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TECH TIP: Chartplotters for safe, easy navigation

Coastal and offshore cruising has become a lot easier in recent years with the advent of inexpensive, easy-to-use electronic chartplotters. Until recently, many of us were depending on a GPS receiver with a paper chart to plot the course to our destination.

When we are faced with the big question as to which chartplotter to choose for our offshore sailing palace, we must address a number of supporting questions, such as whether to purchase all the same brand of electronics as a kit, how and where to install the main nav system and back-up, and ultimately, which company’s product line will provide us with the best overall service and quality.

First, for whichever GPS system you select, you should add an external antenna, if it is available, to ensure proper reception. Whether you are offshore or in familiar coastal waters, your access to GPS satellites is the same.


Raymarine Axiom Plus

            Raymarine, a market leader in chartplotters and other electronic gear, offers its Axiom Plus multifunction display, which is equipped with a powerful dual quad-core processor, enhanced data storage over previous units and upgraded Raymarine LightHouse Charts, along with Navionics and C-MAP.

The Axiom Plus’s 8.4-inch display offers access to charts, sonar, radar, weather and video in color with contrast that Raymarine claims is “twice the resolution of traditional displays.” Raymarine’s signature HydroTough nano-coated, impact-resistant glass screen repels water, oil and smudges for enhanced viewing and faster response through touch controls.

Also contributing to greater viewing capability are what Raymarine claims are wider viewing angles and sharper contrast than seen in other recent technology. The enhanced viewing capability is coupled with high-resolution access to readouts from radar, sonar, multiple graphic chart displays and more.


Simrad-NSS9 evo3 S

One of the latest evolutions of Simrad’s line of multifunction displays is the NSS9 evo3 S, a unique name for a distinctive evolution in depth sounder technology. The NSS9 evo3 S takes off where its predecessor, the evo3, left off by splitting processing time in half and ensuring faster transitions and page loading.

The all-weather touch screen monitor with high-resolution color graphics can be viewed within an 80-degree angle in any direction, making it easy to see from virtually any point in the cabin or cockpit, depending on location. The multi-touch screen is protected by an “oleophobic coating,” allowing for easy cleaning of fingerprints. You can mount the monitor flush, reducing its profile in the nav station, or use the tilt mount for viewing from other corners of the cabin or cockpit.

The sonar transponder, sold separately, includes DownScan and dual-beam viewing, multi-frequency operation and a sensor for water temperature. The transducer’s depth-measuring capacity exceeds 1,000 feet, a handy asset when fishing while underway. The latest “compressed high-intensity radiated pulse” (CHIRP) technology enables its highest range at mid-to-high settings, or 300 feet in down-scan capability and 300 feet side scan.


Lowrance HDS Live 12

If you demand a larger monitor screen, especially for bigger vessels where greater viewing distance is required, you will appreciate the centerpiece of the Lowrance HDS Live 12 multifunction display, which is a 12-inch horizontal monitor screen with 1280 x 800 resolution and full color.

Included in the HDS Live 12 package is an Active Imaging 3-in-1 transducer, along with CHIRP technology, which enables side-scan and down-scan capability up to 150 feet at 800kHz and up to 300 feet at 455kHz.

Pairing up with your cellular device enables the HDS Live 12 to display onscreen text messages and call notifications and offers full smartphone integration, permitting you to view video, Google maps and fishing data on your fishfinder display. The HDS 12 offers a high-resolution SolarMAX HD screen, allowing you to view images from any angle, even in direct sunlight.

Other features include C-MAP Genesis Live custom mapping and pre-loaded C-MAP U.S. enhanced charts with one-foot contours on 4,000 lakes in North America. Of course, assuming you are headed offshore, you will need to install further mapping capability to navigate oceans.


B&G Zeus 12

The B&G Zeus 12 multifunction display with C-Map cartography is another high-quality chartplotter navigation system manufactured by a trusted name in marine electronics. Like the Lowrance HDS Live 12, the B&G Zeus 12 has a 12-inch diagonal widescreen display, allowing enhanced visibility from distant corners of the cabin or cockpit.

The Zeus 12 high-visibility SolarMAX HD display incorporates an all-weather multi-touch screen, which you can use even when it is wet. It is amazing how the fine sensors in the glass can get tell the difference between saltwater and skin moisture, but this technology has become a mainstay among leading GPS manufacturers. Just for good measure, the Zeus 12 monitor also gives you the option of non-touch mode to ensure worry-free operation when the clouds unleash the worst of their fury.

Another key feature of the Zeus 12 is Wi-Fi capability, which B&G provides through its GoFree internet hotspot. Use your smartphone or tablet to view charts and control navigational functions from anywhere on the vessel.

B&G’s ForwardScan sonar and MARPA target tracking with AIS overlay give you a high degree of control, whether you are picking your way through shoals in the Tuamotus or racing around buoys off Newport Beach. Zeus connects with a wide assortment of other sensors and instruments, including radar, sonar and remote GPS, all working to make your voyage a safe one.

When looking at price, the range is not extremely wide, at most a few hundred bucks among units of the same size and capacity. Many of us stick to the brand “we grew up with” as sailors, and all the manufacturers cited in this article have long, well-established reputations for quality.

Pick the unit best fitting your needs, and remember to always carry, at the very least, a handheld GPS as a back-up, and if funds allow, a back-up chartplotter system in case of main system loss due to lightning. Happy cruising!

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