Chart plotters are increasingly difficult to isolate from the myriad electronic tools available to the simplest fishing boats. Even stand-alone plotters, which are still produced by most manufacturers, increasingly are built to incorporate functions besides chart plotting. The overwhelming trend in electronics is systems in which the chart plotter, usually in concert with a sounder, establishes the basic platform and hosts additional functions, ranging from radar to engine monitoring.
More sophisticated systems may be nothing more than a central processing unit to which any number of multifunction displays are attached to display the various applications. There's a full range on the market, and among the selection is likely a plotter configuration that matches your fishing requirements. Each manufacturer draws on a particular set of strengths and offers plotters suited to a range of traveling and fishing needs.
The new-product season begins this fall, when fresh items will be announced, but in the meantime, here is where the major suppliers stand in terms of the focus of their electronics for fishing boats.
When Furuno introduced its signature NavNet 3-D, the architecture, essentially a computer gaming platform, was so advanced that complete cartography packages hadn't been developed to run on it. That criticism is now a thing of the past. "When we debuted [NavNet 3-D] in 2007, it took a while to deliver, but now the horizon seems to be limitless," says Furuno sales manager Matt Wood. "This is revolutionary evolution." He's referring to the multiple charts that NavNet 3-D now supports: C-Map charts, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration raster and vector charts, Navionics charts and Furuno's own bathymetric fishing charts. Wood explains that while the system cannot display different maps in split-screen segments on the same MFD, it can display, say, NOAA charts and C-Map charts simultaneously on separate MFDs on the same network. All the cartography has been converted by MapMedia for compatibility with Furuno's NavNet 3-D and MaxSea Time Zero.
Garmin prides itself on ease of use and systemwide NMEA 2000. "All our gear plays well together," says Greg DeVries. No small amount of that gear was designed for fishermen. "Through the XM satellite feed, we can show water temperature gradient on a moving chart, and water temperature is a big deal," says DeVries. In combination with a sounder, Garmin's Vision cartography, chart plotters and bathymetric charts provide a fish-eye underwater 3-D view of what's below and paint the transducer cone so you can see the area of coverage. It shows you fish return inside the cone and a depth reading in 3-D.
All plotter-sonar combos, from the 441 through 7215, have these capabilities.
The Raymarine focus in plotters is simplicity and flexibility in the operating procedure, as displayed by the recently released E-Series Widescreen, says Jim McGowan, Raymarine's marketing manager.
Bold icons on the screen make for intuitive control and eliminate a lot of the menu navigation that eats up time and convenience at the helm. "Say you are going to the fishing ground and you need a full-screen nav display," says McGowan. "Touch home to get to the icons for the preconfigured screen. There is no complex sequence of steps or any knobs to turn." The MFD is driven by both a touch screen and a control pad, an important option when your hands are covered with fish slime and salt, which you don't want to be rubbing on your screen. The keypad also allows direct-access keys for dropping waypoints and shooting back to the home menu.
Currently, Raymarine plotters support Navionics cartography, but their capacity to handle C-Map charts is under development.
Basics and Backup
Sticker shock, says Si-Tex Vice President of sales Allen Schneider, is a very real concern for many fishermen looking to upgrade their electronics suite, and Si-Tex is targeting the anglers who want simplicity, reliability and economy. "Our customers say, 'Just show me how to get to the fish and back,'" says Schneider. Reliability also has its appeal. "If the whole boat is controlled by one network system and it goes down, you are screwed," he says. "There is still something to be said for redundancy." The point is that Si-Tex capitalizes on the strength of stand-alone plotters and plotter-sounder combinations. Si-Tex offers both radar-compatible plotters and combination plotter-sonar units, from 5½ inches to with 15-inch screens, all self-contained, with C-Map cartography. Schneider says Si-Tex is not entirely Spartan in its approach; the video inputs work nicely with an underwater camera that fits into the transducer housing. "It has been fun to see fish on the fish finder and then switch over to the camera as they swim under the boat," he says.
Simrad draws on the strengths of the Navico brands with the new NSE series, which "married the intuitiveness of Northstar with Simrad functionality and made it user-friendly, hence the name NSE, for Northstar Edition," says regional sales manager Tom Zambetoglou. Plotters boast simplified operation, entailing minimum dedicated button pushing, as opposed to navigation through successive menus. But more significantly, the NSE is under continual development as a central control station. Integration with BEP Marine's CZone monitoring systems brings all electrical and mechanical systems onto the MFD. The Simrad autopilot is also fully operable from the same screen. "You can steer your boat from the plotter rotary dial or, if you have a real-estate shortage at the helm, you can hide [the] autopilot controller," says Zambetoglou. "There is no need for a control head at the helm. You have full functionality and parameter control from the MFD."