We are now at the final stage of selecting our navigation systems, and as new products are being launched all of the time, have decided to wait until the last minute before committing.
But to some degree the choices are being made for (or taken away from) us, as so many of the manufacturers are moving towards integrated systems, reducing the available options for those of us who like to pick and mix the best kit from different stables. For example, it is now virtually impossible to buy a stand alone radar, as everyone is moving towards combined radar/plotters using their own Ethernet type connectivity.
Since the 90’s I have professionally skippered my own yacht on research projects, and have for the last six years used a laptop linked to a GPS for all basic navigation. Being only modestly computer literate has never been a major shortcoming, and although they have simply been fixed to the chart table with Velcro, we have never lost one to damp or rough handling. If you are used to computers at all, they are quick and intuitive to operate, and their large screens offer a good view of the charts. By comparison, I recently skippered a boat with a brand new plotter, and didn’t like it at all—the screen was too small, and the operation was clumsy and slow. And having recently watched two experts trying to sort out a problem aboard a boat with an Ethernet link between instruments and plotter—two sets of software, and by their own admission, a tendency to crash on a regular basis—I wonder whether this is really the way forward?
Of course PCs can go wrong, too—we carry a spare as back up, as well as up to date passage charts and pilot books, just in case. And as I learned to navigate long before we had any electronic luxuries, if I have to go back to dead reckoning in an emergency it should not a big deal. But with our laptop we can integrate weather files from the internet, AIS information, tidal streams and Navtex at far lower cost than a half way decent plotter. And we’ll stick with an NMEA interface which at least will allow some basic diagnostic tests to be run should it go down 1000 miles from the nearest dealer.
The one thing we have committed to is an Echopilot forward looking echosounder. We used an Interphase Twin Scope for the last seven years, and found that the ability to scan for depth and obstructions ahead of the boat was indispensable, especially in poorly charted waters. But Echopilot sensibly offer the option of a custom transducer housing made from solid aluminum billet (essential for us with our aluminum hull) which will enable us to pull the transducer prior to taking the ground, one of our main reasons for choosing an OVNI. Having heard nothing but good reports of their products, this was an easy choice to make.
And while we’re on the subject of holes in the hull, we think the fewer, the better, so we’re not having a through hull speed/log unit. Paddle wheel logs are unreliable, and often tricky to calibrate accurately, and as a Furuno WAAS GPS reads speed as fast as a log, we shall use a repeater in the cockpit as a speedo, and the trip facility as a log. We are well aware that this is “over the ground”, but we can compensate for that if needs be. And if all of the electrics fail, then we have a lovely boxed Walker Knotmaster towed log that has followed me from boat to boat over the years. There should be a limit to complexity!