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Chart plotters or "Fish Finders" for cruising

AaronD

.
Aug 10, 2014
538
Catalina 22 9874 Newberg, OR / Olympia, WA
I'm considering a chart plotter for our little C-22 cruiser sometime in the next couple years (my reasoning is below, for those who really want to read that far).

It looks like some manufacturers offer a midrange line primarily marketed as a 'fish finder' and another line marketed as an MFD (more $$).
E.g.
* Garmin's EchoMap (FF) vs. GPSMap
* Lowrance Elite (FF) vs. HDS
* Raymarine Element vs. Axiom / Axiom Pro

Some of those fish finders look like they would meet our needs nicely, but the online reviews are all targeted at fishing features, which isn't helpful to a non-angler. So I'm asking for the wisdom of the sailor crowd.

The higher-end MFDs would support Radar, but that's unlikely on a boat our size, so not compelling to me. Nor is integration with engine instruments (my Tohatsu Sailpro is sorely lacking in that department :)) If I add wind instruments, I'd probably use a dedicated display, so that integration wouldn't be a priority. I do want to display AIS targets - we currently have NMEA 0183 out of our VHF's AIS receiver, and I'm considering a class B transponder, which would probably come with NMEA 2k.

The ability to control a tiller pilot (guided by route waypoints) might be nice, but isn't really essential. I have very capable crew for at least another few years.

Budget: Probably up to $1k. We could potentially go higher if there's a really compelling reason, but it seems like several manufacturers have solid offerings in that price range. I think I should be able to get a 7" or 9" with transducer and charts in that range.

Helpful answers might be:
* The display on [product line] is sunlight-readable, but only from straight on. You have to go up to [product line] to get the IPS display that's viewable from an angle.
* Since the [insert product here] is targeted for fishing, it will always switch back to sonar view after 2 minutes; you'll be frustrated trying to use it as a plotter
* I found the UI on [product] to be much more difficult to navigate than [product]
* [product] is capable of displaying Navionics+ detailed sonar charts, but the processor can't really keep up; zooming and scrolling are painfully slow.
* [product] was a really meaningful upgrade vs. the previous edition. Or, even better - [product] was not a huge upgrade; you might find a good deal on a closeout.
* In theory, you can transfer routes from the Navionics iPad app to [product], but I found it to be unreliable

More details (for the particularly bored readers):
Sailing area: Puget Sound / Salish Sea. I don't have much to compare to, but I've been quite happy with Navionics charts. So that would be my first choice on a plotter. Chart upgrades cost a lot more for a plotter (~$150) than for the Navionics app ($25/year). My intuition is to buy a plotter and install Navionics charts, and then buy a new card every few years. I'd plan to keep the iPad subscription active, so as to have updated charts for reference available in between.

We already have a simple depth sounder. Most plotters would include their own transducer, and I'd probably keep both for redundancy.

I've done a little looking at forward-scan sonar. I could see it as really nice when entering a shallow anchorage, but the transducers are crazy expensive (and stick down far enough to add significant drag). And the overall forward-scan systems don't seem integrated to a practical level as of yet. My reading is that that one has to mature for another few years. Side-scan, on the other hand, seems really common (presumably because of the fishing market). Most devices I'd consider will do that (with the appropriate transducer). But detailed bottom contours of somewhere I've already been isn't a huge advantage for me. If it's included, fine, but I don't really need it.

Why a plotter, if you already have iPads?
1) Keeping the iPads charged in the cockpit can be a bit of a pain, with a cord laying around; it's a tripping hazard and a risk to the iPad.
2) Good waterproof cases are $100+, and they're starting to wear out, so we're coming up on expenses there.
3) Even an iPad Pro's screen isn't as viewable in sunlight as would be nice (although I live in the PNW, so I shouldn't complain about anything related to sunshine...)
4) When used in the sun, an iPad will sometimes overheat and shut itself down (yes, I'm again complaining about sun :)
5) For use in the cockpit, we last bought an iPad Pro (for the better screen) and the cellular / GPS chip (for navigation). An iPad Pro is ~$800 new (we bought an older refurbished model, but still). For 'normal' use around home, we'd be fine with a non-Pro Wifi iPad, for ~$3-400. It's getting close to time for another iPad, and the price difference between those two would cover a sizable chunk of the cost of a plotter.
 
