What is a chartplotter?
Chartplotters are used for navigation at sea. Compared to traditional methods of navigation with paper charts, course plotting triangles and compasses, they make it significantly easier to find your way around the waters of the world. A chartplotter is an electronic device that is used to show nautical charts on a display screen. Nautical electronic chart data is derived from official sources in the respective country. The sea area can be displayed in different scales and resolutions using the zoom function. As you zoom in further on the map, details such as buoys and port facilities can be seen.
What is the difference between a GPS receiver and a chartplotter?
A GPS receiver displays the coordinates of your boat in text form, not on a map. The receiver merely provides information about the current longitude and latitude on which your boat is moving. With this information you can then transfer your position to a paper sea chart and continue working with it. A GPS receiver is usually used either on smaller or older boats and can also be used to supply a radio with GPS data. If you have enough space on board and your budget allows it, we recommend buying a chartplotter instead of a GPS receiver, as they are much easier to use and their range of functions is greater. Entry-level chartplotters are available from 280 euros.
What functions do chartplotters have?
Modern chartplotters can do far more than simply displaying a chart. In fact, they act as modern multifunctional displays on which not only sea charts, but also radar, fishfinder and NMEA2000 network data can be displayed. These additional capabilities have led to an increased focus on the subject of on-board networks. Chartplotters for boats also provide the following functions, depending on the model:
Position display - Chartplotter with GPS
The basic function of a chartplotter is to display your boat's current position. Most chartplotters have a GPS antenna, which is built into the chartplotter - a so-called internal GPS antenna. These are what we refer to as GPS chartplotters. The internal GPS antenna can receive signals when it is exposed to the open sky or located directly behind a window pane. If your GPS chartplotter is installed below deck or integrated into an instrument panel, GPS reception could be impeded and the GPS receiver may not be able to determine a position. In this case, an external GPS antenna should be used.
External GPS antennas
Waypoints & routes - Chartplotters with route planning
Use individual markers on your chartplotter to quickly find favourite places and fishing spots again. Plan your trip with the help of routes. A route is a chain of waypoints. Some chartplotters support Navionics autorouting or C-MAP easyRouting. These functions can be used to automatically create a route, similar to the way a route is created in a car: Please note that these functions require an up-to-date version of your nautical chart.
You can start navigating a route and the chartplotter will show you the course from your current position to the next waypoint on the route. Furthermore, this route data can be forwarded to autopilots, for example via the NMEA0183 or NMEA2000 interface, so that they can plot a course according to the route waypoints. Charts are usually not included with a chartplotter and must be purchased separately. You will find information on the compatible nautical charts in our online shop on the product page of each chartplotter. Or simply search for a suitable nautical chart for your chartplotter using our nautical chart finder.
Tracks - Chartplotters with route tracking
A track is the recording of a route. These tracks can be saved on the chartplotter and used again at a later point in time. Some marine multifunction displays feature the option of converting tracks into routes. This is a useful feature if you want to go back on a route you've just sailed. This is particularly important when visibility is poor, as you will be able to find your way back safely to your starting point with the help of a previously recorded track using your chartplotter.
Data display - Chartplotters with AIS and radar and engine data
Depending on the model, multifunction devices can also display data from different sensors and devices. This allows you to keep track of tank levels, engine data, depth and wind data.
It is also possible to display AIS and radar data on some chartplotter models. Connecting to AIS devices and the above-mentioned sensors is done via the NMEA0183 or NMEA2000 interface of the chartplotter. Radars are connected to the chartplotter via Ethernet. Displaying radar and AIS data on the multifunctional display significantly increases safety when navigating at sea. Find out more in our Radar, AIS and NMEA2000 guides.
Radar chartplotters »
How is a chartplotter operated?
Chartplotters can be operated via a touchscreen or rotary knob and keys on the device. The choice is yours and depends on personal preference. Operating a chart plotter with a touchscreen is fast and navigating through menus and setting waypoints is particularly easy, so route planning is quick. And with familiar functions such as pinch-to zoom, it gives the user the same experience as on a tablet. Modern touchscreens can also be operated when wet. However, it's sometimes not that easy to make precise entries on a touchscreen chartplotter due to ship movements. If you've ever tried entering an address into a car sat-nav via touchscreen while driving, you'll know what we mean. Operating a chartplotter on a sailboat can therefore be problematic. We recommend using a chartplotter with a touchscreen primarily for motor boats.
Chartplotter with touch screen »
Chartplotter with touch screen
Using a chartplotter with keys may not be as fast but it is much more precise, especially with strong ship movements. These kinds of chartplotters can also be installed and operated outdoors, as is often the case with sailboats. For sailors we therefore recommend chartplotters with rotary knob or buttons.
