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Old 02-25-2007
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Deciphering what I need in a GPS chartplotter

There are many threads on GPS chartplotter recommendations but I find that most are a few years old. Please excuse me for starting yet another one but I am guessing that the technology has gotten better and the prices lowerÖ

I am looking to mount a smallish GPS chartplotter on my Edson steering pedestal on a J/28. I have never owned a chartplotter before. After attending the Boston Boat Show last week, I came away more confused tha ever. The boat is moored north of Boston and currently has the original 1986, still functional, instruments on it: KM, DS, and ancient Loran.

My requirements: I want a unit that has a relatively small footprint with a 5 to 8" screen with good resolution & definition in bright sunlight. Dependability and ease of use are also important. I donít intend to have multiple stations. I have been thinking of the (a) Raymarine A65 ~$1300, (b) yet-unreleased Garmin 540 5Ē high-res ~$650, (c) Si-Tex ColorMax Wide 7" ~$700, (d) Furuno GP1710C NavNet 7'' ~$900, and (e) Northstar 8.4" M84 ~$1400. The latter 3 all have the ability to add radar whereas the first two do not. There is large price range and features in this list. Money is an issue but I donít want to be penny-wise, pound-foolish later on.

Question 1: do I really need the combination fishfinder sonar to replace my DS? These seem nice but I don't care about fish. Stupid sub-question: does a GPS chartplotter display the chart's theoretical depth with sonar or do I have to have the dual frequency fishfinder sonar to display the depth?

Question 2: What is the advantage of horizontal vrs. vertical chart orientation? The Furuno and Garmin have vertical orientation whereas the others are all horizontal (which seems better to me).

Question 3: Radar seems like a nice-to-have feature to me, whereas others would say it is more important than GPS in the cold waters on New England. How much more does the extra radar gear cost for the Furuno/Si-Tex/Northstar add (I couldn't get a straight answer out of the guys at Boston Boat Show)?

Question 4: What is in a brand name in terms of reliability and service? I've heard great things about Raymarine's service, questionable things about Northstar, and I have no experience with Si-Tex or Furuno. Garmin is a mixed bag in my experience.

Question 5: Do these units get ripped off when the boat is at mooring? Should I install it so that it can be stowed away during the week?

Question 6: Is an external antenna necessary? The boat has a bimini that isnít used much. Most of the units require an external antenna and I am assuming that I'd replace the Loran antenna with a GPS one.

Question 7: How do you install the associated electrical, antenna, sonar, and radar cabling? Does it go through the pedestal or into the deck near the pedestal? Should I have a professional do this?

Except for size, the Northstar makes the most sense if I really need radar and sonar. The Si-Tex is a good compromise in terms of size, price, and add-on features. I like the ease of use of the Raymarine. The Garmin looks to be a snap to install. The Furuno has a good name. And so it goes. Your experiences and advice would be appreciated.

Thanks in advance,

Bob
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Old 02-25-2007
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Bob, I have a Edison Pedestal and I have a garmin 498c mounted to it. It came with all the maps for the USA. It also has a DS. I also have an internal antenna on my chartpotter which works find and is one less wire to worry about. I did the install myself was pretty straight forward. It really depends on your boat on how hard or easy the install is.
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Old 02-25-2007
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Bob,
just a couple thoughts, One get one with a numeric key pad. It makes entering way points faster. although these new multi function units are nice,the ability overlay radar on the chart is very helpful) I generally prefer stand alone systems. I have been using northstar gps for the last ten years,the 941 at first and the 952 now. hands down they are the most user freindly and reliable piece of electronics I've ever had. they're so easy you really don't even need the manual. as far as quality goes other than the nothstar I use all furuno electronics at work they are just about bullet proof I wish I could afford to to put all new furuno equipment on my Sail boat but can't justify it right now.
You probably don,t need the sonar. As far as chart orientation I think its more personal prefrence. Gps and radar your stuck with running anntennas and wire.
If you want and can afford the very best find a good local marine electrician buy all your gear from him and have him install it. that way you know its done right and you have an actual person to go to if something doesn't work right
Hope this helps.
Matt

Last edited by soul searcher; 02-25-2007 at 01:13 PM.
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Old 02-26-2007
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Entering waypoints on the Garmin is relatively easy if you have the garmin software loaded onto a PC...

