There are an increasing number of technology options for boats. How do you know what you need? Which brands are best? And do you really ‘need’ the top-of-the-line unit that has all the bells and whistles?
What is a Chartplotter?
Think of chartplotter as a GPS unit for your boat. It can find your latitude and longitude, and the new generation chartplotters have extra functionality. For instance, the new Garmins know the dimensions of your boat and can plot suggested routes taking into account things like bridge clearance.
These units use satellite signals to do simple tasks such as showing you your location on a lake, or can do more complex navigation by integrating GPS data and detailed electronic charts.
You may need to buy maps to go with your GPS unit. Some are basic while other are far more detailed. If you’re going to do something that requires in depth navigation, you’re going to need to invest more in detailed regional maps.
Chartplotters will often come with sonar fishfinders built in, but they are primarily about maps.
What is a fishfinder?
A fishfinder is a sonar device. There are a range of different frequencies, clarity and sensitivity that produce and interpret sonar signals and graphically present them as fish. These units will generally display depth, fish size and any underwater objects. They’ll be able to show you the lake bed/ ocean floor too.
Many FishFinders have GPS capabilities built in, much like many GPS units have sonar.
What about a dual unit?
If you’re not into fishing, this does become a far easier consideration because you can simply get a chartplotter without the extra fish finding sonar.
A top of the range Garmin unit comes with screens ranging from a small 10” through to a large hi-resolution 24” touchscreen. These screens are anti-glare and readable in sunlight, with auto-dimming for low-light situations. You can choose which maps you want- a world-wide base map which is adequate as a general reference, or a more detailed chart for coastal waters. And then, you can choose if you want sonar or not.
The units can be synced with on phone apps, allowing you to power up the boat remotely, control lights or switch on pumps- all without having to go on the boat.
You can draw up routes before leaving home, quickly and accurately. You can configure the system to provide one-touch docking, cruising, fishing or anchoring. The unit also comes pre-set with sonar, radar, cameras, media and digital switching.
The sonar views multiple sources simultaneously, allowing you to get a complete overview of all underwater surfaces and fish. You get the ability to use QuickDraw Contours, a free piece of software than creates personalised HD fishing maps- you can tailor these to suit what you want. Fish, and the maps will create themselves instantly.
In fact, these units do everything you could possibly imagine- and as technology continues to improve, their capabilities are expanding further.
What about using an app for GPS?
If you only need GPS/ a chartplotter, is it feasible to use an app on your phone? The answer is, possibly but probably not. There are varying types of apps that use different charts, some of which are better than others. Raster charts, for instance, are larger in size with complex chart management. NOAA vector charts span larger areas and support multiple layers.
All the apps will provide for waypoints, routes and tracks, although some are better than others. Try Garmin BlueChart- while it does not replace a chartplotter, you can plan routes which can enable an active route if you have a Garmin unit on board. Navionics is probably the most useful app to use as a backup to your main plotter. It has a bunch of useful information like tidal height and drift, and it operates out of cell phone range. Of course, it has vector charts with maps, satellite and terrain overlays.
However, for any regular boatie, investing in a chartplotter is a must. An app is really only ever a backup.
The best brands for chartplotters and fishfinders
If you do need to buy some new kit for your boat (which is always), then there are a few well-known brands that are worth checking out.
Garmin: A great all-round brand with excellent GPS. They are known for being a quality brand, with a good warranty and excellent technology. Their strength is definitely the GPS and mapping.
Lowrance: Good sonar, especially under 70m. They have been operating for 60 years and continue to offer refinements and innovations not seen anywhere else. Their goal is to help anglers find more fish and they are unwavering in that.
Humminbird: Creating fish finders for 30 years, they are created in Alabama and exclusively for the consumer market.
Raymarine: A great brand world-wide, their CP200 CHRIRP SideVision Sonar won ‘Best in Show’ at the Carp Italian fishing awards. Then, Boat Fishing magazine and trailerboat.com.au gave glowing recommendations for their units. Their units are known for great sounders.
Head over to Marine Services and find a local supplier. They can advise what will be best for you and make sure you’re happy with your choice.