Electronic charts evolve in the same way as other modern marine electronics—which is by huge leaps and giant bounds, as evidenced by our discoveries in Chart Transplant, the article we recently ran about the new Insight Genesis system. This lets you create your own digital chart from data collected by your own fishfinder and GPS, and the results are shockingly good. But creating your own electronic charts is not for everyone; in most cases, you’ll buy a chartplotter, then have to decide what type of pre-programmed chartography belongs inside of it. Of course, certain manufacturers have limited options, so if digital chart choice is an important factor, it can play a role in which brand of chartplotter you’ll want to buy in the first place.
The question remains: which electronic charts are best? In truth, each of the big players—C-Map, Navionics, Garmin BlueChart, and Lowrance Insight—have their own high points and low points. Which one will best serve you at your helm is more a matter of how you use your boat than anything else.
ANGLERS – Boaters who spend most of their time fishing will like the extensive bathymetric detail of Navionics. Garmin BlueChart and Lowrance Insight are also pretty good in this regard, but obviously, are limited by the brand of plotter you have at your helm. If you have the time and inclination to build your own charts, going with Insight and utilizing Insight Genesis is a no-brainer. Note: Navionics just announced a chart-building system called SonarCharts which capitalizes on crowd-sourced data, but I don't have enough experience with it to report any judgment calls on how effective it is, as of yet. Stay tuned.
CRUISERS – This crowd tends to like C-Map, which has the best detail when it comes to ports and services data in many different areas of the world. Finding fuel or food in an unfamiliar harbor, for example, can be done right from the flybridge. However, many cruisers find that the brand-specific digital charts are also more than sufficient, particularly if they usually cruise a geographically limited area and already know what they’ll find in the ports they regularly visit.
SAILORS – Why should we even talk about what sailors like, in a Fishing Friday blog? I’m not sure, nor do I have a clue what those puff-meisters think about electronic charts. But to maintain the pretense of being an actual journalist (hah!) I asked around. What I discovered is that with few exceptions the only thing most of them really care about is not running aground, so unless they’re cruising sailors (see above) any accurate digi-chart will do the trick.