30-Foot Family Cruiser
For this hypothetical budget-minded coastal cruiser, used mainly for local hops, the emphasis is on value and simplicity while paving an upgrade path.
Navigation: Garmin GPSMap 4212 12-inch multifunction display (MFD) with built-in U.S. BlueCharts, Garmin GPS, and an Airmar Smart DST800 depth/speed/ temp transducer (displaying on 4212).
Communications and safety: 25-watt Cobra MR F80 B VHF with two-way NMEA 0183 connection to the MFD; Standard Horizon HX270S handheld VHF.
Comments: The Garmin 4212 is definitely a "latest and greatest" pick, as no one has had much experience with any of the company's many new machines. It's also bigger and costlier than necessary, but the strategy here is to dedicate the electronics budget to a spacious MFD that supposedly incorporates the latest easy-interface techniques and can grow into a sophisticated system along with my cruising range and bank account. The 4212's Ethernet and NMEA 0183/2000 ports mean that it could be accessorized with radar, digital fishfinding, and live XM weather/radio, plus virtual engine gauges and fuel management (with some engines), tank and tab levels, AIS receiver, weather data, etc. Plus I could get more out of the 4212 with optional g2 Vision chart cards or even plug in a second display, perhaps the touchscreen 5012, for more of a glass-bridge effect.
Note that you would get a similarly elaborate growth path centering the system on a Northstar 6000i or Raymarine E-Series, both well tried and true. Plus even a stand-alone M120 or C-120 MFD from the same companies can include radar, fishfinding, and much else, as can economical units from Si-Tex, Interphase, and Standard Horizon (including the CPV series with built-in, full-function VHF), and all these companies have plain plotters, which along with depth is what I consider minimal on this boat. Those with SmartCraft engines should pay particular attention to Northstar's extensive line.
When cruising this boat I would probably take along an old laptop, perhaps loaded with Maptech's U.S. Boating Charts DVD ($50), which includes all NOAA charts and can be a plotter or send routes to the Garmin. Plus, I'd have an EnGenius or similar USB-powered WiFi radio, which could be stuck outside in a baggie when you're moored to improve your chances of getting e-mail, Web weather, etc. There are many good, value-oriented VHFs, but I went with the new Cobra 425 because the memory feature is really useful to a spaceshot like myself. For budget-cruiser safety well beyond VHF, consider an ACR AquaFix 406, which, while not as small or fast as the ACR ResQFix, is well regarded and has a new, lower price.
Picking the Ideal Marine-Electronics Systems
This article originally appeared in the June 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.