By Ben Ellison
Brains in the Bilge
I’m thinking of upgrading all my navigation electronics to a single-brand system, but one friend tells me that Raymarine’s stuff is all junk, and another says that Furuno has terrible customer service, and so on. Who do you like? T.Z., via e-mail
Thanks, Tom, for giving me a chance to rant—err, I mean expound—on one of my pet peeves. At one time or another, I’ve heard people repeat strong, blanket condemnations of every single marine electronics company, and I think they’re all bull. Marine electronics is a relatively young and small industry, and the gear goes onto a wildly divergent bunch of boats in a tough operating environment. In the early years a lot of electronics failed, and so did some companies. Users—now the old hands amongst us—tended to develop strong opinions about who made reliable, well-supported equipment. The industry is much more mature today, but there’s still a lot of confusion in the marketplace, plus there’s no organization doing Consumer Reports-style product testing (or at least doing it well). Into this void seep those worn-out, strong opinions and also the occasional “very unhappy customer.” The guy who hired an airplane at the Miami International Boat Show to advertise his displeasure with a certain company’s autopilot is an example.
In short, I think the big-blanket negatives you can hear around the docks are based on the old and/or extreme experiences of a few users, perpetuated by the fact that there are so many good products out there that shoppers are looking for something—anything—by which they can limit their choices.
The truth is that the electronics industry today is full of competent companies working hard to earn your business with good products and service. I like them all. Of course there’s plenty of room for improvement in user interfaces and manuals, and some small companies will come and go, leaving customers in the lurch, and name brands sometimes rest on their laurels and miss technological advances, at least for one product cycle. But marine electronics is thankfully not a business suited to unscrupulous types looking to make a quick buck. It’s much easier, for instance, to sell shoddy, unneeded electric wheelchairs to gullible little old ladies...but that’s another rant, a personal one, I need to make elsewhere. —B.E.
Got a marine electronics question? Write to Electronics Q&A, Power & Motoryacht, 260 Madison Ave., 8th Fl., New York, NY 10016. Fax: (917) 256-2282. e-mail: PMYElectronics@primedia.com. No phone calls, please.
This article originally appeared in the January 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.