Know How: Chartplotters

Author:
Updated:
Original:

When it comes to accurately keeping track of your whereabouts, modern chartplotters and multi-function displays (MFDs) are virtually indispensable. Provided they are properly networked to other onboard instrumentation (including AIS, GPS and radar), typically via a NMEA 0183 or NMEA 2000 data backbone, chartplotters/MFDs provide a wealth of real-time data that can dramatically simplify your on-the-water experience, and keep you and your boat much safer, to boot.

rf-lg

The biggest consideration when selecting a chartplotter/MFD is functionality. A trailer-sailer, for example, has entirely different information requirements than a bluewater cruiser or a tricked-out raceboat. While all chartplotters/MFDs allow you to easily navigate, not all devices help you steer the fastest course, gauge wind shifts and currents, or calculate starting-line distances. Most major marine-electronics manufacturers offer several different models catering to a variety of needs and budgets. Sailors are advised to carefully consider their actual information needs before going shopping. Don’t just buy something with all kinds of gee-whiz functions because it looks impressive at a boat show. Think about how you will actually use the system out on the water.

Screen size and User Interface (UI) are the next considerations. While bigger is better, especially when it comes to touchscreen “smart glass,” better is also more expensive. To make the best choice, consider your mounting and installation options, and then buy the biggest chartplotter/MFD you can fit in the allotted space (without breaking your bank). Also be sure to spend some time familiarizing yourself with the unit to make sure you’re comfortable with its UI (incidentally, a really fun way to pass some time at your local chandlery or a boat show). Many of today’s chartplotters/MFDs come standard with touchscreen controls, though many of them still include built-in hard keys or an external remote control for those times when conditions are too sloppy to accurately “tap to navigate.” Imagine using your smart phone in the rain with gloves on, not good!

Lastly, many of today’s chartplotters/MFDs are designed to “play nicely” with third-party instruments—provided, of course, that they can share information via an NMEA 0183/2000 protocol. However, be sure to research compatibility with your existing electronics before buying a new unit, so you don’t find yourself the proud owner of a bunch of electronics that don’t get along. 

Photos courtesy of (left to right) Raymarine, B&G, Garmin

Related

2048x

Know-How: Helm Stations

Walk around any boat show, and you’ll see a number of differences in the way designers and builders have decided to locate the steering stations aboard their cruising cats. Each position has its good points and bad, among them visibility, protection from the elements, ...read more

Jerome

Point of SAIL: Jerome Rand

In the first episode of Point of SAIL, the SAIL magazine podcast, Principal Editor Adam Cort talks with circumnavigator Jerome Rand about his adventures, past and future. For more information, visit Jerome's YouTube channel July 2020 ...read more

01-NEW-shutterstock_727520281

Cruising: Belize on a Multihull

In my experience, every charter has a kind of a theme to it, often encapsulated in a single moment. For me, during a recent weeklong charter off the coast of Belize that moment came toward the end of our first day out. We’d left the Sunsail base (sunsail.com), located part way ...read more

01-LEAD-View-of-the-Bow

Know-How: Marlinspike Seamanship in the Arctic

I was crewing aboard a boat named Breskell, a 51ft cutter-rigged, cold-molded, mahogany sloop. We were voyaging from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Port Townsend, Washington, via the Northwest Passage. A few days before setting sail, the captain, Olivier Huin, asked me to secure ...read more

Prop-Coat-Barnacle-Barrier-Quart-No-Background

Gear: Prop Coat Barnacle Barrier

Prop Coat Barnacle Barrier 1792 is now available in a quart-size can and, as always, can be used on all underwater metals, including saildrives, shafts, strainers and folding and non-folding props. Two or three coats are recommended, after which the coating will purportedly ...read more

DY_171021_6877

Boat Review: Seawind 1600

Seawind Catamarans introduced its 52ft 1600 model in Europe last year, where the boat promptly started winning awards. The more jaded among us may look askance at such things, especially when it comes to a bluewater-rated catamaran billed as a providing a combination of ...read more