Features December 2006 Issue

High tech gear that won't let you down

While good boat hardware and mechanical equipment is usually in production for years with little change, many marine electronics are outmoded the moment they hit the retail stores. Chances are that many of the marine electronics we tested in 2006 won’t be around in 2007. In fact, some are already being upgraded, and at least one product we rated tops in 2006, the West Marine CS Plus handheld GPS, is already out of production. While the next evolution of these products (digital radar will soon be the rage) will be faster and more powerful, the following five products should serve sailors just fine for years to come.

The Furuno 1834C NavNet VX2 radar was our clear winner in our test of 10-inch radars.

RADARS
When we set out to choose the best marine electronics tested in 2006, the Furuno 1834C NavNet VX2 radar ($3,816, http://www.pyacht.net/) immediately came to mind. Not only was it the least expensive radar unit in our six-model test, it outperformed all others, scoring Excellent in all six tests, including long- and short-range target resolution. The second least-expensive unit, the Garmin 3010, was $400 more than the Furuno. 

PLOTTER/SOUNDER COMBOS

The Lowrance LMS 337C, far right, scored best in our plotter/sounder test.

The Lowrance LMS 337C DF ($700, http://www.pyacht.net/) took top honors in April’s plotter/sounder combo shootout, beating out two units from Garmin and one from Si-Tex. The test focused on units with color displays of 6 inches or smaller. The Lowrance excelled in all areas, starting with price. At $699, it was the least expensive and the only test unit that was NMEA 2000 compatible. Apart from price and networking compatibility, the Lowrance’s resolution was much better than its competitors’.  

HANDHELD VHF UNITS
In our test of handheld VHF radios priced from $100-$175 (October 2006), the Uniden MHS350 ($150, http://www.westmarine.com/) bested strong competition from Icom and Standard Horizon. PS tested transmitter power output, frequency accuracy, and stability and receiver sensitivity. Battery life was also tested. Other units edged the Uniden MHS350 in the battery-life test, but only the Uniden comes with two batteries.

DIGITAL CARTOGRAPHY
While it is impossible for us to compare worldwide accuracy in a realistic time frame, our digital cartography test (February 2006) did reveal a clear leader in this field. The new Navionics Platinum ($500, http://www.basspro.com/) series charts are powerful, intuitive and loaded with features. Chart displays were rated for accuracy (in our test area), readability, and the amount and presentation of data such as marina information, zoom-in cartography, and aerial photos. Downside? Only a few machines are capable of running this software. For the budget-minded cruiser, our second pick, the Navionics Gold Series would be the preferred choice.

NAVIGATION SOFTWARE
Feature laden, quick and easy to use, Maptech’s Chart Navigator Pro ($500, http://www.maptech.com/) stood out in our rigorous test of nav software (September 2006), which focused on stability and user interface, rather than bells and whistles. For Mac users, MacENC is the clear choice. Both performed better and were less expensive than other software  products in our test. The Furuno 1834C NavNet VX2 radar was our clear winner in our test of 10-inch radars.High tech gear that won’t let you down.

FURUNO
360/834-9300
furuno.com

LOWRANCE 
800/324-1356 
lowrance.com

UNIDEN 
800/297-1023 
uniden.com

NAVIONICS 
508/291-6000 
navionics.com

MAPTECH 
978/792-1000
maptech.com

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