This article is an brief description and assessment of the Raymarine A60 combination GPS receiver, electronic chart display, and SONAR.
Traditionally the Raymarine products have been targeted (and priced) toward the high end of the marine electronics market. The recently introduced A60 DUAL FUNCTION instrument represents a shift in that philosphy, and Raymarine has brought their expertise in marine electronics to the more moderately priced field of competition. The A60 is Raymarine's least expensive product that offers a GPS receiver, an electronic chart display, and a digital SONAR in a three-piece combination instrument. Each of these three elements is reviewed separately. The base configuration of the A60 is just as a GPS receiver and electronic chart display. With the addition of an optional sounder module, a SONAR can be added which shares the device's color display, creating a dual function device.
The A60 relies on an external GPS receiver, model RS12 and called a "GPS Sensor." The GPS sensor is a self-contained device, getting only its power from the A60 control head, and, in turn, supplying just data back to the control head. That is, there are no GPS receiver electronics in the control head; everything is built into the sensor unit. The sensor has the familiar mushroom-shaped white plastic housing, and it can be mounted in a variety of configurations. The sensor is about the diameter of a hockey puck and a little thinner.
The GPS receiver sensitivity seemed excellent. I tested the unit by placing the sensor on a window sill of my home with a west exposure. The GPS receiver rapidly acquired and locked onto multiple satellites, including many which were apparently being received through the roof and walls of my home. Turning the unit on from a hot start produced a fix within 10 seconds, about as fast as you can get to the GPS STATUS screen to check it.
The packaging for the A60 describes the RS12 as being of type "SC-GPS, WAAS/EGNOS/MSAS ready, 12 parallel channels." However, a sticker on the box bears this notice:
"Due to FAA Satellite changes, this product is no longer WAAS enabled. The product is safe for navigating using the supplied RS12 GPS sensor. You can upgrade the product to utilize the WAAS satellite system in North America. If you want to upgrade, please go to www.raymarine.com for details."
The notice refers to a problem which occured when the constellation of satellites involved in the WAAS augmentation system was recently changed (in July 2007), but the firmware in the RS12 could not be updated. Following the advice of the sticker on the box, I navigated to the Raymarine web site, but I found no direct link to any information on the top page. By navigating to a search page and using the argument "WAAS", I was able to locate a Raymarine article that explained the upgrade--discard the RS12 sensor and replace it with a newer model, the RS125 which retails for $365 (or less via the usual discount sellers). The cost of the new GPS sensor is borne by the customer.
The RS125 has to be modified to work with the A60. You have to cut off the connector of the old RS12 and make a splice in the cable so that the new sensor can be spliced to the old connector which can mate with the one on the A60 control head. There are Scotchlok insulation displacement butt connectors supplied with the RS125 to accomplish the modification. The modification is necessary because the cable for the new RS125 sensor only has a connector (5-pin) on one end, and this end plugs into the sensor. The other end of the RS125 cable has no connector (because it is designed to terminate onto terminal posts on the newer Raymarine devices), so it is spliced to the existing connector (6-pin) on the A60 using the old RS12 cable assembly.
The RS12 sensor has the opposite arrangement of cable and connectors. The cable terminates into the sensor without a connector, and the end of the cable that runs to the control head has a connector. In the new RS125 sensor there is a connector at the sensor end, and no connector for the control head. Apparently Raymarine decided that field replacement of the GPS sensor would be more easily accomplished if just the sensor head could be replaced without having to re-run all of the cable. In some installations where the sensor is located atop a radar arch or other pipe frame structure, the cable may be run through a lot of obstacles to reach the control head. Being able to just install a new sensor using a connector is probably an attractive improvement. Also, having no connector on one end of the cable will make it much easier to route the cable during installation, particularly in those situations where the cable runs inside a pipe which is part of a radar arch structure.
The A60 display unit features a very bright color TFT LCD QVGA display. What do all those acronyms mean? That's "thin film transistor liquid crystal display quarter video graphics array" in plain language. The color display has 320 H x 240 V pixels, measures 5.7-inches diagonally, and is rated, along with the rests of the unit, as IPX-7 waterproof--suitable for external use.
The size of the display is really the "meat" of any device, and in the A60 the cut is of good quality but the portion is a little small. The 5.7-inch size is decent, but the pixel resolution is a bit lower than other devices of this same size. In general, the cost of electronic chart display devices is primarily controlled by the cost of the daylight-viewable color display, as it is by far the most expensive component in the system. This influence is easily seen in the A60. If you compare it to the A65 model you will find the two devices are alike in every way, except for the size of their displays. The A65 has a display of 6.5-inches, a modest increase in size, but the pixel count is 640 H x 480 V. Thus while the display is only 14-percent larger on the diagonal, the pixel count (307,200 versus 76,800) is 300-percent increased (i.e., four times the size). If you carry this over to the retail price comparison, the A65 ($2,059) sells at a substantial premium to the A60 ($1,175). That larger display adds $884 to the price. The display is the only difference between the units. You can clearly see that the cost of these large, sunlight-viewable displays is very dear.
