State of the Art or Ark?

We thought it would be interesting to poll a number of SAIL’s writers to see what marine electronics they actually own and use. Their boats should be bristling with the latest and fanciest gear, right? Well, yes—and no…
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We thought it would be interesting to poll a number of SAIL’s writers to see what marine electronics they actually own and use. Their boats should be bristling with the latest and fanciest gear, right? Well, yes—and no…

We thought it would be interesting to poll a number of SAIL’s writers to see what marine electronics they actually own and use. Their boats should be bristling with the latest and fanciest gear, right? Well, yes—and no…

It turns out that contributing editors Tom Cunliffe, Zuzana Prochazka and Don Casey, cruising editor Charlie Doane and editor Peter Nielsen all have widely varying ideas as to what electronics they consider essential—and how best to use them…

 We polled a number of SAIL's writers to see what marine electronics they own and use

We polled a number of SAIL's writers to see what marine electronics they own and use

Tom Cunliffe/S.V. Constance 


We bought our Mason 44 in July 2011 and scrapped all the existing electronics. The wiring was a snakes’ wedding, and the whole thing worked when it felt like it, which wasn’t generally when I wanted it to. The only item we retained was the excellent Garmin VHF 200. In 2012, we installed a brand new suite of electronics.

Rasters are my preferred charts. I can download GRIB weather files when I can reach Wi-Fi from ashore, but I don’t carry any satellite Internet stuff. I tap the barometer and look at the sky instead. Together, the Raymarine plotter, which also displays AIS and radar overlays, and the independent PC with its own plug-in GPS dongle make a pretty robust arrangement. 

In the cockpit

  • Raymarine P70 autopilot interface/Raymarine SPX30 Smartpilot
  • Raymarine i70 multipurpose instruments
  • iPad running Navionics High Definition chart app
  • Also links to the Raymarine plotter at the nav station via a free app that enables me to view and control it from anywhere on board
  • iPhone with Navionics charts

At the nav station

  • Raymarine E125 multifunction display
  • AIS 650 transponder
  • Raymarine 24K HD digital radar
  • Garmin 200 VHF
  • HP G62 notebook running Windows 7 and simple Meridian Chartware software. 

Don Casey/S.V. Richard Cory 


We have been cruising throughout the eastern Caribbean aboard our 30-foot Allied Seawind ketch for much of the last decade, and a list of the electronics we have aboard is instructive primarily for what we do not have. We do not have radar. We do not have AIS. We do not have SSB. We do not have a satellite telephone. We do not have these items aboard because they provide little in the way of either safety or convenience for where and how we cruise. On the contrary, our experience has been that the more the crew is focused on electronic data, the less it is paying attention to its actual circumstances.

We are satisfied with Garmin’s BlueChart cartography and do most of our chart work on the laptop using the Garmin chip in concert with Garmin’s HomePort program. We will likely upgrade to a plotter with a larger display when prices decline sufficiently. We obtain weather forecasts via e-mail through a local cell phone. We are strong believers in the obligation for self-sufficiency for those of us who choose to go offshore for pleasure, but in the event of a life-threatening situation, we do have both an EPIRB and a PLB aboard.

In the cockpit

  • Garmin 545S chartplotter (2009)
  • Garmin eTrex H handheld GPS
  • Cobra HH125 handheld VHF (2010)

At the nav station

  • Laptop running Garmin HomePort software
  • ICOM M-59 VHF (1999)
  • Sangean multi-band radio

Charles J. Doane/S.V. Lunacy


I bought Lunacy, a 1985 aluminum Tanton 39 cutter, from her original owner in 2006. He and his wife had circumnavigated on her, navigating mostly on a laptop computer they did not leave on board. I immediately removed an SSB radio and two dead GPS receivers of ancient vintage and since then have gradually augmented the boat’s electronics suite.

Lunacy has a tight cockpit with little room for electronics. Everything on the cockpit list, except the little Tacktick compass, is actually mounted in the companionway, with displays on swing-arms. For self-steering I rely primarily on an Aries windvane controlled by the Autohelm 2000 tillerpilot. The larger ST4000 tillerpilot, which drives the boat’s tiller directly when hooked up, can’t control the boat under sail in more than a moderate breeze. I run Navionics charts on the A65 plotter. The sat phone and the West Marine handheld VHF live in the boat’s ditch bag.

