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Old 30-07-2012, 11:54   #1
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Selecting a GPS Chartplotter/Autopilot System

Hi, Folks- I posted this over on Sailnet, but I'd like to ask here as well to catch as many opinions as possible. My wife and I are thinking of adding a relatively fixed-mount chartplotter/sounder (on a swinging arm) and a tiller-controlled autopilot to our Olson 30, but having a little trouble deciding which to choose from. It seems this technology changes significantly each year, but it also appears that the current philosophy is that you are best off by sticking to one maker for both pieces of equipment. I was really leaning toward the Garmin GPSMAP 740 until I found out that they only make a below-deck autopilot. The more I've been reading about mixing manufacturers between the two (any number of threads on here and on the cruisers forum) it appears that this only brings up a whole bunch of problems of each system not talking to the other.

Since my wife and I sail short-handed quite a bit, and I'm wanting to do more solo-sailing, I think an autopilot is becoming more of a must rather than a "nice-to-have" item, but the selection narrows quite a bit for what we would like that isn't overkill. We will never need radar for this boat, and all we really would like is gps and chartplotting capability (with a display larger than the 5-5.6" that are right at one price point for the Garmins when you jump up form the 546s to the 740s). From what I'm getting out of the people at West Marine, Garmin and Raymarine are the best choices, but he favors Garmin because "Raymarine never answers their phones when you call for customer support". I am probably going to buy these through WM so I have some form of customer support, but the features and complexity of the comparable Raymarine unit (e7d) is just unreal... There's a great review from Practical Sailor that I was reading last night, so other than the complexity (much of it I'll never use, not just radar, but neither will I make use of the scanners or monitors until we move it to the next boat in 5 or 10 years, if it's still functional). We like the larger displays of this model, which is the reason we are looking at this level and not the smaller ones, since it will be supported by a Ram mount inside the companionway and swing into view when in use. For the moment, I'm leaning away from Garmin (unless I find all sorts of compelling evidence that different brands of tiller-pilots work smoothly with them) and more toward a Raymarine system.

Any help would be appreciated!

Ray
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Old 31-07-2012, 03:51   #2
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Re: Selecting a gps chartplotter/autopilot system

Along with being a rag'n tiller man at heart, I volunteer with Coast Guard here in Melbourne Aus. We have 3 Raymarine, old E series plotters, and we have a Navman on our little 28ft sloop. Personally I am impressed even with the older Ray series. The other week, I spent the day at the boat show, and spent numerous hours scouring the nitty gritty of all the latest competition chartplotters. I also have spent time with Simrads new NSE series. Personally, Garmin was TERRIBLE from my experience and use at the show. I am a 'techie' person, and so am quick instantly learning new menus etc, but the Garmin was simply terrible. Simrad, tho having won awards for their latest models' ease of use, again didn't compare in my opinion to Raymarine's new "hybrid" series plotters using their new "Lighthouse" software. It was simply a breeze to use, well laid out, comes with bluetooth & wifi, and for the size (smallest 7" I think wide screen), is simply the smoothest to use. I would compare that size with the 10"+ of other models due to it's layout/button selection etc. can connect and use Ipads/iphones as a mirror/repeater OR as a functional remote plotter. They're available here (not thru raymarine direct) for $1600 which I also find well priced. I love my tech, so this area is a passion I spend a lot of time researching. Just my opinion. Good luck!
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Old 31-07-2012, 04:06   #3
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Re: Selecting a gps chartplotter/autopilot system

Thank you, Yachtey- I stopped by a different store yesterday after work and talked with a different salesman (one who had actually just installed one of the below deck pilots with a Garmin in his father's boat) and he said there are no problems with getting them to communicate, you just use the NMEA connections and not the proprietary connections. The only thing left is to pick one now. He also agreed that using a touch screen (the only option on the Garmin 740) can be tricky when the boat is bouncing around a lot, which is going to happen a lot of the time. I'll take a closer look at the Raymarine products.
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Old 31-07-2012, 04:57   #4
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Re: Selecting a gps chartplotter/autopilot system

I have a Raymarine, and I wish I had the Garmin. The bottom contours as well as the depth readouts on the Garmin are simply superior. I've been all over the Bahamas with both systems, and Garmin dominates in the one area that I consider very important. Best of luck!
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Old 31-07-2012, 05:16   #5
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Re: Selecting a gps chartplotter/autopilot system

Garman BlueCharts are by far the best in detail and accuracy, based on my limited experience. Raymarine DOES answer the phone and I have always gotten competent phone support and fast turn-around on repairs. I had a lightning strike and they replaced all my stuff as a "repair" for a fraction of the retail price. The only "support" you can expect from WM is a great return policy.
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Old 31-07-2012, 06:55   #6
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Re: Selecting a gps chartplotter/autopilot system

I really like Garmin handhelds and in cars etc, but on the boat its raymarine. The new e series (hybrid touch) is quite wonderful particularly the blue tooth connections to Iphones and the like.

I have st60 and c series plotter on my boat, delivered a new boat up from Sydney to Brisbane the other week (2 and bit day trip) and it had the new Raymarine stuff. It was excellent. I love the i70 instrument and its customisation, even to the point of having an ais screen available.

