their boat’s liquid crystal displays.


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With touch screen technology increasing in popularity, it’s time we all learn how to properly clean our electronics. Photo: Navico

“Today’s color LCDs are bigger, bolder and provide higher resolution images than ever before, while simultaneously providing an incredible amount of information to boaters. However, they can’t perform at their best if they are all dirty,” said Scott Heffernan, Sales Manager for The GPS Store.

Some electronics manufacturers offer their own branded cleaning solutions and products, and you can’t go wrong using those either.

“This is an area of routine maintenance where many boaters tend to look the other way, more willing to squint through the dirt or adjust their distance or viewing angle rather than addressing the problem. Keeping your boat’s displays clean isn’t rocket science, but do it incorrectly and you can actually cause permanent damage,” added Hefferman.

Mind Your Manners

If you do nothing else, just making sure you wash, rinse, or at the very least wipe off your hands before reaching for that knob, button or touch screen display can go a long way toward keeping your electronics from getting dirty in the first place. This is especially true for anglers who’ve been handling slimy bait or unhooking fish, but any boater has the capacity to smudge up screens with natural skin oils, sunscreen, fish blood, or simply the dirt and residue picked up from boat surfaces.

Don’t Do It

Okay, we’ve all done it—grabbed the tail of our T-shirt, a used napkin from lunch, a grimy towel or whatever happens to be handy to quickly wipe off anything from fingerprints to fish scales. Wiping a dry LCD screen is a terrible idea and can lead to a permanently scratched surface. Anything on the display—salt crystals, dust, fish scales and slime—becomes an abrasive agent and can cause permanent damage to the LCD surface. Considering that handy things are often already dirty and paper towels are inherently abrasive, you will actually be doing more harm than good, so don’t do it!

The Right Stuff

Internet message boards are full of home remedies for cleaning electronic displays—Windex, vinegar, furniture polish, etc. Do you really want to trust your $5,000 radar or sounder screen to an abrasive chemical because a stranger on a forum in Arkansas claims it worked for him? Chemicals and abrasives can remove the UV coating from your unit’s display in addition to leaving an unwanted residue. At all costs you should completely avoid solutions with ammonia, ethyl alcohol and methyl chloride. The use of household window cleaner should also be avoided.

Several companies now make marine LCD cleaners designed specifically for the job. Electro Wipes by Baja Products ( are anti-static cleaning wipes that are trusted by boaters across the country. Some electronics manufacturers offer their own branded cleaning solutions and products, and you can’t go wrong using those either. The bottom line is that you should only use cleaners designed for the job.

Freshwater In A Pinch
If the proper cleaning solutions or products aren’t available, freshwater can be used to remove salt and grime before wiping. Use a fine-mist spray bottle or gently dribble bottled water over the display from top to bottom. From here you can use a soft, clean microfiber cloth like that used to clean sunglasses to wipe clean.

Power Down

Make sure to turn your electronics off when preparing to clean the displays. You’ll be able to see and remove all of the dirt and fingerprints more effectively. In addition, heat from the displays can evaporate the cleaning solution before it can do its job. This is also a good reason not to clean your electronics in direct sunlight.

Easy Does It

Don’t apply too much pressure when wiping off LCD displays, as this can cause damage and increase the chance of scratching if the screen or cloth is dirty. Even a single salt or sand crystal barely visible to the naked eye can cause serious damage. Re-apply cleaner or use additional specialized wipes on stubborn smudges and wipe gently, rather than bearing down on the sensitive screen.

Go Undercover

Most electronics come with hard plastic protective covers for storage and it’s in your best interest to use them. If you clean your displays at the end of each trip, you’ll avoid letting dirt, skin oil or grime harden before your next outing. Pop the covers on after cleaning, and you can start your next trip with clean and clear displays.

No matter how large or small, your marine electronics suite is key to safe navigation and successful fishing. Incredibly sensitive and easily scratched, don’t ruin your expensive electronics with improper cleaning procedures and abrasive chemical solutions. Do it right or don’t do it at all.