Good things, such as the Navman Tracker 5600 chart plotter, can come in surprisingly small packages. This color chart plotter measures just 71/2 inches wide, 7 inches high and 21/2 inches deep, and weighs only 20 ounces-yet runs C-MAP NT+ cartography, is driven by a built-in WAAS/EGNOS GPS receiver and offers the unusual option of a fuel-flow monitor system for use with single or twin gasoline engines.
The 5600's compact size, its minimal magnetic influence on nearby instruments and the clever mechanical design of its mounting make it easy to place at the helm. I was able to mount it immediately to starboard of my steering compass, providing an excellent sight line to the screen and unrestricted access to the control keys. The 5600's size and light weight also make it easy to take home, where you can do navigation planning under the power of a 500-milliamp 12-volt DC plug-in.
Most important in the evaluation of any chart plotter are the screen's readability in all lighting conditions, the time it takes to redraw the image, and whether the controls are logical and intuitive. The 5600 scores very well in each area.
Although the 6.4-inch diagonal TFT color LCD seemed small at first, it was fully adequate for real-time navigation. The screen's size becomes limiting primarily during the planning stage of a voyage, during which I prefer to use a paper chart and then load waypoints into the plotter. The four color combinations available for displaying the images made the screen clearly visible in all the lighting conditions I tried-direct tropical sun, bright diffused light (the most challenging) and nighttime darkness, when the unit's 15-step dimming control worked very well.
Screen redraw time is especially important when navigating along inshore waters and through narrow channels. The 5600's redraw time never exceeded 10 seconds, even for the most data-rich task. Average time was less than 6 seconds, and many routine redraws took as little as 4 seconds. The C-Map cartography provided everything we needed, but access to some data, such as detailed bridge information, depended on the chart scale in use and could require as many as seven keystrokes.
Control logic is outstanding. You can begin to use this plotter with little or no reference to the 40-page manual. You won't be able to use all the functions and features without the manual, but you will be able to show your mate how to use the 5600 in a few minutes' time. Pressing the Escape key (ESC) will bring you back to the chart display, although you may need as many as three keystrokes to "back out of the depths of some program options.
Worth noting is the man overboard function, which creates a waypoint the moment you press the MOB key, then automatically centers the display on the MOB and zooms the display for maximum accuracy in returning to this location. If the MOB emergency occurs in an area for which the chart cannot show a suitably small scale, the display switches to plotter mode, omitting chart details. If the 5600 is providing guidance to the autopilot, it will ask the navigator for permission to begin automatic navigation guidance back to the MOB position.
I was also impressed by the GPS receiver's short satellite acquisition time, especially on the first cold start after I unpacked it. The plotter can operate from its built-in GPS receiver, from a receiver that presents data in NMEA format or by using information from a navigation data bus supplied from other Navman instruments.
The optional fuel flow management system is available with one or two turbine-type fuel flow metering devices. The system works only with gasoline engines and cannot be used with fuel-injected engines, which, like diesels, return excess fuel to the tank. The fuel display page shows fuel used/remaining, fuel flow, economy (nm/U.S. gallons or other optional units), speed and range, based on remaining fuel and current fuel economy. Fuel quantity is also shown on a vertical tape analog display.
As a package, the Navman 5600 is thoughtfully designed, obviously by someone who understands the difficulties of installation. The antenna is very small (4 inches in diameter and 3 inches high), and therefore easy to mount. Its coaxial cable is only 1/8 inch wide and uses a connector that can pass through a 3/8-inch diameter hole, making the cable easy to snake through tight spaces. The antenna can be mounted on a conventional antenna mast or can be surface-mounted using the screw-in base that comes with it.
The GPS receiver operates in standard GPS mode or in a combined WAAS/EGNOS mode. WAAS, the Wide Area Augmentation System built for aviation, uses broadcast-error correction signals from geostationary satellites on the same frequency as the basic GPS data. EGNOS, the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service, will be equivalent to the U.S. WAAS system and is scheduled to become operational by early 2004.
It is important to remember that the WAAS mode should be turned off when navigating in areas outside the system's primary coverage area. Although most skippers are unlikely to use WAAS-aided GPS equipment at very high or low latitudes, in these areas the satellites will be close to the horizon, likely resulting in degradation of the system's precision. Neither WAAS nor EGNOS capability replaces the conventional differential GPS systems used near major ports, where maximum navigation precision is required.
In addition to the chart display, the 5600 provides all the expected data display pages showing SOG, COG, distance, bearing, XTE, TTG, time and, if connected to a depth sounder, water depth. The satellite page includes a large numeric lat/lon display. Tidal data from the C-Map cartridge is shown in graphic form along with tabular data for the sun, moon, and high and low water.
In chart mode, the 5600 display automatically centers on the boat. When you are under way, the software shows the bearing and distance to the cursor or a waypoint, your choice. The unit stores up to 3,000 waypoints, each identified by an eight-character reference, plus 25 routes, each containing a maximum of 50 navigation points. You may store a single track or as many as four 500-point tracks. Storage intervals may be based on elapsed time, from 1 second to 33 hours, or on distance traveled, from 0.01 to 20,000 units (nautical miles, statute miles or kilometers).
Price: $1,000 (street). The optional fuel kit is $150 for a single engine, $300 for twin engines.
Contact: Navman, (866) 628-6261, (603) 577-9600; www.navman.com.
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