I had two strong reactions to the idea of picking ideal marine-electronics systems for three different styles of boats. The first went something like, “Yikes, there’s a fast way to annoy a lot of worthy but unlisted manufacturers,” and the second, “Oh, but that would be impossible anyway.” On further reflection I realized that truth number two would (hopefully) null out truth number one and that the whole impossible exercise has value. Choosing an electronics system may be as complicated and personal as choosing a boat, but the process can be educational, even intriguing.
Like finding the perfect boat, finding the perfect electronics package begins with lots of questions. How far from civilization do you plan to roam? How critical is staying in touch, and will either e-mail or phone suffice? And, of course, how much treasure can you expend? The harder ones pertain to what might be called your marine electronics personality. Do you favor tried and true over latest and greatest? Are you challenged or turned off by complex, if powerful, user settings? Does the concept of a single brand name on all your gear seem like a relief or a limitation?
In making these selections, I’ve tried to represent a range of boaters, but no doubt my own electronics personality and prejudices show through. For instance, and likely the result of boating the randomly rocky and oftentimes foggy coast of Maine, I’m not comfortable without a chartplotter close at hand, preferably supplemented with radar and AIS. Similarly, cruising foreign waters has taught me to value access to multiple chart types, which is one reason I like having a navigation computer, though I generally consider it secondary to more reliable dedicated electronics.
I also believe that the pluses of system integration, like radar overlay, trump the safety of independent devices and that redundancy is better realized with parallel backups, preferably things independently powered and useful off the boat. And while the installation and service efficiency built into single-brand setups are truly enticing, do-everything systems never seem to do everything I see as possible and desirable, creating a challenging paradox.
You’ll see that paradox running through these selections, along with an electronics personality that’s computer-friendly and possibly Internet-dependent. Heck, even some of the hardcore enthusiasts who regularly contribute to my electronics blog like their cruising disconnected. You see, as part of my research, I invited my online readers to submit descriptions, even photos and diagrams, of systems they’ve actually bought and used or are planning to. I thank them mightily for what’s becoming quite a resource, available to you at here at PowerandMotoryacht.com (and the Panbo Marine Electronics blog).
Between those real reader systems and my own eccentric imaginings, I think you’ll see that a simple Perfect Gear shopping list is impossible. Just as in buying a boat, compromise is mandatory and subtleties essential. For instance, when you start unraveling the electronics puzzle for yourself, you will likely learn that data integration and sensor accuracy are as vital as bright, readable screens. But I’ll wager that you’ll also discover that trying to design the system perfect for your particular needs and personality will be rewarding.
Picking the Ideal Marine-Electronics Systems
This article originally appeared in the June 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.