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Sqeaky electronics get the grease

On most mechanical systems, you can tell when something absolutely needs more grease. It starts to squeak and things don’t work as well. You add grease, and everything gets better (most of the time).

Do you need grease on electronics? You bet, especially on marine electronics! Now why would you use grease on electronics?

The major reason to use grease on marine electronics is to protect the connections. Connections are the weakest point of any electronic system. You might have the most robust, bulletproof displays and interfaces, but if the connections are weak, then nothing will ever work for any amount of time. You can usually tell when the connections in a system are weak when nothing seems to work consistently anymore. Since connectors must use metal to conduct electricity, they are susceptible to corrosion – at least until someone invents a practical room-temperature ceramic superconductor!

Another thing to note is that you must use the correct grease. Some grease for mechanical systems has detergent as an additive. This type of grease can cause electrical problems because of the slightly ionic (and thus conductive) nature of detergents, so it is best to use a grease specifically formulated for protective use on electronics; this is called dielectric grease. This type of grease is usually labelled as silicone or Teflon type grease, although is can also be labelled specifically as dielectric grease.

There are three or four places on an Ockam system that could use a dab of grease, depending on the system vintage.

The first place that can use protective grease is at every BNC junction, especially on mast displays and any other displays where the back connector is exposed to salt water. BNC connectors can actually freeze together through corrosion if left alone for years. Usually, I just smear some grease around the female BNC connector first, then connect the male BNC on to it, and then smear some more grease around the whole thing. It usually pays off to make sure that everything is clean and dry before you do this, because whatever is on there tends to stay there once the grease is applied. I prefer using grease rather than self-vulcanizing tape since it’s easier to see what’s under the grease. Tape tends to trap water and salt inside.

Another place to use protective grease is on the external switch contacts on the rear of the Matryx and Magnum displays. These displays have the screw terminals to attach N/O momentary switches to change the displayed data. On mast displays in particular, salt water can wash over the terminals and short them, causing the display to flip through data pages. Lightly coating these terminals with grease helps prevent accidental page switching. I’ve also seen a few displays where spray-on or brush-on waterproofing varnish has been applied. This will work to protect these terminals, but it can be very difficult to remove the varnish later. Grease just wipes off when you need to remove it.

The mast cable for the wind sensor can also use a bit of grease. I usually goop some inside the connector with the pins, and then just squish the two together and wipe off the excess. This is especially helpful at the top of the mast. Realistically, you don’t go up there and clean off the connector after every race, so salt does accumulate up there and cause corrosion if you’re not careful. It’s a pretty nice feeling knowing that the connector is fairly safe up there and that you aren’t going to be sending someone aloft to fiddle with the wind sensor.

The last place that typically can use some protective grease is only found on older Ockam systems. The 015 Boatspeed interface uses a TNC screw-on connector to attach the boatspeed transducer to the interface. Applying a bit of grease here helps prevent the connectors from corroding together, and helps keep any salt water out. Just a little salt water inside this connection can cause the boatspeed reading to be quite far off, as salt water is conductive and will prevent the correct propagation of the boatspeed signal.

Dielectric grease can be obtain through a variety of sources. It can be purchased directly from Ockam, from a marine supply store, or through many industrial supply stores. Just remember when purchasing, that dielectric grease must be used, not just any grease!

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