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Author Topic:   GPS Chartplotter Best Value
cindalyn posted 11-27-2008 01:13 PM ET (US)   Profile for cindalyn   Send Email to cindalyn  
[Which GPS receiver, chartplotter, and fishfinder cobination device with color display gives the best value?] This would be used on an Outrage 17 20-miles from shore and on the [Atlantic Intracoastal Water Way].
Jefecinco posted 11-27-2008 06:44 PM ET (US)     Profile for Jefecinco  Send Email to Jefecinco     
It's very difficult to beat Lowrance units for the price. As the new HD units approach the market the current models will drastically drop in price. has a lot of information.

Keep an eye on Boater's World On-line. In the recent past they have had the inside track on Lowrance close outs at very decent prices. I have a 10.4 inch screen unit on my 16 Dauntless. Installation required some careful planning and fitting to include relocation of the compass to a nearby cupholder's prior space.

Check out for some idea of when the newest Lowrance units will be available. Then strike when prices fall.


jimh posted 11-27-2008 09:07 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
There really is no single unit that gives "the best bang for the buck" (whatever that means), because there are far too many variables to consider in making the selection, and, if there were one unit that stood out, it would soon dominate the market. As we see, the market is filled with many products and there is no clear "best" choice.

The most basic measure of "the best bang for the buck" would be the size of the color display and the number of pixels of resolution. But even this is complicated by considerations like screen refresh rate, brightness, and durability.

A further consideration is the amount of digital cartography which is bundled with a unit, and here the field is extremely variable. Some units have no usable cartography provided in the base price, while other have very extensive and quite good cartography.

This topic comes up for discussion frequently, and the general outcome is that anecdotal recommendations are given for the unit which someone has purchased. This is a logical outcome as most people purchase the unit they think has "the best bang for the buck."

Jefecinco posted 11-28-2008 07:41 PM ET (US)     Profile for Jefecinco  Send Email to Jefecinco     

If you know of a better unit than the LCX 113HD in the same or larger size with the same or better performance at a lesser price please let me know as I'll put it at the top of my Santa Claus letter this year.


cindalyn posted 11-28-2008 11:12 PM ET (US)     Profile for cindalyn  Send Email to cindalyn     
Jim, what unit do you have and why?
If you were to buy new, what would you buy and why?

I'm sure you do more research than most buyers.

I have a Garmin for my car and love it but many boaters I talk to prefer Lowrance


jimh posted 11-29-2008 02:13 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
My requirements for a GPS and chart plotter not really clear in my own mind. I'll elaborate and explain:

After my November trip on Lake Erie and using Dave's 10-inch color display, my notion of display size has changed. If one is going to combine the chart plotter with a SONAR, a big 10-inch display is great. On the other hand, if one has separate chart plotter and SONAR displays, perhaps each can be smaller.

I am interested in chart plotters which support overlay of remote vessel positions obtained via digital selective calling (DSC) remote position requests, so this is an important limitation. It puts into question the LOWRANCE devices because I do not clearly see that they support this, but rather they have their own standard they call "Track your buddy." Since there is an NMEA standard on this, it would be better if LOWRANCE used it, or, if they are using it and just changed the name, they ought to make that clear.

I also would like automatic identification system (AIS) overlays.

I do want to get a better SONAR. It must have a depth range of at least 520 feet with excellent resolution and be able to store screen rasters to memory for later download to a MacOS computer. This also becomes an important limitation. LOWRANCE has this feature. It works better with the Windows OS because of an included compiled binary application for replaying recorded sequences, not just still data. That is a plus, but the Windows OS is not very useful to me. I'd have to get a new Intel based computer to use it.

I also would like some support for NMEA-2000 networking in the event that I get a new engine with an NMEA-2000 certified interface. This is also well supported by LOWRANCE.

However, I also see that RAYMARINE has a new line coming out in their A-Series which will offer most of these features. I think this winter marks a new era in small boat electronics, and I am waiting to see what new products actually show up on the shelf, how much they cost, and what a few early adopters have to say about them.

jimh posted 11-29-2008 02:24 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
I left out the question of cartography. I do have a small investment in some C-MAP NT-plus cartography, but it is not so extensive that I am bound to only get a new chart plotter which is C-MAP compatible. The market for digital cartography is in an upheaval from what I can tell. The larger brands are now offering very good base cartography for the United States (and maybe Canada) as part of their baseline units or for only a small incremental cost like $100. These are unbeatable deals on the cartography, and they trump any hand I might hold in my present C-MAP.

The effect of such good cartography at such a low included price means I could just abandon my investment in my current cartography library and switch to an entirely new brand without feeling like I lost my shirt in the process.

