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Can I use a regular computer monitor?

2016 September 1

Dear Boat Doctor,

We’ve used an Argonaut T-Flex marine monitor on our boat for more than 15 years. It worked great because it allowed us to keep the laptop running the navigation software safely in the nav desk and it operated with a wireless mouse. We could see it even with sun glare and we never had to worry about power spikes or water damage if a wave came down the companionway. Unfortunately it finally gave up and we’ve been told it’s beyond repair. New marine monitors are very expensive and we’ve had more than one electronics person tell us to just buy a regular monitor. In addition to the mounting issue (we have a hole that already fits a marine monitor), we’re concerned about power usage, possible exposure to the elements and the shock that a monitor on a boat that beats to windward has to endure. Is a regular monitor really a viable option and if so what should we look for?

Melanie Adams

Bristol, Rhode Island

Dear Melanie,

The marine environment is a harsh one, wet and sunny with lots of shock and vibration. Marine monitors are built to thrive in this environment, but the extensive engineering required and the relative low volumes sold make them very expensive. A marinized, sunlight readable monitor can easily be $3,000 to $5,000. Meanwhile, advances in the consumer space have totally commoditized LCD monitors and driven the cost way down. A quick stroll through Amazon will yield many good-sized displays for $150 to $250.

If you were mounting a display on deck there would be no choice as the sun totally washes out a normal monitor and the moisture would kill it in a wet afternoon. But I think you can use a consumer monitor down below as they can handle normal shock and vibration. It will be difficult to read if the sun is shining directly on it, and it won’t survive a green-water douse or a whack from a errant winch handle, but you can buy 20 or more consumer monitors for the price of one marinized model.

You do need to find a monitor with a 12-volt DC input because you don’t want to have to run it from an inverter. Most monitors are DC powered and come with a little external power supply. You just need to find one that has a 12-volt supply. You’ll need to dig through the specs a bit to find the DC voltage, a detail that is unimportant to most land-based users. You’ll also want to make sure that it can be dimmed from a control on the front so you can permanently mount it.

As far as mounting, I’d fill that cutout and utilize a standard mount that interfaces to the monitor’s VESA mount. I have had great luck with the OMF mount from OmniMount, very low profile, secure and inexpensive.