Deciphering what I need in a GPS chartplotter
There are many threads on GPS chartplotter recommendations but I find that most are a few years old. Please excuse me for starting yet another one but I am guessing that the technology has gotten better and the prices lower…
I am looking to mount a smallish GPS chartplotter on my Edson steering pedestal on a J/28. I have never owned a chartplotter before. After attending the Boston Boat Show last week, I came away more confused tha ever. The boat is moored north of Boston and currently has the original 1986, still functional, instruments on it: KM, DS, and ancient Loran.
My requirements: I want a unit that has a relatively small footprint with a 5 to 8" screen with good resolution & definition in bright sunlight. Dependability and ease of use are also important. I don’t intend to have multiple stations. I have been thinking of the (a) Raymarine A65 ~$1300, (b) yet-unreleased Garmin 540 5” high-res ~$650, (c) Si-Tex ColorMax Wide 7" ~$700, (d) Furuno GP1710C NavNet 7'' ~$900, and (e) Northstar 8.4" M84 ~$1400. The latter 3 all have the ability to add radar whereas the first two do not. There is large price range and features in this list. Money is an issue but I don’t want to be penny-wise, pound-foolish later on.
Question 1: do I really need the combination fishfinder sonar to replace my DS? These seem nice but I don't care about fish. Stupid sub-question: does a GPS chartplotter display the chart's theoretical depth with sonar or do I have to have the dual frequency fishfinder sonar to display the depth?
Question 2: What is the advantage of horizontal vrs. vertical chart orientation? The Furuno and Garmin have vertical orientation whereas the others are all horizontal (which seems better to me).
Question 3: Radar seems like a nice-to-have feature to me, whereas others would say it is more important than GPS in the cold waters on New England. How much more does the extra radar gear cost for the Furuno/Si-Tex/Northstar add (I couldn't get a straight answer out of the guys at Boston Boat Show)?
Question 4: What is in a brand name in terms of reliability and service? I've heard great things about Raymarine's service, questionable things about Northstar, and I have no experience with Si-Tex or Furuno. Garmin is a mixed bag in my experience.
Question 5: Do these units get ripped off when the boat is at mooring? Should I install it so that it can be stowed away during the week?
Question 6: Is an external antenna necessary? The boat has a bimini that isn’t used much. Most of the units require an external antenna and I am assuming that I'd replace the Loran antenna with a GPS one.
Question 7: How do you install the associated electrical, antenna, sonar, and radar cabling? Does it go through the pedestal or into the deck near the pedestal? Should I have a professional do this?
Except for size, the Northstar makes the most sense if I really need radar and sonar. The Si-Tex is a good compromise in terms of size, price, and add-on features. I like the ease of use of the Raymarine. The Garmin looks to be a snap to install. The Furuno has a good name. And so it goes. Your experiences and advice would be appreciated.
Thanks in advance,