I don't think that getting a depthsounder/GPS Chartplotter really has that much advantage... I prefer to keep them separate... since I don't always have the GPS on... having them in one unit means that I'd have to keep the GPS on just for depth info.

I like the vertical chart orientation, but it is really a personal preference thing. It also depends on how you use the chartplotter...whether you keep north up or track up on the screen. If you keep track up on the screen, then a vertical orientation makes more sense, as you can see more of the area ahead of your track that way.

Radar is nice to have in NE but not really a necessity. Garmin has a small radar unit that is supposed to be quite good.

The Garmin is easy to install so that it is easily removable... I prefer to have mine installed on a swing arm, so I can use it both in the cockpit and at the nav station... and then when I'm away from the boat, it is locked up inside quite safely, without having to dismount it.

External antenna is nice in really bad weather, but really not necessary. I have a Garmin with an integrated antenna and never have lost satellite lock on it yet... even when it is in the cabin or beneath the bimini.

As for the wiring... it depends on the individual boat setup... and you may or may not want a pro to do it...based on your personal skill set.
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Old 02-26-2007
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Question 1: do I really need the combination fishfinder sonar to replace my DS? These seem nice but I don't care about fish. Stupid sub-question: does a GPS chartplotter display the chart's theoretical depth with sonar or do I have to have the dual frequency fishfinder sonar to display the depth?
No you don't need it...Chartplotter displays the CHART...depths are from the last survey...not necessarily related to current reality...but mostly!

Question 2: What is the advantage of horizontal vrs. vertical chart orientation? The Furuno and Garmin have vertical orientation whereas the others are all horizontal (which seems better to me).
I agree with CD...I like Vertical and a track up orientation.

Question 3: Radar seems like a nice-to-have feature to me, whereas others would say it is more important than GPS in the cold waters on New England. How much more does the extra radar gear cost for the Furuno/Si-Tex/Northstar add (I couldn't get a straight answer out of the guys at Boston Boat Show)?
Radar is kinda necessary for offshore or fog work...a chartplotter is all you need if you don't do either of those....but radar is always nice to have. Adding the Garmin 18 to the new Garmin Plotters will set you back LESS than a grand.

Question 4: What is in a brand name in terms of reliability and service? I've heard great things about Raymarine's service, questionable things about Northstar, and I have no experience with Si-Tex or Furuno. Garmin is a mixed bag in my experience.
Northstar is high end and quite expensive. I think Raymarines service really sucks. Pretend you own a radar and are having a problem...now try to speak to someone about it!! They do make good products though! I would recommend Garmin for what you need.

Question 5: Do these units get ripped off when the boat is at mooring? Should I install it so that it can be stowed away during the week? YES

Question 6: Is an external antenna necessary? The boat has a bimini that isn’t used much. Most of the units require an external antenna and I am assuming that I'd replace the Loran antenna with a GPS one. NO external is not required.

Question 7: How do you install the associated electrical, antenna, sonar, and radar cabling? Does it go through the pedestal or into the deck near the pedestal? Should I have a professional do this?
(It will be snaked up through the pedastal...get EVERYHING at the same time and let a pro do it while you "help" so you know where to find everything! )
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Old 02-27-2007
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Thank you all for your replies. Regarding buying Garmin because of ease of installation/internal antenna: are there any internal antenna units that also work with radar? For example, the 3205/3206 both can handle radar for $1000 (a price that greatly surprised me) but needs an external antenna?
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Old 02-27-2007
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I don't believe any of the small, internal antenna units can handle the radar input... also, the screen on most of them is too small for it to be feasible, since the radar and GPS split the screen IIRC.

