How Saltwater Can Damage Your Non-Marine Electronics

There are few things that can destroy things of tiny sizes to things as large and sturdy as mountains, but sea water is one of those things. It can erode mountains, leaks can destroy sturdy boats clad in iron, and it can even be toxic when consumed for drinking water.

That's why it's no surprise that the leading cause of electronics failure for people whom enjoy marine recreational activities tends to be salty water. There are a number of mechanisms at work when it comes to why, so let's take this time to try to explain what kind of damage that sea water can do to non-marine electronics.

What Makes Salty Water Dangerous?

A fun fact about electronics and water is that pure water won't actually cause a short. If you spilled pure H2O on your computer while it was clean of every speck of dust and any other particles, your computer would be perfectly fine.

The problem is that water makes for a decent conductor when certain polarized minerals are added to it.

This is why water that you obtain from your tap will generally cause any electronics to fry when you spill it on them. They contain trace amounts of things like sodium, chlorine and other chemicals that make it possible for water to conduct an electrical charge.

Salt water in particular is dangerous to electronics due to the fact that NaCl acts like charged ions when separated by water. Their bond, while classified as a weak ionic bond in chemistry, is still strong enough to make it possible for salt water to pull electronics from other materials that would normally conduct electricity.

This is one of the reasons that rust is so prominent on vessels that travel the sea, as rust is a chemical process where iron gives up an electron willingly to bond with something else.

Why is it Harmful to Electronics?

The unique properties that gives salty water its ability to be a conductor means that it has a few process going on when it come sin contact with electronics that haven't been designed to work in marine environments.

The most obvious and foremost of those dangers concerns when an electronic becomes submerged in salt water. This allows multiple shorts to be created as the water bridges the various circuits, which in turn quickly fries any electronic device that's turned on.

The results can be so dangerous that it can even start a fire, which is something that you want to avoid while on the sea. Not only will you be without the use of the electronic equipment, but the fire could spread to your vessel and force you to abandon ship.

The other major process that salt water has going for it concerns how it works in small amounts. While at sea, the water will force its way through the air to any electronics that you have stored aboard your vessel.

When sea water comes in contact with electronic circuitry that hasn't been designed to work in that environment, it will begin to corrode the protective seal that these circuits have before working to corrode the electrical connections. This can result in faulty equipment, equipment that produces incorrect readings and equipment that can short out and produce fires.

The problem here is that this can happen regardless of if you have the electronic device powered at the time. Salty water will work over a period of days to weeks to decompose and break any bonds that your electronics have starting from the first moment that they come in contact with the circuitry.

What Can You Do to Prevent This?

There's a few things that you can do to prevent damage to your electronics by way of salt water.

The first is that you can store your electronics in cases that will keep salty water out. The problem is that you'll expose your electronics to it if you ever take them outside of the package.

The second is that you can seal your electronics in cases that allow them to be functional without being exposed to salty water. This can sometimes be a valid solution, but it tends to be error-prone and costly.

The third and best solution is to simply use gear that has been designed to work in a marine environment. This ensures that you'll get full use of your equipment without having to worry about taking as many special precautions to avoid the damage that salt water can cause.