In the wild world of saltwater fishing, high-quality electronics are not optional. In fact, a fishfinder, radar, global positioning system (GPS) and VHF radio will help you survive.

Saltwater Fishfinder

A good saltwater fishfinder will do more than find fish; it will keep you from running aground. The best saltwater fishfinders use a high-pixel color or grey-scale screen to display a graphic image of the bottom, structure, fish, bait and even the thermocline.

Fishfinders work by using a transducer to send a ping of sound through the water. When the sound hits a fish, a wreck or the bottom, it bounces back to the transducer, which can determine the depth and consistency of the target. A 200-killohertz transducer will create a wide sonar beam to cover a large area in shallow water, while a 50-killohertz beam produces a narrower sonar beam to provide more detail in deeper water. Top-of-the-line fishfinders even offer 3-D side-scan images of the bottom. Most fishfinders also display a digital readout of the water depth and temperature. You can adjust the gain and contrast to pick up small fish in deep water or cut out the clutter from interference.

VHF Radio

A VHF radio not only keeps you in touch with other anglers; it can also keep you out of trouble. A VHF radio is essential for up-to-the-minute weather information on the NOAA Weather Radio band. The U.S. Coast Guard and other authorities monitor VHF channel 16 for boaters in distress and post important warnings and bulletins for mariners. Most radios also have a distress beacon that can be run through the GPS to provide exact coordinates to search-and-rescue teams. In addition to its safety features, a VHF radio can be a valuable fish-finding tool. Use the VHF to keep in contact with buddies, listen to the latest dock gossip, discuss important matters of politics and sports, and tell old stories and new. But whatever you do, don’t get fooled into chasing “radio fish” all over the ocean.

Radar

Radar is another dual-purpose tool on the boat. As a safety device, radar will mark incoming storms and other vessels and navigation hazards. As a fishing device, radar can pick up flocks of birds working over feeding fish. Most boaters only need to get stranded in the fog once before they buy a radar system for their boat. The most advanced models will overlay the radar image on a GPS chart.

GPS

A GPS will get you to the fish and home again, and keep you “on the bite” all day. Use a GPS to locate wrecks and reefs, track the direction and speed of your drift, and set up a trolling pattern. You can also use a GPS to navigate through skinny water, mark hazards and find your way back to the dock. The hottest units include satellite weather, 3-D maps, and aerial photos of ports and harbors.