Nothing says that the "external" antenna has to be mounted any specific distance from the chartplotter unit. No reason I can think of that you couldn't install the GPS mushroom right on the mounting bracket that you use for the chartplotter itself.
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Old 02-27-2007
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SD is Correct...all the marine network capable plotters come with the GPS17 mushrom and you need network capable to hook up a radome. No problem hooking up anywhere but you might as well rail mount it for best performance.
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Old 02-27-2007
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Lowrance

Quote:
Originally Posted by rryan14
My requirements: I want a unit that has a relatively small footprint with a 5 to 8" screen with good resolution & definition in bright sunlight. Dependability and ease of use are also important. I donít intend to have multiple stations. I have been thinking of the (a) Raymarine A65 ~$1300, (b) yet-unreleased Garmin 540 5Ē high-res ~$650, (c) Si-Tex ColorMax Wide 7" ~$700, (d) Furuno GP1710C NavNet 7'' ~$900, and (e) Northstar 8.4" M84 ~$1400. The latter 3 all have the ability to add radar whereas the first two do not. There is large price range and features in this list. Money is an issue but I donít want to be penny-wise, pound-foolish later on.
I like Lowrance units. I bought a small (3.5") unit for my last boat and I will be buying a bigger unit (5") for new
newer boat.

The latest 5" units from Lowrance will support radar, there are units with and without sonar, internal and external antenna's, etc.

Lowrance units are very affordable (about $600 for a 5" high res screen with sonar).

Quote:
Question 1: do I really need the combination fishfinder sonar to replace my DS? These seem nice but I don't care about fish. Stupid sub-question: does a GPS chartplotter display the chart's theoretical depth with sonar or do I have to have the dual frequency fishfinder sonar to display the depth?
You don't need the sonar but, IMHO, it's nice to have. I like to be able to see the bottom instead of just a number. With a decent sonar unit you can see what the bottom is (sand, mud, rock), and it's easier to see trends than just a number. On a Lowrance unit, sonar adds about $150 to the price (transducer, etc.).

The chart used in the plotter will determine if the charted depth is displayed or not. The better charts (that you frequenty have to buy, like from Navionics, etc.) will dispay the depth on the display. The base maps in the charter will probably not.

Quote:
Question 3: Radar seems like a nice-to-have feature to me, whereas others would say it is more important than GPS in the cold waters on New England. How much more does the extra radar gear cost for the Furuno/Si-Tex/Northstar add (I couldn't get a straight answer out of the guys at Boston Boat Show)?
How far do you plan on sailing? Will you be out in all kinds of weather, or do you have the ability to stay home or in port in bad weather? For me, radar would be nice, but I don't plan on buying it. The Lowrance radar is $1 - 2K depending on power.

Quote:
Question 5: Do these units get ripped off when the boat is at mooring? Should I install it so that it can be stowed away during the week?
Yes. The Lowrance unit I am familiar with takes about 10 seconds to install / remove.

Quote:
Question 6: Is an external antenna necessary? The boat has a bimini that isnít used much. Most of the units require an external antenna and I am assuming that I'd replace the Loran antenna with a GPS one.
On your boat an external antenna is not required.

Quote:
Question 7: How do you install the associated electrical, antenna, sonar, and radar cabling? Does it go through the pedestal or into the deck near the pedestal? Should I have a professional do this?
I was able to install mine myself. I'm handy, and do most of the work on the boat myself (engine maintenance, bottom painting, etc.). If you have never done electrical work you should probably not do it, or find someone with experience to help. It's not difficult, but does require some knowledge. Radar, IMHO, is something else entirely.

Lastly, IMHO, you should at least consider Lowrance.

Good luck,
Barry

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Old 02-27-2007
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[quote=sailingdog]
Radar is nice to have in NE but not really a necessity. Garmin has a small radar unit that is supposed to be quite good.
quote] SD - I got away without it for quite a few years but never again. After getting totally socked in on the way back from M.V. I put in on my previous boat about five years ago. Although I have been doing more cruises to BI, MV, Nantucket, and LI Sound then I used to I have gotten socked in at least once or twice every year since. What looks like clouds in my Avatar is a fog bank rolling over BI with 50' visibility at the entrance that lasted all the way back to NGBay. Maybe the Radome is a fog magnet -
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