Nick Meadow, UK & Ireland Sales Manager for Garmin, discusses the considerations when buying a chartplotter.
Electronic navigation has made big advances especially over the last decade. For example, back in 2007 Garmin® released the first touch screen chartplotter on the market.
This product featured a brand-new user interface, which was the biggest change from any product seen before. It featured the ‘home’ page such as we are all now used to on our smartphones. This marked the beginning of our modern, user friendly chartplotters where the user, for the first time, did not have to be an expert in navigation or electronics to use them.
Since then most manufacturers have gone down a similar line utilising a homepage as a base to access other features on the product. Back in 2007, though, it was quite revolutionary as the iPhone was only released later that year.
The modern chartplotter has developed the potential to be the hub of the boat’s on board systems. They can control lighting and other electrics, in Garmin’s case via their recently acquired Empirbus™ digital switching system, control music and watch videos (when connected to a Fusion® entertainment system), view remote cameras for peace of mind when mooring or monitoring the engine room, display engine data and so on. Alongside this, the more traditional products can be integrated such as wind systems, radar and sonar.
This plethora of options can make today’s electronics market potentially seem complicated. It is possible to tone the jargon down to make the choice for your needs seem less of a mystery. Firstly, what types of plotters are there…
You may have heard of various names for what is primarily the same thing – a GPS chartplotter. Names such as Combination Plotter or Combo, MFDs and Glass Cockpits are often used.
Combination Plotter or Combo – Combination of charts and sonar.
Multi-functional displays (MFDs) – Chartplotter with additional connectivity options for other devices such as radar and/or third-party products.
Glass Cockpit – Similar to MFDs but even higher levels of interfacing with a boat’s systems and third-party devices.
The reality is all these devices share fundamental navigation features, built in highspeed GPS and fully detailed chart options across the range. In Garmin’s case from the 4” screen ECHOMAP™ Plus 45cv up to the huge 24” screen GPSMAP® 8424. So, if you would like a standalone chartplotter for navigation only, any of the products from ECHOMAP ‘combo’ right up to the large ‘Glass Cockpit’ displays would be suitable.
BIGGER IS BETTER
As with home televisions, the trend in plotters in recent years has been to go for bigger screens. The size of the plotter will affect the price, but the biggest you can fit and afford is recommended. The bigger the screen the larger the area of chart that can be viewed while still getting the most amount of detail displayed on the chart.
The resolution of the plotter is also a very important comparison for the same reason, which is why Garmin’s latest chartplotters, the GPSMAP 8400 series, have some of the highest resolution screens on the market.
Where the products vary across the range will be what extras can be displayed on them. For example, if you want to have radar should you be going further afield, into areas you are unsure of, or want a safety net in case of fog, then the GPSMAP series would be required.
One recommendation on radar is do not wait until the fog comes in or until night time to use it for the first time. While the Garmin radars are very automated, and the MotionScope™ doppler feature gives a new-found clarity and awareness in tracking other vessels, get some practice in when you can see your surroundings on how to recognise and identify other vessels, channel markers and land.
The radar overlay is a great tool too for extra awareness. Note that a heading sensor such as the Garmin SteadyCast™ would be required to use the radar overlay feature.
Alongside radar, AIS has become very popular where all vessel over 300T or passenger vessels must carry and transmit their position in UK waters. Having an AIS receiver allows you to see and track these vessels on your plotter. All Garmin chartplotters can display AIS as an optional extra.
When choosing where to mount a chartplotter do not place it at the chart table only if it cannot be seen while helming. Having the GPS at the chart table comes from when a GPS had no charts and was used to plot a position to calculate a heading to steer on the compass, but now we have charts, the plotter should be visible from the helm.
Mount it at the helm in a pod, in the bulk head or on the coach roof if in a sailing boat. It needs to be viewable from the helm otherwise you may as well not have a GPS chartplotter. Periodic log entries with position, time and COG are still recommended so that if you lose power, for example, you can at least plot a position.
The GPSMAP plotters can ‘mirror’ and control their screens on a smartphone or tablet making it act like a second station to have at your chart table at no extra cost for this purpose.
In summary, whether it be a Combo, MFD or Glass Cockpit they are all fundamentally a GPS chartplotter. If you do choose to go for the higher end version you open up opportunities for more features such as adding radar, music control, mirroring the screen to an iPad/iPhone or other smartphone, engine interfacing and even the control of your electrics on board.
Finally, where you can go big, go big as it is better!