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May 03, 2013

Plugging In

An electronics guide for new buyers

Feature Sets

Anglers can easily get lost in all the bells and whistles inherent in marine electronics, says David Dunn, Garmin senior manager for marine sales and marketing. “Once you focus on your needs, it’s easier to compare the brands that offer products meeting those requirements. It’s important to consider brand reputation, quality of the product, price and support.”

One suggestion most manufacturers share involves display size. “Don’t get too small a display,” says Eric Kunz, Furuno senior product manager. “If you want to use a chart and radar simultaneously, and you get a 7-inch display, that’s really pretty small. It’s hard to multitask on smaller devices.”

For instance, many hard-core offshore anglers buy two displays or ­monitors (plus plug-in modules) to get even more real estate for watching depth, weather, birds on radar, and ship traffic. If serious tournament fishing is in your future, consider keeping some helm space available for a second screen.

Features and functionality also change from brand to brand. Only you can decide which offers the easiest user interface for your needs. Standing in front of a display at a dealership or boat show and punching buttons is the best way to familiarize yourself with the interface. Do you have to make too many different selections to drill down to the screen you really need? If you fish only periodically, is the machine easy enough to operate so you’ll remember from trip to trip?

Do you like touch-screen technology, or are you more secure with buttons and rotary knobs? Practicality is good, but don’t shy away from new technology. The newest products operate almost as intuitively as your smartphone. In the case of Furuno’s new TZtouch products, the unit tells you when it’s time for a software update, Kunz says. During updates, it seamlessly saves your waypoints so nothing is harmed or destroyed.

Finally, when buying your first electronics, consider who will install the package. You might think yourself handy, but many of the complaints heard by customer-service techs involve installation issues. “The quality of the installation has a direct impact on how well the product performs or the perception of how the product performs,” Raymarine’s McGowan says. “Nine times out of 10, the problem can be traced back to the installation.”

Ongoing service can be hampered if you install the ­equipment yourself. Most likely you’ll have to remove the equipment and carry it to a dealer or service center, or ship it back to the manufacturer. In many cases, if a dealer installs the product, he can service it on the boat.

After installation, take time to learn about the ­electronics. Standard Horizon’s Kennedy suggests that if you loathe reading manuals, just call customer service from your boat and ask for an explanation of features. If you’re having trouble, shoot a quick video with your smartphone and e-mail it to the company contact.