Chartplotters with buttons »
Chartplotters with buttons
A third operating option is a chartplotter with hybrid controls, which can be operated either via a touchscreen or keys. This makes it possible, for example, to set routes and waypoints quickly via touchscreen and still be able to make precise entries using the buttons if it gets a little choppy.
Chartplotters with hybrid controls »
Chartplotters with hybrid controls
What size display should my chartplotter have?
Multifunction displays are available in a variety of sizes. In our chartplotter online shop you will find plotters from 4 to 19 inches. Our intelligent filter functions allow you to search for any chartplotter of a certain size. Whether you should buy a small 5-inch chartplotter, a larger 16-inch chartplotter or a medium sized plotter depends on different factors.
Discover all display sizes »
1. How far away do you intend to stand or sit from the screen?
If you constantly stand more than one metre away from the chartplotter and want to have a clear view of your electronic sea chart, we recommend at least a 7-inch chartplotter in order to be able to see all relevant information quickly.
7-inch chartplotters »
2. How much space is there on board for your new multifunction display?
Of course, the amount of space there is on board for your new chartplotter is crucial. Depending on whether you want to mount your chartplotter or install it, remember to allow for additional space for cable routing. Make a template matching the size of your chartplotter so that you can get a real impression of the dimensions and find a suitable place for your new multifunctional device. If you are installing the device in your instrument panel and a cut-out is already there, we have the installation dimensions of all chart plotters on our product pages. Our smart category filter will make finding a chartplotter with the right installation width and height child's play.
3. Which data would you like to display simultaneously on the chart plotter?
If you want several data displays at the same time, such as chart view and the current radar image or the fishfinder screen together with sea chart view, you can do this in split screen mode. This function divides the screen into several areas to give you multiple screen views at the same time. However, in order to be able to read all information clearly, you’ll need an appropriate display size. For a decent split screen view we recommend a display size of at least 9".
9-inch chartplotters » 12-19-inch chartplotters »
4. Is your power supply correct?
Power supply on board is always an important issue, especially for sailing boats. Bear this in mind when choosing your chartplotter, because a larger display will obviously consume more power than smaller, more compact plotters. When networking systems with several chart plotters via Ethernet, keep in mind that the chartplotter that is connected to the radar antenna must be permanently switched on in order to transmit radar data to other multifunctional displays. To save power here, Ethernet HUBs or switches can be used for the distribution of data.
Which chartplotter should I buy?
Display size and operating mode are important factors to consider when purchasing your next chartplotter. However, you should really consider what you want to connect to your plotter. Sensor data, such as depth, wind, speed, tank levels but also AIS and GPS data are transmitted to your chartplotter via the NMEA network. Image data, such as from a radar or fishfinder, are transmitted via an Ethernet connection. A mobile device can be connected to the chartplotter via W-LAN.
If there are already devices on board that you want to connect to the chartplotter, make a list of all devices and model types and investigate the corresponding interfaces before buying a chartplotter.
Also consider future purchases. Maybe you're thinking of adding a radar antenna, an AIS system or a fishfinder later. Many sensors or transmitters can be easily added using NMEA2000. For fishfinders and radar antennas, make sure that the chartplotter has the appropriate connections and modules. If in doubt whether your navigation electronics are compatible with a new chartplotter, please contact us – we’ll be happy to advise you.
If you’re planning a larger system, make sure that the chartplotters can be networked with each other. If a radar antenna is also installed in the system, radar data can be distributed via a network switch to all multifunction displays in the network without having to keep the main unit switched on all the time. This reduces power consumption and preserves your batteries in the long run.
Which chartplotter brand should I choose?
Chartplotters are available from different manufacturers. In our online shop you will find Garmin chartplotters, Raymarine, as well as plotters from Lowrance, Simrad and B&G. Manufacturers of boats, such as Bavaria, Hanse, Beneteau or Jeanneau usually take offers from all well-known chartplotter manufacturers when constructing new boats and then buy them in bulk for a boat series to get the best price. All manufacturers sell high-quality devices, however, there are certain advantages that each brand has to offer, and these depend on the intended use.
Garmin and Lowrance are typical fishing brands, i.e. chartplotters from Garmin and Lowrance often have an integrated fishfinder module that allows fishfinder data to be displayed directly on the chartplotter. But Raymarine and Simrad also have some chartplotters with an integrated fishfinder. B&G chartplotters are mainly used on sailing boats. They have special sailing software that enables the planning of tacks using laylines, for example. There are also special regatta functions available on B&G chartplotters, such as displaying an imaginary start line and race timer. Axiom chart plotters from Raymarine are also specially designed for sailboats.