Cartography and chart plotters are like boats and outboard motors. Once you pair them up you tend to stick with those brands. This is particularly true with some brands of chart plotter that can only use their house brand of cartography. I think GARMIN is like that; you only use GARMIN charts in a GARMIN chart plotter. At one time I was wary of such an arrangement, but now it seems like the big chart plotter manufacturers have grown in size to the point where producing their own cartography is not a limitation for them. If anything, the market may be swinging their way, that is, companies what make only cartography and not the hardware to use it might be more in a pinch.

jmorgan40 posted 11-29-2008 08:21 PM ET (US)     Profile for jmorgan40  Send Email to jmorgan40     
Everyone has their own preferences, likes, and dislikes when it comes to electronics. As you can see from Jim's replies, he has his own specific criteria. As a licensed captain operating vessels other than my own, I have used about every unit and manufacture out there. Most of my experience has been with Lowrance, Garmin, Raymarine, and Furuno. For Saltwater offshore the highend Furono is hands down the best but I don't think you need that for your needs on a 17ft Outrage. I have a Lowarance LCX-26C HD on my 20 Outrage. I love the unit and have had no problems with it.

Before this I was running Garmin units on my last two whalers. My personal opinion is that the Garmin units are best for their GPS. Their menu is very easy to use while underway. I think the Garmin units fall way short on their sonar capabilities although their newer digital units may be better.

I think the Lowrance sonar units are by far the best and have the power to shoot deep and draw targets other units don't even see. The Lowrance units are brighter and have no glare even in direct sunlight which was a major drawback to the Garmin units.

As butch mentioned earlier, this may be a great opportunity to pickup a closeout of the current Lowrance models since they just came out with their new HDS line. If you do not have a t-top I would recommend the Lowrance LMS-527C DF iGPS Sonar/GPS since it has a built in antenna. It also has 4000 watts output so it can shoot deeper and draws very sharp images. I know several buddies who run this unit and love it. If you want a larger screen, then I would look at the new HDS Lowrance units. They will all come with the new broadband sonar capability and I believe they all have units with built-in antennas.

I also have run many boats with Raymarine units. They are very easy to use and have great features and network easily.

As I mentioned these are my personal opinions and I am not looking at starting a debate on this thread. I still think you will have a great opportunity to pickup one of the current Lowrance units at a good price in the next several months.

Good luck and I hope this helped.

jimh posted 11-30-2008 10:11 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
The SONAR performance may not be a concern as the discussion here is about the GPS receiver and the chart plotter, but its mention shows how much integration is expected these days in marine electronics. On a small boat I think it is quite reasonable to combine the SONAR with the chart plotter in order to take advantage of a single large display. Also many people are not interested in a SONAR for anything more than a bottom echo, so SONAR performance is not a high priority for them. These considerations further hinder the search for the unit with the "best bang for the buck," which really means completely different things to different people.

More germane to this discussion is the GPS receiver performance, which many seem to think of as just a commodity these days. That is not the case, and I have seen quite a bit of variation between GPS receivers I have tested. Most marine electronic manufacturers are not making their own GPS receivers; they tend to use someone else's GPS chip set. These GPS chip sets are a very highly evolving and very competitive market. As a result, GPS receiver performance gets better and better, and something from just a few years ago may no longer be as fast or as sensitive as a modern receiver. So competitive is this field that "modern" means brought to market in the last month.

For GPS receivers there are several benchmarks I look for:

--can the receiver track the new PRN32 satellite?
--can the receiver track the WAAS signals-in-space sources?
--can the receiver be pre-set for optimum WAAS source by PRN?
--how fast does it acquire a precision fix using WAAS correction?
--how sensitive is the receiver?

Then there is the whole question of the WAAS precision fix: is it really needed? The WAAS precision fix was designed to allow an aircraft to make an approach in reduced visibility to a landing. Aircraft navigate in three dimension and at speeds over 100-MPH. In contrast a small boat navigates in two dimension and approaches its landing at about 2-MPH. This makes you wonder if a WAAS precision fix is really necessary at all for navigating a small boat. Yes, a WAAS precision fix is nice to get back to the same spot or to find a buoy in the dark, but most people can do that without a WAAS precision fix.

jimh posted 11-30-2008 10:16 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Another important element in a GPS receiver and chart plotter is how well it integrates with the vessel's VHF Marine Band radio. At a minimum the GPS receiver should provide a NMEA-0183 output to the radio to convey the vessel's position. This is quite standard now. Communication in the other direction, radio to chart plotter, is also a consideration, and that is more variable. The chart plotter should have inputs for NMEA-0183 data and clearly specify what NMEA sentences it can accept and process.
Chuck Tribolet posted 11-30-2008 03:10 PM ET (US)     Profile for Chuck Tribolet  Send Email to Chuck Tribolet     
I find WAAS accuracy very important. Non-WAAS accuracy is a
longer distance that typical underwater visibility in
Monterey. I might never find the dive site.


cindalyn posted 11-30-2008 05:02 PM ET (US)     Profile for cindalyn  Send Email to cindalyn     
Thanks for all the detailed replies. I think I may have learned more than my old brain will retain for very long.