Oct 22, 2014
16,142
CAL 35 Cruiser moored EVERETT WA
Aaron, reading about your query and the "multiple iPad's" with worry about "cords" I suspect you utilize GPS in your car a lot.
Do you use it to go to the grocery?
Apply the same thinking to your boating. You identify the Salish Sea as your sailing ground. Unlike roads constructed and the highway traffic benefits of in car GPS, the Sea and the Sound have really not changed much in the past Hundred Thousand years. So one needs to consider what do "chart plotters" provide when your traveling at 5 knots that are not provided with your depth sounder and a good map. A few runs in the Sound and the usual ground sightings will become as familiar as streets in and around Newberg which guide you on your business runs.

Stretching your cruising into the Salish Sea there are free NOAA charts that you can print. I use them all the time.

You can spend a lot of money on electrical tools. Some of which mean you will have your head looking at a screen when you should be watching the water for that low floating log that wants to bash your boat, or that whale that surfaces to take a peak at your boat, then vanishes never seen on a chart plotter.

I spent 20 years exploring the waters of the Pacific NW in my 15ft Montgomery armed with a cell phone, compass, sails, a 2hp outboard and paper charts. If I woke in the fog , I stayed tied to the log or on the beach til the fog lifted.

Consider what that extra $1,000 in your pocket can buy. More time on the boat?
 
Jan 11, 2014
7,853
Sabre 362 113 Fair Haven, NY
The Lawrence units are fundamentally the same as similar B&G and Simrad. They cost a bit less then their brethren because they are not as fully featured as the equivalent B&G and Simrad units, but the guts are the same, the software and inputs may be different. B&G is oriented towards sailing, Simrad towards powerboats, and Lowrance towards fishing.

Based on your description, the B&G Vulcan series might suit you very well. Check the specs, I seem to recall it can control an AP, can read NMEA 2000 data from speed/depth/wind sensors, and can accept NMEA 0183 data. A 7" Vulcan is about $700 and a 9" about $1100. Keep an eye out after the New Year for sales, especially if B&G is planning to release updated models.
 

BarryL

.
May 21, 2004
835
Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 409 Mt. Sinai, NY
Hello,

Where are you going to mount the unit? A 9" plotter on a C22 is a real big plotter. I have a B&G Vulcan 7 on my 36' C&C and I think that's more than big enough (mine is mounted on the binnacle in front of the wheel.

Some information for you:
Autopilot: If you do get an a tiller pilot note that only an MFD from the same vendor will allow you to CONTROL the pilot. For example a Raymarine Axiom would allow you to control a raymarine tiller pilot. Assuming the MFD and AP are networked, any vendor's MFD can send data (waypoint, speed, heading, etc) to a pilot, but you would still need the pilot control head to activate the pilot etc. So the Vulcan on my boat can send data to my Raymaine Evo 100 AP, but I need to use the Raymarine control head to activate the pilot, make a course change, etc. My buddy has the same AP and a Raymarine Axiom and he doesn't need to use the Ray control head at all. This isn't a huge deal but something to be aware of.

Transducers: You can only have ONE transducer of a specific frequency on the boat. My boat came with Raymarine ST60 instruments or speed, depth, wind. The depth transducer is 50hz. My Vulcan 7 has a 'fish finder' capability so I added another transducer (mounted as far forward as possible). The unit I bought is dual frequency - it supposed 50 or 200 HZ. If I run it at 50Z my ST60 depth display gets no data. If I switch to 200 HZ then both the Vulcan and ST60 display data.

As mentioned, Simrad, Lowrance, B&G are all owned by Navico and are mostly the same. However, ONLY B&G get the Sailsteer function. This is sailing specific information that understands a sailboat can't sail directly into the wind and must tack upwind. Note that sailsteer won't work if the plotter doesn't have wind information.

I have owned plotters from Lowrance, Garmin, and B&G. I also have extensive experience with Raymarine. I have used touchscreen only, keyboard only, and combo. I will never use a keyboard only unit again. It's nice to have some keys but my Vulcan doesn't and I don't really miss them. IMHO: Garmin has the best user interface. B&G and Lowrance are pretty good, and Raymarine is OK but I find it harder to use. That may be because I'm conditioned to my Vulcan but I find it hard to find things and difficult to configure it for the way I like.

Regarding speed of the units, my Vulcan (bought in 2016) is kind of slow at redrawing screens, switch from one view to the next, etc. When I find I get impatient I just remind myself that my 'fast' boat is only moving at 7 kts and I have plenty of time to wait for the screen. The Axiom on my friend's boat is faster. I could buy a Zeus unit but instead I can just wait a few seconds.