But at the end of the day, even the most downmarket systems are pretty good these days.
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Old 31-07-2012, 07:01   #7
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Re: Selecting a gps chartplotter/autopilot system

On an O30, power consumption would be one of my major decision inputs. There is no need to get the autopilot to talk to the chartplotter--getting it to talk to the wind instruments for AWA sailing is far more important.
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Old 31-07-2012, 08:16   #8
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Re: Selecting a gps chartplotter/autopilot system

With all due respect, having it talk to the plotter would be one of my primary goals. Set a waypoint and have the pilot steer to that waypoint and get the alert when you are there. It will correct for current without intervention.
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Old 31-07-2012, 09:05   #9
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Re: Selecting a gps chartplotter/autopilot system

I really like my Standard Horizon 180i (superseded by the 190i model) that I have it mounted at the helm:
THE BIANKA LOG BLOG: WHAT THE HELM?: Part 2
They do make a large model which has a few more bells and whistles but, I don't even use all the features of the 180i as it is. Not keen on connected up the GPS to an autohelm I like to be a little more hands on and GPS will run you up on reef, jetty or an island if you let as some unfortunate California sailors found out in Mexico earlier this year.
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Old 31-07-2012, 09:10   #10
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Re: Selecting a gps chartplotter/autopilot system

I will purchase another Garmin when replacement time arrives! I have a 10 years old Garmin 182C that works like it was new. A few weeks ago I noticed that the tide info was gone. Appears that Garmin only provided 10 years of tide info.

I called Garmin! After some discussion, they sent a software upgrade chip to me for a $50 deposit. After doing the upgrade, I sent the chip back and they returned my $50 deposit.

Foggy
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Old 31-07-2012, 09:37   #11
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Re: Selecting a gps chartplotter/autopilot system

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Originally Posted by TheOffice View Post
With all due respect, having it talk to the plotter would be one of my primary goals. Set a waypoint and have the pilot steer to that waypoint and get the alert when you are there. It will correct for current without intervention.
Sorry, but the OP has a sailboat, not a powerboat.
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Old 31-07-2012, 10:06   #12
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Re: Selecting a gps chartplotter/autopilot system

i have a hydraulic autopilot unit that steers my ragboat nicely with sails up wherevr i set it to going. sailboats CAN use autopilot only--dont need windvane to sail a ragboat.....
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Old 31-07-2012, 15:16   #13
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Re: Selecting a gps chartplotter/autopilot system

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Originally Posted by donradcliffe View Post
Sorry, but the OP has a sailboat, not a powerboat.
Navigating to a waypoint is a very valid way to operate a sailboat. We use it more than sailing to AWA, particularly if there is a current or underwater structure (reef, shelving, etc) we want to stay clear of.

An autopilot navigating to a waypoint can help keep you OUT of trouble as long as you do the proper charting first. Many more boats have been damaged or lost on reefs while operating under an autopilot NOT steering to a waypoint while being set by current or leeway.

Integration is a safety feature. Before anyone jumps on that statement, please keep in mind that one must do proper charting and planning whether your systems are integrated, not integrated, a mechanical windvane or a sheet-lashed tiller. All else equal, of the above, the integrated system is safer.

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Old 31-07-2012, 16:30   #14
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Re: Selecting a gps chartplotter/autopilot system

We're trying to keep this as simple as possible, and for the moment, there are no other instruments I need displayed on whichever unit we end up buying... Just depth, and possibly speed through the water (and that's just a tool we'll use in addition to speed over ground, since where we race, we have up to 3 kts of current..). Anyway- the main purpose of the autopilot is for brief use when sailing shorthanded (either me alone, or with my wife) and needing a quick break to go gybe the spinnaker, grab a quick cup of coffee, etc... It's not for letting it take over for hours while I go below for a nap, so I'm looking for simple. We currently have two 92 ah batteries, but plan to add more- possibly 250 ah's of 6v golf cart batteries with enough solar panels to charge them for a trip to Florida, and for intermittent use like that, I think that would be ok. I haven't crunched the numbers to tally up my needs yet, so this is all preliminary, but I think that's what we need given our current plans. And yes- we would never take off down the coast, relying on gps without pre-qualifying the route first and bringing along all the proper plotting accoutrements. I like the idea of sailing with a windvane, but it is going to be a LONG time before we are doing that sort of distance away from a shoreline where one makes sense.. Raymarine-Garmin-Raymarine-Garmin. Decisions, decisions! Thanks for the input, guys- I really appreciate your opinions!

Ray
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Old 06-09-2012, 14:08   #15
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Re: Selecting a gps chartplotter/autopilot system

For 10 years I have been using a Raymarine ST4000+ Tillerpilot. Many, many hours of use on a Dana 24 with three minor repairs. I always got very responsive/competent repairs and conversations with their technicians. Power usage is not as much as expected, draws much less than one amp on average. I have two 100 AHr batteries and I don't have power problems when cruising for days. (Recharge by small solar panel and the motor.)
PSSA Here is the link to the Pacific Single-Handed Sailing Association. Several of these folks have Olsen 30's and use their autopilots extensively. I'm sure they could offer much advice and their systems are more up to date than my old 4000+.
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