I now see the error in my original question. I'm really just a recreational boater and would like to try fishing 20 miles or so offshore. I also like to explore the local rivers, inlets and tributaries on which you can get lost fairly easily. My primary use is safety - so I don't get lost and accurately know my water depth. Secondary is as a fish finder. Anything beyond this I would consider an extra.

To be a little more specific, I'd like:

to stay below $500
console mounted & removable
approx. 5" color display
good resolution
East coast software & easy updated
"Reasonably" good fish finder
easy use
dependability & maintenance free
*** ability to get me home in poor visibility and within "reasonable" distance of buoys

The suggested Lowrance units may be good candidates if the prices do drop. I also looked units similiar to Garmin's 525 & 540 but they may be more than I need.

Based on the above comments, can you recommend a more suitable unit?


RJG posted 12-09-2008 08:22 PM ET (US)     Profile for RJG  Send Email to RJG     
I was in Boater's World today and they have on sale the Raymarine A60 GPS-Chartplotter for $499.00 after rebates. Regular price is $999.00. Price includes Navionics chart coverage for the continental US coastal areas, Great Lakes and the Bahamas on a single CompactFlash.
That is a nice unit.
Newtauk1 posted 12-09-2008 11:52 PM ET (US)     Profile for Newtauk1  Send Email to Newtauk1     
Try looking at some of the Garmin models at Tiger GPS. They are a good online source for GPS/chartplotters units.
I have purchased two units from them and have been satisfied.
Garmin has been great to deal with for support and technical updates.

Newtauk1 posted 12-09-2008 11:57 PM ET (US)     Profile for Newtauk1  Send Email to Newtauk1     
ps. TigerGPS is offering 5% off orders right now. Look at the Garmin 430 series.
Austin Whaler posted 12-10-2008 08:03 AM ET (US)     Profile for Austin Whaler  Send Email to Austin Whaler     
I like this STADARD HORIZON CPV350 GPS receiver, VHF Marine Band radio, and optional SONAR. It sells for $850. The black box fishfinder is $230, and the transducer $100.
jimh posted 12-10-2008 09:40 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
I have reviews of three GPS receivers combined with chart plotters and SONAR units in the REFERENCE section.

Standard Horizon CP300

Lowrance LMS-500 Series

Raymarine A60

All of these devices meet the criteria of being "used on a 17 ft Outrage offshore 20 or so miles and on the Atlantic [Intra-coastal Water Way]."

cindalyn posted 12-10-2008 11:33 PM ET (US)     Profile for cindalyn  Send Email to cindalyn     
Urgh, trying to sort out these electronics is no fun at all! Jim's posts, as usual, are detailed and loaded with information. Unfortunately, for those of us lacking sufficient understanding, the details tend to add to the confusion.

Someone needs to develop a matrix with enough detail, in layman's terms, that leads to 1 or 2 choices of each manufacturer's products, similiar to what Comsumer's Guide provides for a variety of products. I appreciate the complexity of such an undertaking and I'm rather confident it won't happen - but it would be nice.

Maybe I should just put a GPS Chartplotter on my Christmas list and trust that Santa will make the best choice.

Newtauk1 posted 12-10-2008 11:56 PM ET (US)     Profile for Newtauk1  Send Email to Newtauk1     
All of Jim's are well above the price range you mentioned. Try to get into a marine store and find a knowledgeable sales associate to show you a few units operating or bounce around a few marinas and ask folks with the same size boat. Everybody likes to show off their gadgets.

Try calling Garmin as well. Their staff is extremely helpful.

jimh posted 12-11-2008 09:21 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
The price of marine electronics is another variable. There's the list price, the minimum advertised price (MAP), the price after you add it to the electronic shopping cart, and the price after rebates and other incentives. Models near the end of their life (EOL) often are promoted with price incentives. The A60 is now EOL and provides a good example. Its retail price was once $1,175, but it now sells for under $500.

The LMS-520c was selling for about $650. I do not consider that $650 is "well above the price range" Ron just specified. It may very well be selling for less at the moment, as Lowrance have announced new products for 2009, and the LMS-520c may also be EOL.

As for Ron, he never specified a price point in his initial inquiry, and he just recently added the specification that he only wants to spend $500. Ron is extremely fortunate because there has never ever been a time in boating and electronics where the marketplace have offered you as much value for your money as you can get today. You can get some amazing stuff for only $500. Ron also specified that the device must be a color device. When have you ever been able to get a color display, a GPS, and a SONAR for under $500?