If I were to buy a new unit today I could probably go with Garmin. When I bought my unit only B&G had the sailing specific functions. Now all manufacturers have it available. I'm not an expert on the Garmin line but I would want one with SONAR, WIFI, and that's about it. Garmin is also nice because you can get a Garmin smart watch and integrate that to your boat network as well.

Good luck,
Barry
 
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Likes: AaronD
Jul 7, 2004
8,025
Hunter 30T Cheney, KS
I broke the mounting bracket for my ancient Lowrance. I may replace it with a handheld. I really only "need" to mark my slip for inclement weather and/or nighttime, and for an annoying structure that can be run aground on. It's supposed to have a marker buoy, but a friend found out the hard way that it's not secured very well. He has the coordinates now.
 
Jul 26, 2009
258
. . .
The best advice we were given when looking for a plotter was to try as many models/mfgs as possible. Might be harder these days but West Marine still has powered units on their shelves to try out. Every vendor has a different feel when it comes to navigating their menus - a very subjective experience but important.

"I'm considering a chart plotter for our little C-22 cruiser sometime in the next couple years"

Keep in mind that Nav electronics, and the industry as a whole, evolve very quickly - there's a lot of great advice above, but relative to your timeline I expect specific references to models will be outdated in 2 years.

"Keeping the iPads charged in the cockpit can be a bit of a pain, with a cord laying around; it's a tripping hazard and a risk to the iPad "

Have you thought about how you're going to install and power a new plotter? Barry's comment is spot on - 9" is a big plotter, with a larger power draw to go along with it. Sounds like you have other reservations about using an iPad, but running a strategically located USB power source within the cockpit might be a fun project.

Good luck with whatever you choose - fun ideas to kick around for sure.
 
Sep 30, 2013
3,292
1988 Catalina 22 central Florida
You mentioned Garmin GPSmap vs. EchoMap ... we have a GPSmap (740s) on our C22 and an EchoMap something-or-other on our Boston Whaler. Both have a 7" display. I haven't noticed any difference between them as far as navigation is concerned. Been very happy with the GPSmap for the last seven years. And while I have a love/hate relationship with Garmin, I will say their warranty support is second to none. Very much the opposite with Raymarine in my experience.
 
Dec 25, 2000
5,049
Hunter Passage 42 Shelter Bay, WA
Fam got me a Garmin 178C GPS chart plotter/sounder for my birthday in 2005. Has all the charts from Puget Sound to the Alaska border and outside Vancouver Island. Wonderful machine and it also shows fish beneath the boat at relative depth. Saved our skin many times; dead on accurate.
 
Jan 19, 2010
10,016
Hunter 26 Charleston
How far from shore will you be? If less than five miles then down load the navonics app to your phone or tablet and go sailing. The app shows sonar data so you know to avoid shoals. I don’t remember what the app cost but I’m feeling like $20. Try that and see if it meets your needs before spending a wad of money. Also load the NOAA weather app and you will have weather related radar data on your phone or tablet. Won’t help with cargo ships but is great for seeing a storm approaching.

Re auto-pilot... A stand alone tiller pilot can be had on eBay for $100 if you are patient. That is how I got mine.
 

AaronD

.
Aug 10, 2014
538
Catalina 22 9874 Newberg, OR / Olympia, WA
Thanks. to all for the helpful input. I'll be reading over it in more detail as time allows. Warranty coverage experience was something I hadn't even thought to ask about (thanks, @Gene Neill).

...I suspect you utilize GPS in your car a lot.
Do you use it to go to the grocery?
:) Ironically, my 2004 car doesn't have a GPS at all. But, then, I telecommute full-time (even before COVID), and have put about 5k miles on it in the last 3 years (and, for the older car, we're all just happy if the 1973 British electrics don't spontaneously burst into flame!)

That said, I am overly dependent on electronics. We carry paper charts, but I've never gotten very confident in new areas. Is this the 3rd inlet that we're looking for? Or is it just that little divot on the chart, and the anchorage is actually around that point?... Just exactly where is the deepest channel into this gunkhole? ... I do like my electronic charts. I know a real seaman would do all that better, but I'm accepting it as one of my many weaknesses...

Plus, my daughter loves anything electronic; giving geekish boat tasks helps ameliorate her fear of sailing.