I did not get a chance to test the display on a boat and in sunlight, however my test conditions may have been even more harsh for viewing. I put the display on my work bench which is under four large windows. We had a fresh snow fall and the ground was covered in deep white snow, while a beautiful bright sun shone in. The lighting was so bright it was just about impossible to see my conventional color CRT computer monitor, nor could I easily see the LCD on my laptop. However, the display on the A60 was bright and easily seen. I don't think you will have any complaints about this display in a boat cockpit.
The A60 can be connected to the optional DSM25 Digital Sounder Module. The DSM25 is described as an "adaptive digital sounder" with an "adjustable" output power of "500-watts RMS." The sounder is a dual frequency design and operates on both 50-kHz and 200-kHz. The sounder is housed in a plastic enclosure. A 10-foot cable is supplied to connect the sounder to the A60.
In the package I was testing, an AIRMAR P58 triducer was included. The P58 is a transom mount transducer with dual 50 and 200-kHz SONAR transducers, a temperature sensor, and a paddlewheel speed sensor. The P58 is a rather large assembly. On a small boat it will probably have a bit of effect like a trim tab. A 30-foot cable is supplied to connect the transducer to the sounder. AIRMAR is the gold standard of SONAR transducers, another indication of the level of quality in this package.
I did not assemble and actually use the SONAR portion of the A60, as it was still winter while I was testing the device. The specification call for a maximum depth of 3,000-feet. Judging by the size of everything, I would not be surprized if that was easily obtained. Also, it is a long way from Michigan to any water that is 3,000-feet deep.
To appreciate how the sounder operates, I relied on the simulation software in the A60. It provided a good demonstration of the echograms and displays the SONAR could provide.
My first impression of the A60 was made by hooking up its power cord. The conductors in the power cable are 14-AWG, and are sufficiently hefty to probably jump start a small outboard. This is one battleship of a power cord. This set a general trend with the Raymarine A60. Everything was a bit larger and sturdier than the recreational marine electronic devices I was accustomed to using. There is a sense of commercial quality and size in the Raymarine hardware. With the separation of the SONAR from the display, there are two rather large electronic packages to be mounted. The display and sounder each have several connectors and cables associated with them. The connectors are generally high quality--better than most of the ones I have seen on recreational boat electronics--and the interconnecting cables have similar mating plugs. All of this adds to the bulk (and the cost) of the A60.
Turning the A60 on for the first time I was pleasantly surprized by the color display's brightness. It defaults to 100-percent brightness on start up, so I had to find the dimmer control. It is hidden in the POWER button. When the unit is ON, pushing the POWER button briefly brings up a dimmer control menu, and you can adjust the display brightness in 5-unit steps from 100 to 0.
I approached operation of the A60 without reading the instruction manual. I wanted to see if I could deduce the layout of controls and functions just by interacting with them. In this regard I give the A60 (or myself) high marks: I was able to discover and accomplish most control functions just by poking around on my own for a few minutes.
The unit has 14 front panel controls. Nine of these are fixed controls, while five are "soft" keys, that is, a button whose function changes from screen to screen and whose label is shown above it in the display. These soft keys add greatly to the operation of the unit, and make it much simpler for the user to understand and control. However, the soft key legends do steal some pixels from the display, cutting into the space available for chart or SONAR rasterizations. But that cost is worth the price; the soft keys are of great value. And in a well-designed user interface the soft key layout can make a huge difference in the ease of operation.
An overwhelmingly important element of any electronic chart display is the chart cartography. The A60 is bundled with a NAVIONICS Silver chip that provides a United States base chart for coastal areas and the Great Lakes. It does not appear to have a great deal of inland lakes, unless they are linked by navigable channel to a main body of water.
The cartography is provided on a Compact Flash (CF) memory card which has to be inserted into a single front panel slot on the A60. You can only have one memory card mounted at a time. You can purchase additional cartography from Navionics which will give greater detail. You can also insert your own CF memory card and store images, way points, and routes on it. The CF memory card can then be removed and mounted as a volume on a computer, giving access to the stored files. This feature was important to me because I wanted to make screen shot recordings from the SONAR, and then be able to view them on my computer.
