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Depth Sounder Tip & Troubleshooting

by Dave Alston

Depth sounders come in a wide variety these days.  From the very basic digital depth indicator to an integrated module that is just one part of a complete network.  Depending upon the type of boating you do, your depth sounder may be a handy confirmation of what you already know or a critical part of your reason for going out.  Either way, knowing what’s below the keel is never a bad idea.
Routine Checks:
Occasionally make a visual inspection of the display unit and it’s associated wiring for signs of moisture and to confirm proper seating of cable connections.  Know where your transducer is mounted and regularly check for leakage and the condition of the transducer cable.  Always turn your equipment off prior to starting your engines or changing generators to avoid exposing your electronics to voltage surges.
Loss of Echoes:
Check the DC input voltage and verify proper connection of the transducer cable to the unit.  Confirm proper settings and adjustments of the range and gain controls.  Depending upon your particular unit you may have to change from the “auto” mode to “manual” in order to change the control settings.  Most units have some form of “TVG” (time variable gain) control but may be referred to by another name depending upon the manufacturer.  For tests purposes, this setting should be at minimum.  
Depending upon the access to your particular transducer, you may be able to run a simple test that will confirm that the signal is being send to the transducer and being transmitted.  A transducer will make a small “ticking” sound when it is operating normally.  Unfortunately, you usually have to put your ear up to the transducer to hear it.  In some instances, a section of PVC pipe pressed against the inside of the transducer will pick up enough of the transmit “tick” to be heard.  Listening to your transducer before you have a problem will establish a reference for future tests.     
Transducer Care:
Fortunately, marine transducers are not a high failure item.  Physical impacts to the element face and water intrusion are the main reasons for failure.  The part of the transducer that contacts the water should be kept clean.  Use water and detergent or if necessary, lightly sand to remove marine growth.  Inspect the transducer cable for cuts that may allow water to get inside.  Make sure there is a clean flow of water across the transducer face.  Anything that produces air bubbles ahead of the transducer may inhibit proper operation.