When it comes to electronic navigation and buying a new chartplotter, in this day and age, you have a million options. So, how’s a boater supposed to know which unit is the right one to pick? You have to know what to look for – here are five things you should be paying close attention to.
1. Ease of Use – A chartplotter doesn’t do you much good if it’s so complex you can’t figure out how to use it. And while the units made in the past could be quite confusing, today’s units are usually intuitive and easy to learn. But some are easier than others, and which are easiest for you to use will depend on how you interact with the menus and controls. In other words, different people interpret things differently. To find out which works the best with your brain, there’s no substitute for experience; you need to go to a store which has a large display with lots of different brands, and try them out.
2. Screen size and resolution – this is what will determine how easy it is to see exactly what you’re trying to look at. Five inch screens should be considered a minimum, and seven inches is a lot more realistic for most of us. The worse your sight is, the larger a screen you’ll need. If you plan on using split-screen options, a seven inch screen should be considered minimal and a nine-inch screen will serve you better.
3. Expandability – Think you might want to explore new waters? Then you’ll need to add chartography. Or, maybe you’ll add satellite weather or radar at some point in time. Some units can handle it, and some can’t. You need to decide if expandability is a priority (which probably means moving up from a dedicated plotter to a MFD, or multi-function display).
4. Interface – some people prefer old-fashioned buttons, but many people find a touch-screen interface is best. You’ll have plenty of choices in this regard, but remember that (especially on small boats) touch-screens can be difficult to use in rough seas. Even if you hate those old-fashioned buttons, unless you’re running a yacht, choosing a unit that has both buttons and a touch-screen is probably a good move.
5. Reliability – Truth be told, most of today’s units are pretty darn reliable. So, why bother bringing it up? Because if you’re running an open boat like a bayboat or a center console, you need to make sure the unit you pick out is sufficiently waterproofed. Look for those with at least an IPX rating of 6, which can withstand jets of water. An IPX rating of 7 (which is submersible to three feet for up to 30 minutes) is even better.