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How Do the Top Marine Color Chartplotters with GPS Products Compare

By Stephen Legge

There are many Chartplotters with GPS capability today. We can even get them in our cars and on some new phones, (but that's the subject for another article to come). Garmin, Raymarine, Furuno, Simrad, Sitex, Hummingbird...the list goes on and on. Which chartplotter is the best buy for the buck? Not as easy an answer as you would think. As you may already know, I am a seasoned sailor and I live aboard my boat. I have been sailing for quite a while and have used several different chartplotters. Each of my boats either came with a chartplotter or I added one.

When I bareboat chartered in the Caribbean, each vessel that I bare boated had different systems. I have used quite a number of products. I just wanted to qualify that at the outset of this article. So, Captain Steve, which one was the best? As I said, not such an easy answer. Each chartplotter that I have used, purchased or rented had different qualities that I liked and many of them had issues that I didn't like. Certainly, each boat manufacturer has preferences. Hunter Marine and several other boat manufacturers use Raymarine products. Yet other manufacturers use other products. Does this mean that the manufacturers that use Raymarine know something that I don't? I often wondered about that. As the owner of a marine electronics store, the one thing that I absolutely do know is that "volume = dollars saved".

When a manufacturer, like Hunter Marine, purchases 1000 Raymarine E-80 Chartplotters PLUS the rest of the Raymarine Network accessories, like Depth, Wind, Autopilot and any related item, they save lots of what you and I would like to save-MONEY. Raymarine seems to be the best when it comes to volume buying. But volume buying is not the only factor in determining "which one is best". If that were the case, everybody would be using exclusively Raymarine products. What other factors are determining factors in determining the best chartplotter? Let's discuss them here because they are really the meat of what makes a chartplotter 'our favorite'. First let's talk about screen clarity and daylight readability. The major manufacturers have been competing in this area ever since the introduction of the color screen on chartplotters and I don't believe there are any real clear cut winners in this department.

Garmin just introduced the touch screen and I'm sure that others will follow with hopefully better versions. I purchased a Raymarine C70 Chartplotter a few years ago; because I thought it was the best product for the dollar at the time. I had to have the screen replaced within 1 year. Salt water and fingerprints ruined the screen. I understand that they have improved that today. What about chart readability and accuracy? These are important factors as well. I used a Simrad on a bareboat charter. Changing chips and clarity were good and easy. Raymarine and Furuno both use Navionics charts or CMap NT or Gold or something else. Easy to use, for the most part, but inconvenient if you are traveling and cross a dead zone on the chart and have to quickly change charts---assuming you have the next chip available to change immediately.

Garmin has the charts built-in on a lot of their chartplotters today. They have preloaded "World Map". Nice, since you don't have to change the chip. However, if you want full capability of their new 4200 and 520 0 series, you will be using a Vision card with a specific area. However, to me, the single most important factor in my purchase of a Color Chartplotter, is re-write speed. When I change from one screen to another, does it take 5 minutes for the chart to fully reappear? I had, as I mentioned in my last article, a Garmin 162 chartplotter on my current boat the day that I purchased it. It was an extremely accurate grayscale chartplotter with built-in charts. The big problem for me was...it took forever to rewrite the chart when I used the Zoom function. I could have gotten lost by the time the chart re-wrote itself.

So, after my research was done, I purchased a new Garmin 4208 Color Chartplotter. Does it meet the criteria set above? It does for me and that is what is most important, after all. ME! Do I like it? If I do, then it's the best there is.

Steve Legge is a Licensed Coast Guard Captain. As a cruiser and staff Captain and Maintenance Supervisor for 3 additional boats ranging is size from 31' to 53', he knows the necessity for savings on marine supplies. Visit his store at: http://www.frugalcaptainmarinesupplies.com

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