The ability of the A60 to capture its own screen display and record it onto a CF memory card is a great advantage compared to many other similar units. I tested this feature to verify that it would work. On the Raymarine A60 there is only one CF memory card slot. The digital cartography for the instrument is stored on and provided by a Navionics Silver CF memory card. This means that if you want to make a screen capture of a screen image which contains cartography you will have to record the image onto the same CF memory card that contains the cartography. The manual cautions against doing this, but I was able to grab a few images and record them onto the Navionics card with no apparent harm to it. If you wanted to grab only SONAR echogram images, it might be prudent to insert a different CF memory card. I used a 256-MB CF memory card which I had been using with my Nikon digital camera, and I was able to make recordings to it with the A60. So there apparently is no special formating or file structure needed for the CF memory card to be used in the A60.
The Raymarine device keeps track of the file naming. The first screen capture file sequence is named DUMP0001.BMP, DUMP0001.TXT, and DUMP001.HTM. If you make subsequent captures they are named DUMP0002, DUMP0003, and so on. Here are some samples of the screen captures I obtained.
The above image is at a 1:1 ratio with the screen pixels, that is, it is a 320 by 240 pixel image. (The image above and all the other screeen captures are files in the .BMP or bit map graphic format, exactly as produced by the A60. This format does not use compression and therefore there are no artifacts produced in the encoding and decoding. This is significant for two reasons. First, in order to store the file as a JPEG the device would have to be able to process the image and apply the JPEG algorithm to compress it. That would require the device to use processor time and to implement the JPEG coding according to some algorithm, which may or may not produce low artifact results. Not all JPEG encoding is the same. The .BMP file is much simpler to encode--it comes directly from the display values--and there are no artifacts introduced. You see exactly what was on the display, not a encoded-decoded representation of it.) On most computer screens this image is smaller than seen on the A60 display. So let's scale it up in size to something similar to the A60's screen.
The dot pitch of most computer monitors is greater (more pixels per inch) than the display on the A60. There is no exact standard for dot pitch, so I'll apply an approximate scalar to increase the size of these images so that they are closer to the same size on your computer as they are on an A60. The diagonal measurement should be close to 5.7-inches if this works out well with your particular monitor and display settings. The appearance of the scaled-up images also depends on your browser. Some browsers are terrible at re-scaling graphics, and they give then a very ragged look. Microsoft Internet Explorer is really awful in this regard. To help I have just scaled up the images by a 3:2 ratio to keep things simple. When I tried a closer approximation at a non-integer ratio, the appearance of the images really degraded in Internet Explorer, and I didn't think that was fair to the A60 to be seen that way.
A sample of the NAVIONICS Silver cartography, with the display zoomed out rather wide. We're looking at Presque Isle Harbor on the northeast coast of Michigan's lower peninsula.
As a check, lay a ruler on your screen and see if the diagonal on the second image is 5.7-inches. If it's close, then you're seeing the images at the same size as they're shown on the actual A60 screen.
A screen shot using the SONAR simulation to create an echogram.
Another SONAR screen, but this time with bottom lock and 3X ZOOM turned on.
Split screen with SONAR on the left and vessel navigation information on the right.
These screen shots show the limitation of the A60's relatively coarse display resolution. I spend most of my time looking at a big computer display, and I am usually running the Mac OS, which is graphically rich with beautiful anti-aliased typography, 24-bit color, carefully drawn icons with smooth color blends and shadows. So the general impression of the A60's graphics and typography is akin to something from the dark ages of computing. Maybe some day marine electronics will progress to the point where rich graphics are available for the operating system, but at the moment the A60, like most marine electronics, seems to be created with graphic primitives right out of the 1970's. OK--I got that off my chest. Now back to the real world and the A60.
First of all, I have to say that just being able to get these screen shots is something of a breakthrough. I managed all of this without ever resorting to using a computer running Windows. I have to tip my hat (or my WHALER visor) to Raymarine for keeping everything very generic and for using standard file formats for the screen grabs. Marine electronics manufacturers who think every boater has a Windows computer are limiting themselves to a reduced market segment. Everything about the Raymarine screen capture works as well on the MacOS as it does on Windows, and that is how it ought to be.
A second very cool feature of the A60 and its screen grabs is the meta-data which is also recorded. Meta-data is the data about the data. The A60 does not just give you a graphic file, but it also writes a text file containing a lot of information about the image it has just saved. For example, here is the text file for the sonar screen above showing the depth as 57.8 feet:
Dump0002.txt 11/1/2005 9:04:51 am Position N 45°20'592 W 083°28'783 COG 316°T SOG 1.3kts Depth 58.0ft Temperature 72.9°F FREQUENCY 200 50 BTH 200 kHz AUTO GAIN LO MED HI HIGH Battery 11.7V A60 Internal Temp 79.0°F / 74.1°F
This meta-data provides a very nice historical record of when and where the screen image was recorded. I think that is a fantastic advantage over just grabbing a screen shot. Without all the meta-data files you would have to be taking notes like crazy about where you were and when you grabed these images.
