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Old 10-09-2008, 03:21   #1
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Northstar 951XD: Upgrade or Not?

My new boat has dual Northstar 951XD chartplotters: one in the cockpit and another in the cabin (above the refrigerator top that passes for a nav station). The antenna is external. The two units are connected.

These older units have small black and white screens. However, they are accurate (according to the surveyor) and have decent features.

Is there any reason to upgrade? (Let's assume for the moment that money is no object). I could replace one or both of them with newer chartplotters with a bigger color screen. But how much more juice would the big screens require? And aside from being eye candy, is there any real advantage to a color screen?

Alternatively I could use a laptop with navigation software. These XD951 units will exchange data with a PC using a serial connection. But how much power would a laptop consume (if running off the inverter) as opposed to a fancier GPS?

And what would folks recommend for charts? I assume I would want paper charts of my usual cruising area, since electronics sometimes fail. But is it worth having a set of navionics chips plus a laptop? The boat did not come with Navionics chips for the areas where I will be sailing. I can buy a decent used laptop for the price of a couple of those navionics chips, and the charts for the PC are free.

What would folks here recommend? I will be using the boat for weekend cruising in the northeastern US until my wife retires. After that, who knows?
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Old 10-09-2008, 06:48   #2
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You can buy one on eBay for under $100. I have two old and similar Sitex GPS's you could have for the cost of shipping. Brand new back when they were first made they were quite expensive. They may work but a new cheap 12 channel handheld GPS of any brand will perform better.

Myself I like the older garmin 128 external antenna or the 126 internal antenna. I pick these up on eBay as they are removed from boats that want a fancy color plotter. They can be had quite cheap and I've bought two. The external antennas can be had for $40 and the antennas can go bad as well. Some of the old technology works well enough but I think that the Northstar and Sitex units are too old.

For a laptop I like to use electronic charts and a laptop and a GPS link. I plot my course and load the GPS with a route or two then shut down the laptop. I'll use paper charts with the loaded route and sometimes turn on the laptop if I need to make some changes or make more adjustments than I had planned. It uses the least power and you really want to plan the trip before you leave not as you go.

Piloting a boat while watching a chart plotter can get you into trouble. Many people get to thinking they can watch the plotter and not look where they are going. Much as deer frozen in the headlights. It's a good way to hit a day mark or sea buoy.

You still need to plot courses and positions with day sails too. Just because you know you are coming back to the same place does not eliminate the need to always know where you are and plan where you are going. The skills you develop now pay off later on.

I also have a small handheld RayChart 400 plotter with a Navonics chip. The screen is quite small and difficult to read at the helm but it has come in handy. It came with the last boat but I would not go out and buy one. The batteries are only good for a few hours so you need a 12 volt cable. If you get laptop software that can work with ENC charts you'll find they are just as nice as a Navonics chip and the ENC maps are free and a laptop screen is far larger than any chart plotter made.
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Old 10-09-2008, 07:39   #3
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Hi Paul, thanks for the response. These Northstar 951XD plotters are also 12 channel and allegedly accurate to within 3 meters. So if they are in good working order, I still don't see why I should replace them, particularly if I also have a laptop. Here's the sales literature:

NORTHSTAR UNITS

I could get the Northstar 6000 or even the 8000. Both come with big color screens up to 15". But how do I justify the added expense, particularly since these big color screens will draw more power? If the existing units give me an accurate position and give the correct course instructions to the autopilot (if I've plotted a course using waypoints, etc.) then what's the real advantage of a newer unit? My boat isn't going to care how much I could get for them on eBay.

Also, if it is dangerous to sail while watching the chart plotter (that makes good sense to me), I'm likely to watch less if the screen is small and black and white.

I will get a small handheld GPS as well, but that will be for the abandon ship bag (along with extra batteries).

The real issue, I suppose, is whether or not I'm going to spend $$$ on navionics chips for these older GPS units, which won't take the newer "gold" or "platinum" Navionics chips.
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Old 10-09-2008, 08:19   #4
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one more consideration - because of the new satellite last year was added, some chartplotters and specifically the 951XD can often lose fix depending upon your location and time of day. The fix is as simple as having the ROM updated but you will need to bring/send the units in for programming at a minimal charge.
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Old 10-09-2008, 08:39   #5
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If you can upload a route to the GPS then I would say you don't really need the Navonics chips if you load the route from the laptop. I use routes all the time and it's is nice to save the route home as a handy reference when the situation may change quickly.

Big chart plotter are nice when you have a 50 ft trawler with a monster bridge deck and high back captains chairs. Our last sail boat had a swing arm you could swing into the companion way and cover with the hatch and display radar and waypoint data. I really miss that feature. It worked in foul weather well and was not blocking your view.
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Old 10-09-2008, 11:11   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by S/V Illusion View Post
one more consideration - because of the new satellite last year was added, some chartplotters and specifically the 951XD can often lose fix depending upon your location and time of day. The fix is as simple as having the ROM updated but you will need to bring/send the units in for programming at a minimal charge.
Yes, I'm told that upgrading the EPROM for the new satellites costs about $100.
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