Join Date: Aug 2003
Location: Long Island, NY
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You didn't mention your sailing area or type of sailing you plan on doing. IMHO, if you will be daysailing on a small body of water your needs are usually different than if you plan on making multi-day passages, week-long trips, or other such journeys.
Regarding depth finders, the cheapest units are usually around $100. For $300 or so you can get a decent chartplotter with a depth finder (fishfinder) built in. The screen on chart plotter like that would be relatively small (3.5") but would be adequate for many people. For $500 or so you can get a high resolution 5" display, again with integrated fish finder.
As previously mentioned, autopilot is totally separate from the chart plotter. Every AP today can be interfaced to just about every plotter. The 'old' way is NMEA 0183 and the new way is NMEA 2000 but both are fairly simple to do.
My last point is that IMHO there is not much benefit of integrating the plotter and the AP. On my boat, if I'm going somewhere and I don't want to steer I turn on the AP and 'aim' the boat at the destination. By checking the plotter I make the course match the bearing and I'm all set. Every few minutes I might have to make a slight course correction, but that's no big deal and you need to keep watch anyway, right?
Some affordable brands of chart plotters are Lowrance, Eagle, Humminbird, Standard Horizon, Garmin.
Deep Blue C, 2002 C&C 110
Mt. Sinai, NY
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