To go even one better, Raymarine creates a third file for each screen image you grab, an HTML file. This file combines the screen shot with the meta-data and makes a little web page out of it. But to make the web page even cooler, they turn the image into an active link. When you click on the screen image, you are linked to a GOOGLE MAPS page which shows the precise location where the image was taken. Let me try to demonstrate that for you. Jump to this page to see a sample. Then click on the SONAR image to jump to GOOGLE MAPS to see where it was taken. (In this case, because the simulation program was used, this is not an actual echogram from the location associated with it.) Also note that in these self-generated HTML pages, the size of the image is doubled to 640 x 480 pixels. On most computer displays this will make the image appear larger than it does on the actual screen of the A60.
The A60 has NMEA-0183 serial data transmit and receive capability. There is a menu option in the SYSTEM SETTINGS tree which allows the NMEA output to select which sentences will be sent. The available sentences are:
There is no mention of how the electronic chart display will react to any NMEA-0183 sentences supplied on the input. From this I made the inference that the device cannot display AIS information or DSC received vessel position information. Later I confirmed this with a technician at Raymarine. (By the way, I found all of the people with whom I spoke at Raymarine to be very knowledgeable and helpful. Raymarine's customer support was good.) The A60 is limited in its integration with a VHF Marine Radio with DSC remote position polling or with an AIS receiver. However, Raymarine does offer those advanced features on its more expensive lines of marine electronics, which it terms as "multi-function" devices. Remember, the A60 is just a dual function device, and it is the lowest priced instrument in the Raymarine line. The NMEA-0183 input, by the way, appears to be useful for some way point transfer functions from other Raymarine devices. I did not explore this feature.
Most marine electronics are sold at a substantial discount from their retail price, and the Raymarine is no exception. Price comparisons have to be based on actual selling prices, not on inflated MSRP's. Another difficulty in price comparison is the wide variation among various manufacturers in the exactly what is inclueded in the bundled product. In the case of the A60, here's what is in the box:
With some other devices you will find that the package does not include all of the above elements. For example, the transducer may not be included, or some minor accessories may not be included. Buying these components can add significantly to the cost of a comparison unit, so be sure to account for them. And don't forget the cartography. In some units there is only the most minimal base cartography provided, and in order for the unit to become useful you will have to immediately purchase additional cartography. After you spend an extra $50 for necessary cables and antenna mounts, or an extra $200 for a memory card with cartography, you'll appreciate the difference. With the Raymarine A60, you get a package that you can use right out of the box.
The A60 is currently selling at or under $999, its minimum advertised price (MAP). Its full retail price is $1,175. When making price comparisons, be sure you are being quoted on the full package including the DSM25 sounder. Many sellers also offer just the GPS and display (minus the SONAR) for about $650. Don't get that product confused with the full GPS, electronic display, and SONAR bundle.
The WAAS problem is an unfortunate case of Raymarine not being able to see into the future when they burned the firmware of the RS12 sensor. It may not be the only GPS to suffer from this problem. Loss of WAAS accuracy enhancement means a slight degradation in the position accuracy. If you are trying to enter a narrow channel in fog, you might miss WAAS, but for most boat navigation it is not mandatory.
The display resolution seems like a limitation, but you can overcome it with your checkbook--just upgrade to the A65. You have to decide at some point how much investment you want to make in a display for a small boat. The A60 gives you a lot of Raymarine heritage at a price much lower than previously possible. It comes at the expense of some screen real estate.
In the early days of personal computers there used to be a saying: "The one you want costs $5,000." It seems like no matter how advanced electronics become and how far their price falls, there remains in human nature a desire to always have more. When you look at the A60 you can see things about it that could be better, features that it might have, extra functions that might be nice. However, all of those extras cost more, and soon you will be looking at a $5,000 system. When you come back to the reality that the A60 sells for under $1,000--and in some cases well under that price point--it delivers a lot and in a quality fashion. The display is bright, the overall construction is first-class and commercial quality, the operation is smooth and easy to run. The box comes with a lot of accessories and add-on's that may cost extra in some other products. It is a good value at the price point. Take a look at the A60 for yourself.
Many thanks to Dave Zammitt at Lockeman's Boat and Hardware for providing the A60 used in this evaluation.
There is a thread for follow-up comments with further discussion of the Raymarine A60 in the SMALL BOAT ELECTRICAL discussion.
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Author: James W. Hebert
This article first appeared March 28, 2008.