You can spend thousands of dollars — even tens of thousands — on marine electronics, but what if you want a big-screen chart plotter/sounder that’s easier on your wallet? Good news: Combo units with 9-inch screens can now be had for $1,500 or less, no matter which brand you prefer.
Trickle-down technology continues to improve electronics while dragging down prices. High-definition touch screens, side- and forward-viewing sonar, and radar interface are just some of the features now found in less expensive units. “Must-have features that were the stars of the boat show last season on the top-tier chart plotters are showing up one year later on products that are on the other end of the price sheet,” says Dave Laska, owner of L&L Electronics, a dealer and installer in Branford, Connecticut. “I’m in the business, and it still amazes me how fast technology moves.”
The displays are larger and brighter, with sharper images. “If you’re on the water all day, screen size gains importance as the hours pass and your eyes tire,” says Steve Thomas, Simrad product line director. “That’s why for most boaters, the bigger, the better.”
Many combo units come with the same multitouch-screen technology found in today’s smartphones and tablets. The units also are built with more powerful and faster processors, redrawing charts in nanoseconds. You’ll also find the latest sonar technology at this price point, including Compressed High-Intensity Radiated Pulse, known as CHIRP, which delivers images with enhanced detail and accuracy.
And forget about a remote GPS antenna. These units come with an integrated GPS receiver and are preloaded with charts. Some can be networked with radar, autopilot and Automatic Identification System technology. With NMEA 2000 capabilities, they can also show engine and electrical system data. In essence, they can serve as the hub of an electronics network, which means you’re getting a lot more than you used to for your money.
The SVS-880 and SVS-1010 are offered as chart plotter-only (C) and plotter/fishfinder combo units (CF). Strengths include a “bright, high-resolution color LCD and substantial memory,” says SI-TEX vice president Allen Schneider. “SI-TEX in general is known for its affordable, easy operation and reliability.”
The two units have different screen sizes with identical capabilities and features, including 52-channel internal GPS antennas. They’re compatible with C-MAP MAX and Navionics cartography, and they come preloaded with Navionics Gold, letting users switch between the two chart formats. Both units also have external GPS antenna options.
The SVS-880 and SVS-1010 are also compatible with SI-TEX’s Metadata AIS Black Box. They function with buttons and knobs rather than a touch screen. Neither unit can accept radar or autopilot.
The SVS-880 (CF) retails for $1,200, the SVS-1010 (CF) for $1,600. si-tex.com
Simrad entered the low-cost electronics game a couple of years ago and is a strong player now with its GO series, says product line director Steve Thomas. About seven years ago, he says, you’d have to pay $1,800 to $2,000 for a Simrad combo unit with an 8-inch display and traditional sonar. Today, for $1,149, you can get the GO9 XSE with a multitouch 9-inch display; built-in Wi-Fi (for screen mirroring and software updates); a TotalScan transducer for traditional sonar, CHIRP sonar, and side and down viewing; radar capability; and NMEA connectivity. The GO9 XSE will share waypoints with other Simrad units (but not sonar outputs or charts).
The GO series also includes the $749 GO7 XSE, which has the same abilities (minus radar connectivity) as its big brother but with a 7-inch screen.
Navico owns Simrad, as well as the Lowrance and B&G electronics brands, which offer similar plotter/sounder units. navico.com, simrad-yachting.com
A few years ago, the Garmin GPSMAP 740 — a single-touch chart plotter/sounder with a 7-inch display and limited features — was about $1,700, says David Dunn, Garmin sales and marketing senior manager. Today, he says, for $400 less, you can get the GPSMAP 942xs, a 9-inch multitouch combo with built-in CHIRP and ClearVu scanning sonar. The unit has network and radar compatibility, will support data sharing among multiple units and, with its NMEA 2000 capability, can connect with engines, autopilots and VHF radios.
The Garmin 942xs also has wireless connectivity for Garmin mobile applications and the VIRB camera. “Everyone wants the largest screen for their budget and space, and we believe this 9-inch is going to appeal to a broad range of boats and budgets,” says Garmin public and media relations manager Carly Hysell.
The 942xs retails for $1,300. garmin.com
Raymarine calls its lower-cost family of electronics its aSeries. The a68, a78 and a98 all have multitouch screens with the latest Raymarine operating system, LightHouse II. They also have built-in GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and dual-channel CHIRP DownVision sonar. The trio works with Raymarine accessories such as radar, sonar and autopilot. And because FLIR owns Raymarine, the units can also connect to FLIR thermal night-vision cameras, says marketing manager Jim McGowan.
“You can run these units alone or network them as part of a larger Raymarine system,” McGowan says. “Their power-to-price ratio is mighty impressive.”
Other functions include the use of Navionics SonarChart Live, dock-to-dock auto-routing, networked video integration and recording information from sonar, radar and AIS.
The a68, with a 5.7-inch screen, sells for $850. The a78, with a 7-inch widescreen, is $950. The a98, with a 9-inch display, is $1,450. raymarine.com
Check out the GP1870F if you prefer knobs and buttons to a touch screen (and many boaters do). Although this unit has no radar capability, it does use C-MAP 4-D charts and a fishfinder with technology that’s similar to higher-end units.
For instance, Accu-Fish sizes up fish under the boat. Fish symbols appear on the screen with their length or depth, and the unit can detect fish from 4 inches to about 6 feet long in depths from 7 to 300 feet. Bottom Discrimination defines the sea floor as mud, sand, gravel or rock. In waters with a mix of bottom compositions, the screen shows a probability curve of the different types. “It’s pretty cool but also useful for both fishing and navigation,” says Jeff Kauzlaric, Furuno advertising and communications manager.
The GP1870F, which has a 7-inch screen, retails for $995. furunousa.com
This article originally appeared in the January 2017 issue.