Wednesday, April 17, 2024
HomeBoatThe GPS Chartplotter Buying Guide

The GPS Chartplotter Buying Guide

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In modern boating the chartplotter is probably one of the most used pieces of electronics aboard. As such, you should consider more factors than just cost when selecting the right chartplotter for your boat.

In the next few articles we will explore what factors to consider and what various manufacturers are offering to fill your needs.

Leaders in the field, such as Garmin, Navico  (Lowrance, Simrad and B&G), Raymarine and Humminbird all have several chartplotter models available. As you would expect, each chartplotter is chock full of features and benefits. Selecting one of these plotters can seem daunting but need not be. There are several factors that will make some a better choice for your type of boating and it’s just a matter of doing your homework to figure out which would be best for you.

Over the years, chartplotters have grown more sophisticated and offer more features than ever before. They range from simple handheld units with very basic mapping to elaborate interfaced large touch screen displays that offer what seems like more information than you would find on the control panels of the space shuttle.

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One of the primary factors to consider in selecting a chartplotter is where and how is it going to be used. If you have a small skiff and don’t have a lot of dash or console space you can eliminate a lot of the larger display chartplotters that have inputs for radar, video and other components that won’t be used. With many of the larger displays, if you want sounder capabilities or other functions on the display you have to add modules that would be mounted elsewhere and wired into the display or “network”. These can add up to a very expensive alternative.  You also can do away with paying extra for units that can be interfaced with other displays to distribute and repeat information between stations.

 “Screen size and price tend to go up exponentially in marine chartplotters”

GARMIN GPSMAP® 740s Chartplotter/Sounder with No Transducer
GARMIN GPSMAP® 740s Chartplotter/Sounder with No Transducer

Smaller displays tend to be self-contained. They have built-in antennas and other components are built into the display head, such as sounders. A smaller chartplotter with a smaller screen would be a better fit in smaller boat applications but with a caveat – you should always go with the largest (and brightest) screen you both have room for and can afford. If you go with a screen that is too small it becomes difficult to see any detail in the chart and you will find yourself zooming in and out a lot just to get a good perception of where you are. These problems are exacerbated even further when you find yourself adding data boxes such as depth, heading and others to the display, or splitting the screen to display more than one function. This is particularly true if you are not as young as you wish you were, and you find yourself carrying more than just sunglasses around your neck.

Screen size and price tend to go up exponentially in marine chartplotters. GPS chartplotters from all the major manufacturers use specialized sunlight viewable screens that are made in limited quantities and get considerably more expensive as they go up in size. The screen sizes in GPS chartplotters are measured just like televisions –  in diagonal length. A trip to any marine retailer or web site such as West Marine will clearly show that an increase in an inch or two diagonally can prove to add a significant cost factor to the display. With this in mind remember that you want to go with the largest screen real estate and budget will allow in order to be happy with one of your most used pieces of electronic equipment – glasses or not.

Check Out the Next edition: Do you NEED a Touch Screen Chartplotter?


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  1. Such a great article. I would also consider adding the usability which is another important factor when choosing the right chart plotter.


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Glenn Hayes
Glenn Hayeshttp://www.HayesStudios.com
Glenn Hayes is a writer and photographer based out of west central Florida and has marine industry background spanning almost a quarter century. He can be reached through his web site www.HayesStudios.

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