What does a good chartplotter cost?
The price you pay for a new chartplotter depends entirely on what you want it do and which functions are important to you. Affordable chart plotters for beginners with basic functions such as the Garmin Echomap series are available from 280 euros. Chartplotters in the Raymarine Element Series and Simrad chartplotters in the Cruise Series are a good entry into the world of chartplotters at an affordable price. The sky's the limit if you want to spend more on your chartplotter. For top models of the Raymarine GlassBridge AXIOM XL series you can also pay over 10,000 euros. We recommend subscribing to our newsletter, especially our chilli offers. There you can always find great chartplotter offers and promotions, which, due to our purchase volume, are significantly lower in price than our competitors and save you money.
How can I exchange my chartplotter?
If your chartplotter is faulty or you want to upgrade it to a newer model, the most important thing when buying a new chartplotter is the installation dimensions. This is if you want to install the new chartplotter in your navigation table. Before buying a new one, you should also check which devices you have connected to your old chartplotter and select a model with appropriate connection options. If you have any questions, we will be happy to advise you.
Which is the best chartplotter? - Chartplotters put to the test
We are often asked by our customers what we know about chartplotters and if there are any that we can recommend. In terms of the best chartplotter, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, as there are many different factors to consider and everyone has different requirements and expectations. Nevertheless, our customers have rated the Garmin GPSMAP 922 as the best and especially like its good price-performance ratio and user friendliness, while the GO5 XSE from Simrad has been rated second best. Third place is shared by the Vulcan 7R from B&G and the Element 7S chartplotter from Raymarine.
What is the power consumption of a chartplotter?
The power consumption of a chartplotter depends on the size of the display and the brightness setting. Small, 5-inch plotters have a power consumption of about 900 mA at 12 V. Larger, 16-inch chartplotters consume up to 4A.
How is a chartplotter installed on board?
There are two different ways to install a chart plotter on board: Fitted or mounted. If you have your chartplotter fitted, this means that you install the device in your navigation table. A template for cutting out the correct hole for the display is included with every chartplotter. When installing the plotter, the available space on board must be taken into consideration. People often make the mistake of not checking that there is enough installation space. Should this be the case, you can mount the chartplotter. This done with a mounting bracket and is included with most devices.
Mount your chartplotter where you would like it to be, thanks to the mounting bracket.
The chartplotter is fitted into your console or navigation table so that it is flush with the surface.
Template for installation
Using the template provided, installation is very simple.
How do I find the right nautical chart for my chartplotter?
Most chart plotters are not supplied with a nautical chart. It must be ordered separately. Choosing a nautical chart depends on the sailing area, but more importantly on compatibility with your plotter.
Depending on the manufacturer, different chart systems are supported, whereby the support of Navionics nautical charts has become standard for many chartplotters. Please note that there may be differences in compatibility depending on the plotter model. While the Navionics Compact Flash and C-MAP charts are used in older chartplotters, modern multifunction displays usually use micro-SD cards. The corresponding chart module is indicated on the product page of each chartplotter. For a detailed compatibility check, use our Nautical chart finder.
Compact Flash (CF)
Micro-SD / SD Karte
Micro-SD / SD Karte
How can I repair a chartplotter?
It is usually not possible to repair a chartplotter yourself. All plotters that are purchased from us come with a 2-year warranty. If your chartplotter becomes defective after two years, we will be happy to send the device to the manufacturer for you. Before repairs are carried out, a quote for the repair cost is given. You can then decide whether to accept or invest in a new chartplotter.
How can use my laptop, mobile phone and tablet as a chartplotter?
Mobile devices can generally also be used as chartplotters. They require certain chartplotter software or chartplotter apps for this. However, tablets, laptops and mobile phones are not intended to be used at sea. They are not waterproof and displays can be difficult to read in the sun. Battery life could also be an issue. Using your mobile device as a chartplotter consumes a lot of battery and it would need to be recharged constantly. WIFI can also be unstable at sea. A lost WIFI signal could be a safety risk if this happens. However, mobile phones, tablets and laptops are ideal as secondary operating devices and the chartplotter screen can be mirrored to your mobile devices. While your chartplotter is doing all the work on deck, you can be sitting comfortably below, planning your route on your tablet or laptop. Even if the WIFI signal drops, the chartplotter on deck won’t be affected and will continue to operate.
Written by our SVB (technical) experts
Our team of SVB technical experts is there to give our customers professional advice on all matters relating to technology on board. With specialist know-how, extensive training, and a technical flair for electrical connections, fittings etc, our crew are more than qualified to advise our customers.