Sheesh, this GPS/chartplotter/sonar thing is going to prove to be as big a challenge as finding and buying the boat!
Stopped into a sporting goods store or two today. Lessee if I can recall what I noticed and was told.
At one store I was comparing a Lowrance LMS-520C (5" diag. screen) against a Lowrance LCX-27C (7" diag. screen) to try to determine if the additional $300 was worth it. (Curiously: It was my wife who suggested I make the comparison. I wonder if she's been replaced by a stunt double when I wasn't looking?) Anyway, my eye was attracted to a Garmin 498 (5" diag.) nearby, for comparison to the smaller Lowrance. I think I liked its display better, but the other thing was: The Garmin was showing me water depth, whereas neither of the Lowrance's were. Later I found out why.
Walked out w/o making a decision. On to the next store.
At the next store, actually had a store employee that both knew something about these devices and was willing to spend time explaining. First off he tells me that, while Lowrance is a good unit, problems arise when they fail. To wit: Service. He said Lowrance, Hummingbird and another brand are all made by the same company and their customer service is universally poor. He said Garmin's, Raymarine's and Northstar's customer service were all excellent.
Then we got into the the cartography. (That's where the water depth listings come from, right?) Whoo boy! He gave me so much infomation, and much of it kind of vague, that I can't recall it all. A few things stuck out: I think
the Lowrance units' optional cartography cover more area than Garmin's do? Unclear on that. We spent more time discussing just Garmin. He said I can buy a chip that'll cover half the Great Lakes ($250), but then I'd need another for the other half (another $250). Nice game they've got going, here. But, he said, I could buy programmable chips that could be downloaded-to from a CD-ROM and, if I bought a big enough chip, perhaps the entire Great Lakes system could fit all at once.
Then it got kinda strange. I asked "Okay, what if I decide to go down to Florida for the wintertime and then want to come back up to Michigan next summer. Can I scrub the Great Lakes maps, load the Florida coastal maps, etc., then scrub them and reload the Great Lakes maps when I get back?" He said I could not. He said
that once a nav map is loaded into the chip from CD-ROM, it couldn't be done again. Say what?!?!
Lastly, I commented that, for the same screen size and features, it appeared to me that Garmin was much
more expensive than Lowrance. (Right now I'm looking at a Garmin 530s in a store flyer. With the option external GPS antenna, it's $860. The Lowrance LMS-520c, which includes the external antenna, runs about $500. He allowed as how that was true, and that Garmin was probably the
most expensive. He suggested that, for my use, Raymarine might be the best way to go.
So now I'm pretty much totally at sea (pun intended) on this whole GPS thing. Maybe I should just learn celestial navigation, instead