When operating a boat 20-miles offshore--the specified criteria--I don't think that having $500 invested in electronics is really overdoing it in that situation.

Newtauk1 posted 12-11-2008 10:16 AM ET (US)     Profile for Newtauk1  Send Email to Newtauk1     
Jim, you are right that Raymarine A60 can be had for about $650.00. Certainly a far cry from the retail. I am sure many marine suppliers will have some in house incentives as well so it is closer to the $500.00 range.
I wonder if prices will drop even more in Q1 of 2009 or if right now is the time to buy with end of the year incentives.

Either way it is a good time to buy.

Stevebaz posted 12-11-2008 03:02 PM ET (US)     Profile for Stevebaz  Send Email to Stevebaz     
Try this rebate from Raymarine on the A60 until the end of this year
RJG posted 12-11-2008 09:48 PM ET (US)     Profile for RJG  Send Email to RJG     
After taking a second look at the Raymarine A60 on sale at Boater's World, this model does not appear to be the model with a SONAR. The flyer I got in the mail today makes no mention of the SONAR capabilities.
jimh posted 12-14-2008 11:23 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Making price comparisons among GPS receiver, chart plotter, and SONAR combination instruments requires careful attention to exactly what is included in the bundled price. Do not forget to allow for the cost of digital cartography, if it is not part of the bundle. This often adds at least $100 to the base price.
cindalyn posted 12-15-2008 02:34 PM ET (US)     Profile for cindalyn  Send Email to cindalyn     
If I want a chartplotter that has both GPS and a fish finder, what terminology am I looking for in the description and specification? Are "sounder" and "SONAR" the same thing? What function does the dual frequency play? Just different depth ranges?

If the unit indicates that it is preloaded with Blue Chart G2 Coastal Maps will I have everything I need for the South Carolina coast, the [Atlantic Intracoastal Water Way], and the Waccamaw River which joins the [Atlantic Intracoastal Water Way]? If not, what would I need to buy?

I've been looking at the Garmin 540s which appears to meet my requirements but I'm not certain.

What Lowrance model is closest to the Garmin 540S?



bluewaterpirate posted 12-15-2008 03:15 PM ET (US)     Profile for bluewaterpirate  Send Email to bluewaterpirate     
You will have all the charts you'll need on the Garmin 540. Very robust chart package!
ConB posted 12-15-2008 04:24 PM ET (US)     Profile for ConB  Send Email to ConB     
I own a Garmin 540s and think it is a good ELVIS* for the buck.

It even pointed out one of the beer stores in Northern Michigan that Ernest Hemingway used to haunt.

* ELectronic Vessel Information System: I Thought we all decided last winter that's what we should call these GPS/chartplotter/ depth sounder things.


jimh posted 12-15-2008 10:44 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
The term "sounder" is generally short hand for echo sounder. Echo sounding is a technique for measuring depth by timing of acoustic echoes returning from the sea bottom. Its use precedes the modern era, as it was first investigated in c.1913. See

"SONAR" is an acronym for SOund NAvigation and Ranging. It generally refers to detecting things below the ship other than the bottom, such as submarines, or in the case of recreational users, fish. It employs the sounding technique

A "fish finder" is a specialized type of SONAR in which there typically is a rasterized representation of the acoustic echoes on a X-Y coordinate system in which the X-axis represents prior elapsed time and the Y-axis represent the time interval of the echo (thus the depth of the target). Such a display is generally called an SONAR echogram or a sonogram.

You want a GPS receiver. You do not want a GPS, as they're much too expensive. So far there is only one GPS in the whole world, and it is run by the United States military--they're the only ones who can afford it. Just get a GPS receiver, not the whole GPS.

A "chart plotter" is an electronic device that displays the position of your vessel (and perhaps other remote vessels as well) on an electronic representation of a nautical chart.

jimh posted 12-15-2008 10:52 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
The frequency used in SONAR is often varied to accomplish different goals. The lower the frequency, the longer the distance it can travel and provide return echoes, and thus to get soundings from great depth, a lower frequency is typically used.

SONAR echoes occur because of a change in the acoustic impedance of the target from the acoustic impedance of the propagating medium, the sea water. The acoustic impedance of some targets varies with frequency, so it is possible to get a different echo return or acoustic signature from targets depending on the frequency used to generate the sound waves reflecting from them. This property is exploited by commercial fishermen who use it to help identify the species of fish, certain species having stronger echo response to certain frequencies. Generally this sort of sophistication is not available in recreational "fish finders" and certainly not in ones where the combined cost of a GPS receiver, a color display, a SONAR, a transducer, and the digital cartography for the area of interest is all to be provided for less than $500.

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