Where are you going to mount the unit? A 9" plotter on a C22 is a real big plotter.
I'd plan to mount a plotter to the port-side bulkhead. And yes, I was thinking larger (probably 9") because it's ~4-5' away from the most comfortable steering position (port-side settee, with access to motor if needed; since, as noted above, a plotter is mostly useful when entering a new area, usually under power). Having mostly used a 9.7" iPad screen, I think I'd be disappointed with a 5" screen from a few feet away. Maybe after Lasik :)

Keep in mind that Nav electronics, and the industry as a whole, evolve very quickly - there's a lot of great advice above, but relative to your timeline I expect specific references to models will be outdated in 2 years.
I'll read that as, a vote for "You might be disappointed if you buy the closeout model from a couple years ago.
 
Sep 29, 2008
1,865
Catalina 310 #185 Quantico
I looked up real quick and found the Gramin Echomap Plus G3 which is under $500 has most of what you want, but no NMEA 0183. Previous boat had a fishfinder which I really liked as you could see the bottom slope and have an idea what was down there. On our 310 we have a Humminbird 785 charplotter with a Raymarine ST60 depth readout which is not the same as a fishfinder. The Garmins (and most of the others have similar models) come with the charplotter/fishfinder combos that are pretty nice. I think it was a 640 I installed on a friends boat that had NMEA 0183 and NMEA 2000 which is nice. His Standard Horizon 2200 sends AIS over 0183 to his charplotter so you can see the AIS targets on the chart which is really sweet. He is now considering radar that would go via NMEA 2000 to the chartplotter as well which is also pretty swell.
The suggestion to go to West Marine and play with the units was a good suggestion.
 

AaronD

.
Aug 10, 2014
538
Catalina 22 9874 Newberg, OR / Olympia, WA
Hello,

Where are you going to mount the unit? A 9" plotter on a C22 is a real big plotter. I have a B&G Vulcan 7 on my 36' C&C and I think that's more than big enough (mine is mounted on the binnacle in front of the wheel.

Some information for you:
Autopilot: If you do get an a tiller pilot note that only an MFD from the same vendor will allow you to CONTROL the pilot. For example a Raymarine Axiom would allow you to control a raymarine tiller pilot. Assuming the MFD and AP are networked, any vendor's MFD can send data (waypoint, speed, heading, etc) to a pilot, but you would still need the pilot control head to activate the pilot etc. So the Vulcan on my boat can send data to my Raymaine Evo 100 AP, but I need to use the Raymarine control head to activate the pilot, make a course change, etc. My buddy has the same AP and a Raymarine Axiom and he doesn't need to use the Ray control head at all. This isn't a huge deal but something to be aware of.

Transducers: You can only have ONE transducer of a specific frequency on the boat. My boat came with Raymarine ST60 instruments or speed, depth, wind. The depth transducer is 50hz. My Vulcan 7 has a 'fish finder' capability so I added another transducer (mounted as far forward as possible). The unit I bought is dual frequency - it supposed 50 or 200 HZ. If I run it at 50Z my ST60 depth display gets no data. If I switch to 200 HZ then both the Vulcan and ST60 display data.

As mentioned, Simrad, Lowrance, B&G are all owned by Navico and are mostly the same. However, ONLY B&G get the Sailsteer function. This is sailing specific information that understands a sailboat can't sail directly into the wind and must tack upwind. Note that sailsteer won't work if the plotter doesn't have wind information.

I have owned plotters from Lowrance, Garmin, and B&G. I also have extensive experience with Raymarine. I have used touchscreen only, keyboard only, and combo. I will never use a keyboard only unit again. It's nice to have some keys but my Vulcan doesn't and I don't really miss them. IMHO: Garmin has the best user interface. B&G and Lowrance are pretty good, and Raymarine is OK but I find it harder to use. That may be because I'm conditioned to my Vulcan but I find it hard to find things and difficult to configure it for the way I like.

Regarding speed of the units, my Vulcan (bought in 2016) is kind of slow at redrawing screens, switch from one view to the next, etc. When I find I get impatient I just remind myself that my 'fast' boat is only moving at 7 kts and I have plenty of time to wait for the screen. The Axiom on my friend's boat is faster. I could buy a Zeus unit but instead I can just wait a few seconds.

If I were to buy a new unit today I could probably go with Garmin. When I bought my unit only B&G had the sailing specific functions. Now all manufacturers have it available. I'm not an expert on the Garmin line but I would want one with SONAR, WIFI, and that's about it. Garmin is also nice because you can get a Garmin smart watch and integrate that to your boat network as well.

