Join Date: Apr 2003
Location: Rock Creek, Maryland
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Re: Handheld GPS differences
It sounds like you really need a fixed mount chartplotter that has a screen big enough to see the "big picture" of what's around if you are going without paper charts (please keep paper charts as backup). What kind of boat is this and how do you sail it? Day sail or cruising for weekends or more? This makes a difference. Some points I think are important:
The chartplotter should be able to connect to a laptop or comp so you can do route planning on a bigger screen. This can be through a wire connection or SD Card connection. You will need a special charting program on your comp. Garmin includes one with many of their plotters.
Garmin is a very good, easy to operate, intuitive choice. Their charts are proprietary though and must be purchased. You do get your home area with the unit. They do not read the CPN charts like some other plotters do. OpenCPN are the free charts downloadable. They are made by NOAA. Harmon's proprietary charts are good and very user friendly.
Some plotters don't stitch together the OpenCPN charts into 1 overall chart which gets problematic as you sail off 1 chart onto the next.
You will need to develop a system of managing your routes and waypoints in an easily remembered pattern. Otherwise it becomes too chaotic.
You really don't need the 3D charting of many of the last gen plotters. It's neat but unless your sailing is entering new and unfamiliar ports with dangerous shoals it becomes "overkill."
Play with the machines before you buy. Create routes and waypoints because some units are much easier to figure out.
While connecting the plotter to other electronics is nice, it isn't necessary. Connecting it to the VHF with dsc is highly recommended for automatic transmission of lat/lon to the Coastguards Rescue 21 system though.
Connecting your plotter to the ships power is advise alb as they chew up battery power.
Size matters. The small hand held units don't allow you to see the overall route or a big enough picture to make sure you are not sailing across a landmass. I'd say the you would want the 5" screen as a minimum. You set a route for best distance but the wind doesn't always allow this. You need to pan back to see where you are going in relation to your route and see if your heading is taking you into shoal waters.
There are more thoughts but these are a good start to help you decide what system is best for you.
Sailing out of Rock Creek, Chesapeake Bay
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