We get a lot of questions regarding electonics, so I will write up my impressions of the Raymarine prodcuts as objectively as possible. Electronics rank as one of the more significant purchases you will make on the boat, so make sure it is worth it.
The E series CP and radar is a considerable improvement over the old RL series in my opinion, as I have owned both. You can "daisy chain" them together in series which allows a quick relay of information between them. The E series differs from the C series in that you can control the functions between any of the units and they talk to each other. THis is very nice because it allows you to:
1) Plot your course, etc from your nav station. When I personally lay out a long run, I have PAPER maps and charts everywhere. I find it is a pain to do that in the cockpit. Thus, you can sit down below and review/put in all of your waypoints and make your route without sitting outside. Once I have saved the route, it will be relayed/read to the unit at the helm.
2) Review your course from your nav station/seperate location. The REALITY is that when you are offshore, you are not sitting at the helm all day waiting for the off chance that a boat will cross the horizon. You will keep watch in the cockpit, but will get up and make coffee, snacks, or go to the head which takes you down below. I always bring up the radar so I can keep glancing over at it and know when something is appriaching - often before I can see it.
3) Bring up different screens. Depending on the run (offshore/coastal), I will seperate the screens to my prefered settings. For example, at the helm I keep up the Chart Plotter on one half and the radar on the other. I will occasionally flip over to see what the Cross Track error is and time to target. Down below, I usually keep up the radar on one side and the log information on the other. I personally make 30min paper plots for dead reckoning (just in case). You can also make the screens totally custom to show just the information you want. It is easy to do with the E/C series Raymarine.
- The E/C series all scroll quickly. THat was a major frustration with the old RL series that they slow to scroll - which was a MAJOR PITA when plotting courses and reviewing waypoints.
- THe E/C series has a Find Ship function that quickly puts the cursor on your current position and holds that into the middle of the screen so that the screen scrolls versus the boat moving off the screen. I believe you have the ability to change that the boat moving instead and refreshing at the end of the page - but I detest that function so have never tried.
- Installation is one of the big plusses for the E/C series. It is about as Plug-Play as it gets.
- You can easily pull up tide information from any area at any time (even future).
- You can pull up telephone numbers and addresses of about any marina with that information - and there is a lot. This is of course assuming the info has not changed.
- Navionics charts are very detailed and have many nice functions, including a 3-d overview and satellite pictures, but they are expensive.
- I find it easy to manuever through the screens and appreciate the customability of the units.
- MARPA. This stands for Mini Automatic Radar Plotting Aid. It basically tracks your course/heading against up to 10 other contacts. If there is going to be a collision, it warns you. I have not spent enough time with this to give it a thumbs up or down... but still a very nice tool to have in crowded harbors or shipping lanes.
- The Radar overlay on the screen is absolutely an awesome function. In my opinion, it helps account for the reality of where things are versus where the CP says they are. Though the units are better now than 5-10 years ago, there is still an offset. It also allows you to focus more on the CP versus having to keep look between the radar and CP. THis is very helpful when travelling down the ICW at night which is a hair raising experience in shallow, narrow lanes. You will see pilings that are not supposed to be there and one missing where the CP says they are.
- You can Overlay weather up to X miles offshore. I have been told 200 by some, and 20 by others??? This requires a Sirius weather receiver (which will also recieve your music) and a subscription that ranges from about 20/month for the very basic and 50 for everything which includes wave height, period, doppler radar, weather predictions, etc. I DO NOT HAVE THIS, I am only telling you what I have been told. So, this is hear-say. The garmin unit also uses this, though it requires a XM subscription (at basically the same cost). However, be aware that XM is being purchased by Sirius if the SEC approves.
- Very nice numerical information is relayed from the peripheral units (wind/depth, etc). You can custom this to your personal preferences. This is a really nice function that we use a LOT when plotting offshore.
- Easy communication and connection b/t Raymarine wind/depth/speed.
- You have the ability to put cameras (up to 4 I think) on the unit and video monitor different areas. We have considered putting one in the kids cabin, but have not used this function yet.
- Another REALLY neat function we have not taken advantage of (and I THINK is unique to Raymarine) is the personal locators. It is a little orance wristband you put on yourself, kids, dink, etc... and if it ever gets more than a certain distance from the boat (30 feet I think) it sets off an alarm. I think it sets off a MOB. I personally know this would make me sleep more at rest on long runs at night. Losing one of my kids or my wife at night is a nightmare I always have.
- The picture quality is very nice at night and day. You can easily reduce the brightness for running at night. I have never had a problem seeing the screen even in the brightest sun.
- The cost. If you can get by with one unit (preferably at the helm, of course) you will save a LOT of money, since you can use the C series which is considerably cheaper and appears to have all the functionability of a single E series. I would estimate the cost difference at 3500-4000 once you inclide cables, etc (not including install difference). I will say that I priced out the difference between the E series and the comparable of Garmin (which is the only other unit I personally would consider outside of RayMarine) and the cost was about the same to get the same functionability.
- You cannot turn on one unit (a slave) without the master being set on. In other words, when you set these up, you tell the system which of the units is the Master. It always has to be on. Since my Master is at the Nav (which I may change), I cannot turn on the unit at the helm and leave the unit down below off to save power. I feel that is a negative.
- Once you know how to set up the customability of the unit, you will do it in a snap. However, figuring it our the first time is a pain.
- Service. I have had some experience with the service on my RL series and was not overly impressed. They fixed it without charging me a dime, but they could have been a little more friendly. I have heard others say that too. I have also had others swear by them as being VERY nice... so take my comments as my personal experience only. I have not had to deal with them for many years, so it may have improved (or gotten worse!!).
- The Daisy Chain/(HSB): Well, It is a positive and a negative. The positive is that it makes it very easy to install. The negative is that if you lose a HSB anywhere, you will basically lose everything. I had a cable come lose on my depth, and my CP's and radar both went into error mode. Luckily, it did not matter at the time and I tracked down the source. But in a storm offshore or making a narrow entrance at night I would have a heart attack. Also, they really should put in some type of a clip to hold the USB connections inplace. Since they are held there by "pressure" alone, they are doomed to work out over time (in my opinion). Basically, can you spell maintenance?? Like I need something else to keep an eye on with my boat.
I have used the Radome 2kw on tso different boats now that I have owned. It seems bulletproof. I have never had any issues.
Absolutely no issues that would not an issue on any unit (like the paddle wheel gumming up). I won't buy anything but.
ST 6001+ Autopilot
Bulletproof. Never had any problems. I will go further to say that one time we were offshore in 10-15 breakers off our stbd, stern quarter. We had three boats with us. For 27 hours, our autopilot was the only one that held where the others gave out. I will not buy anything but.
In my opinion, I feel they make the best units for our use. I think Garmin is a very, very, very close second and I would strongly consider Garmin (except that new touch screen... not so sure about how that will work in cold weather with gloves on or stand up to the weather). It has its little quirks and since I have owned both Garmin and Raytheon (and Raymarine) products, I feel compelled to say that you will be up and running quicker on the Garmins than you will the Raytheons. However, once you learn how to manuever the Raymarine products, you will not have any difficulties.
These are just my opinions, so take them as such. I have personally owned the RL 70 series (BW and color), Garmin stand-alone color CP (cannot remember the model now), and used Furuno (sp??) products offshore but have not owned them - so will limit my responses there. I will be happy to answer any question I can on what I can.