Electronic charts & SSB weather
Doug, this topic has been tackled before (only a few weeks ago, in one case) so you may want to search the Archives.
Your question is the most common one. After all, its the content on the media, not the buttons on the console, that mostly determine the value of your purchase. Regretably, there is no single vendor who is going to give you the ''best'' charts for all the areas you might be cruising. First, personal preferences play a big role in satisfaction. E.g. some folks love Imray charts but I find them visually disappointing and sometimes inaccurate. Second, some vendors specialize in a given area and simply outperform the others. E.g. I have seen no raster or vector chart product that rivals the CYC charts for the E Caribbean (four sets of paper and/or CDs, Virgins to Grenada). Third (and by now, pretty obvious), proprietary chart products run by proprietary software inside proprietary hardware simply exclude you from the ''burden'' but also the pleasure of selecting the ''best'' charts for a given area. That''s why I continue to be most pleased with running chart products on a laptop at the nav station.
No, we don''t get to have a Startrek helm. No, we can''t sit there and stare into the CRT, watching our little icon bop along the course line while in the cockpit. No, we can''t overlay our radar picture onto our chart representation. (My, that''s a pricey option...). Do we find any of this necessary, after perhaps 25,000 NM? No. Is our flight planning before a coastal run or offshore passage harder than with a dedicated chart plotter? I don''t think so. Was our choice cost effective? Absolutely, which has helped to fund all the paper chart purchases. (Most boats doing long distance cruising carry at least one laptop for a variety of uses). How many different chart products have we now used? Six, at last count (NOAA, NIMA, CYC, Maxsea, CMap, and Imray. Also played with BA).
Depending on how distant your cruising plans, you might also consider whether it wouldn''t be prudent to have somewhat of a 21st century alternative if your one and only chart plotter craps out. (In our case, we have an old but surviving laptop plus duplicates of the CDs...so our charting eggs aren''t all in one basket). If a dedicated plotter goes south on its crew, they usually only have manual plotting on paper charts to fall back on, trying to pull down GPS coord''s onto paper, taking visual bearings and again manually plotting them, etc. Very painful and, for the half-seasick, tired crew member, all of this is prone to errors. You might want to reallocate a portion of the Chartplotter + Software budget for a Yeoman Navigator Pro, a thin graphics pad that sits 24/7 on your chart table and on which you lay your paper chart. Suddenly, you have a mouse with a direct GPS feed and a simple, accurate way to plot on paper with the accuracy of GPS. Just a thought as you mull all your options...
Good luck on all the prep!