Good luck,
Barry
Thanks, Barry. That's a LOT of good information; exactly the sort I was hoping to learn. Being a geek, I of course have a spreadsheet comparing features, connectivity options, screen resolutions, etc. But I would never have thought about what frequency my existing sounder uses (looks like it's 200 kHz, so I need to look for something that has a 50 or 83 kHz option too). And good info on the tiller pilot integrations too. As I said, that's not very high on our list, while we have young crew happy to take tiller time. But it might be a nice-to-have within the expected lifetime of a plotter.
 

Joe

.
Jun 1, 2004
7,455
Catalina 27 Mission Bay, San Diego
I have a BG vulcan 7 on my 27 footer and it's a perfect size. My boat's tiller steering prompted me to mount the unit on a swing arm that provides good viewing options in the cockpit from either side, but also allows it to be swung inside the cabin for security and chart table (i.e. dinette) viewing without removing it from the bracket. Whatever you get, make sure it's NMEA 2k and 183 capable.... and make sure it has all the sailing functions like the Vulcan and others... Having a dedicated, daylight visible chart plotter that can serve as the hub of your boat's future systems is incredibly satisfying. You'll want to start saving for a wind transducer and perhaps a compatible tiller pilot.... especially the wind....to really get the most out of the Vulcan's sailing features. Do not get a fishfinder unless you need a fishfinder.
 
Jun 14, 2010
1,727
TBD Looking for my next boat CT
Amps are a precious commodity on a 22‘ with small house bank, outboard motor (small alternator) and limited or no solar. When you think of “cruising“ that usually implies being away from shore power for extended periods.
A 9” bulkhead mounted CP that’s 5’ away from the operator is of limited use, and uses far more power than an iOS device you already own.
Some of the downsides you expressed about using your iOS devices (fragile, not sunlight readable) would be non-issues if you used it with a rugged case, suction cup pocket or clip mount on the same bulkhead where you might mount the CP, and add a bimini/dodger to mitigate the sun/weather factor (for yourselves, too). The Navionics app has far better usability and is more responsive (faster) than the software in any low-end CP. It can also receive and display the AIS from your VHF if you buy an NMEA to WiFi bridge device.
I assume you already have depth and wind instruments. If it were me:
1) Dodger and bimini
2) Suitable case and mount, plus 10’ charge cable for the ios device
3) NMEA to WiFi bridge device. Example Digital Yacht Wln10 Smart Nmea To Wifi Converter - 4800 Baud
 
Last edited:
Mar 26, 2011
2,939
Corsair F-24 MK I Deale, MD
I've been sailing for 40 years, but only in the last 20 have I used depth sounders and GPS. Coastal piloting will easily get you where you are going (and GPS is no good substitute for these skills) and running aground in a 22-foot boat is not a big deal in general... but you won't if you watch the map and sounder.

A fish finder is fine. My first sounder was and I will probably do the same next time I need one. GPS 90% of the time I'm just using it for speed over ground, and that is just idle curiosity. Just sail.
 
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Jun 14, 2010
1,727
TBD Looking for my next boat CT
I have a BG vulcan 7 on my 27 footer and it's a perfect size. My boat's tiller steering prompted me to mount the unit on a swing arm that provides good viewing options in the cockpit from either side, but also allows it to be swung inside the cabin for security and chart table (i.e. dinette) viewing without removing it from the bracket. Whatever you get, make sure it's NMEA 2k and 183 capable.... and make sure it has all the sailing functions like the Vulcan and others... Having a dedicated, daylight visible chart plotter that can serve as the hub of your boat's future systems is incredibly satisfying. You'll want to start saving for a wind transducer and perhaps a compatible tiller pilot.... especially the wind....to really get the most out of the Vulcan's sailing features. Do not get a fishfinder unless you need a fishfinder.
I assume the OP has a tiller pilot and wind meter. If not I'd prioritize those before thinking of getting a CP, considering how good the current iOS navigation software is.
 
Oct 24, 2010
2,399
Hunter 30 Everett, WA
We ended up purchasing an Echomap with a 9-in display and we have been very happy with it for $700. And I really do like the fish finder functions because I like to fish, but on top of that it gives you a better idea what the bottom is doing. you can actually navigate with a fish finder if you have charts that show the bottom contours. It also has a nice anchor alarm based on depth and based on position. I can see tides on the plot which is of course more important for those of us in saltwater. And it also links to active captain.
 
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