In the cockpit

  • Nexus MultiControl multi-function instrument display (age unknown)
  • Nexus Wind Angle display (custom built in 2007)
  • Furuno 821 Radar (2001)
  • Standard Horizon CMP23W RAM mic (2000)
  • Tacktick Micro Compass (2007)
  • Autohelm 2000 tiller pilot (age unknown)
  • Autohelm ST4000 Tiller Drive (age unknown)

At the nav station

  • Raymarine A65 chartplotter (2006)
  • Nexus NX2 MultiControl multi-function instrument display (2012)
  • Vesper Marine AIS Watchmate receiver (2011)
  • Iridium handheld satphone (2008)
  • Standard Horizon Intrepid GX12605 VHF radio (2000)
  • Furuno DFax weatherfax receiver (age unknown)
  • West Marine VHF150 handheld (2007)
  • Apelco VXL501 VHF handheld (1995)
  • Garmin GPS 72 handheld GPS (for back-up, 2006)
  • Sony CDX-GT340 CD player (2011)

Peter Nielsen/S.V. Ostara


SAIL’s project boat is a 1973 Norlin 34 and is the subject of a never-ending refit. She is equipped with what these days is considered minimal electronics for coastal cruising. As is typical of older boats, she has an eclectic mix of new and older gear.

The Tackticks perform well except for a tendency to drop depth info at inconvenient moments, which accounts for some of my hair loss. The CP190i replaces an elderly (by electronics standards) Northstar plotter that expired partway through the 2012 season, leaving me to rely on the iPad and its excellent Navionics app. The iPad proved its worth as a backup but is no substitute for a waterproof plotter at the helm. The Raymarine wheelpilot works well but a more robust belowdecks autopilot for offshore sailing is on my project list. At some point I would also like to install broadband radar, although I do not consider that a cruising necessity. My biggest fear at sea is collision, and the AIS goes a long way to addressing that.

In the cockpit

  • Tacktick Micronet wind/speed/depth instruments (2007)
  • Standard Horizon CP190i chart plotter running C-Map charts (2013)
  • Vesper Watchmate 650 AIS display (2010)
  • Raymarine X-5 Wheelpilot (2009)
  • Standard Horizon RAM VHF microphone (2008)

At the nav station

  • Standard Horizon Matrix 3000 DSC VHF (2008)
  • ACR Nauticast B AIS transponder (2010)
  • iPad 1 with X-150 bluetooth GPS antenna and Navionics charting app (2012)
  • Garmin GPSMAP 40 handheld GPS (2005)
  • Sony car stereo (age not known)
  • Standard Horizon HX280S handheld VHF

Zuzana Prochazka: S/V Indigo


We bought our 1985 Celestial 48 center cockpit ketch in 2002 and outfitted her with all new electronics. In 2009, a lightning strike took out everything but two instruments and the VHF, so we started over, and today we have a mix of electronics.

I’d like to include a Class B AIS transceiver to work with the current system. For bluewater cruising, my wish list includes forward-looking sonar, Sirius weather overlays, an ICOM SSB and an Iridium sat phone. I would love a Furuno NavNet 3D system but, like many, I’d probably only use a fraction of its capabilities.

In the cockpit

  • Raymarine C 120 Wide color chartplotter running Navionics charts (2009)
  • Raymarine 4kW radar (2009)
  • Raymarine ST6001 SmartPilot autopilot (2009)
  • Raymarine ST60 speed and depth instruments (2002)
  • Raymarine ST60+ wind instrument (2009)
  • Standard Horizon RAM (2002)

At the nav station

  • Garmin GPS map 492 color chartplotter (2009)
  • Raymarine ST60+ instrument repeater (2009)
  • Standard Horizon Intrepid VHF radio (2002)
  • Standard Horizon submersible handheld VHF (2002)
  • West Marine (Uniden) 150 handheld VHF (2010)
  • Magellan handheld GPS 315 and 320 (1998)
  • iPhone and iPad running Navionics chart apps

For Fun

  • Dynex 32in flatscreen TV and Blu-Ray player (2012)
  • Sony stereo with DVD and MP3 (2003)


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