Two If By Sea: Simrad and Si-Tex Plotters

A brace of chart plotters worthy of note.

The new Simrad 34 Chart Plotter/Sounder is the latest addition to the 44/54 series of LCD display instruments. The 34's sunlight readable, 6.5-inch diagonal TFT LCD screen gives a sharp high-contrast image of the C-MAP NT+ cartography, plus combination displays of data acquired by its WAAS-capable GPS and 600-watt sonar system.

The CE 34 Operator's manual is unique in that the first page is devoted to use of the CE 34 in its most critical application, recovery of a man overboard. Simrad deserves credit for placing these instructions at the very beginning of the manual and for the excellent design of the Man Overboard (MOB) function.

I activated this function by pressing the MOB key for two seconds. A red-outlined dialog box appears on the screen, accompanied by a repeating audio signal. The MOB function is confirmed by pressing the ENT key (pressing the CLR key cancels the MOB entry). Confirming the MOB entry results in the immediate display of three windows on the screen. A chart of the area in which the boat is located appears on the right, with a red symbol of a man in the water at the boat's MOB position. A course line extends from the boat to the MOB position. A window at the upper left displays course, bearing and distance to the MOB position, elapsed time since the MOB key was pressed and the lat/long of the MOB position. The lower left window displays and retains a record of the date, time and position of the MOB incident. In an instant the helmsman has all he needs to affect a successful recovery of the unfortunate MOB.

The system's 14-channel GPS receiver operates in the standard mode, in conjunction with an external low-frequency DGPS receiver or in the SDGPS (Satellite Differential GPS) mode. Initial satellite acquisition was accomplished in a very short time, and reacquisition after initial operation at our location was almost instantaneous.

The CE 34's memory capacity is sufficient for a total combined storage of up to 35,000 marks/waypoints, 10,000 waypoints (each with a name containing up to 25 characters), 50,000 trackpoints, 50,000 line sections and 1,000 routes. The CE 34 communicates with other shipboard equipment via the SimNet (NMEA 2000) high-speed bus and the familiar, but slower, NMEA 0183 system. The CE 34 can accept two digital data cards. In most instances one of the cards will be a C-MAP NT chart cartridge. A Simrad DataCard installed in the second slot can be used to store all of the user data and current operating setup information.

The system operation is very straightforward. Momentary pressure on any of the three primary operation mode keys, CHART, ECHO or PILOT, provides immediate access to the basic display for that function. Successive short duration operation of the CHART key provides access to three alternate display modes.

The MENU key serves two purposes. It turns the screen menu bar off and on and, most importantly, allows the user to exit from any data display without taking any action within the selected display. Anyone who has been "trapped" in a program will appreciate this function.

The Simrad CE 34 is a very competent and user-friendly chart plotter/sonar. I'm sure it will satisfy the navigation and safety needs of almost any size yacht. Contact: Simrad USA, (800) 426-5565; www.simrad-yachting.com/

The new Si-Tex TrawlPlot 12 can best be described as an industrial strength color chart plotter. Although it can be flush-mounted it was clearly designed with the wheelhouse of a commercial fishing boat in mind. This chart plotter is also distinguished by its ability to accept a total of four C-MAP NT chart cartridges and its built-in 3.5-inch floppy drive that facilitates archiving of waypoints and track information and sharing of voyage/fishing data with other vessels fitted with the same system.

Getting the TrawlPlot 12 on line took only a few minutes thanks to the clear and unambiguous marking of the unit's control keys. The system's WAAS-capable remote GPS receiver performed very well, quickly acquiring all the satellites needed for 3-D navigation, even in locations where access to the sky was quite restricted.

The image generated from the data stored on the C-MAP NT chart cartridge or from the system's sonar is very clearly and sharply displayed on the TrawlPlot's 12.1-inch diagonal TFT LCD screen. The operating system provides full access to all of the C-MAP content via an easy to use four-step menu tree.

The plotter's 24 control keys and cursor-control joystick run across the bottom of the panel, ensuring a clear view of the LCD when entering control inputs. The backlit, waterproof silicone rubber control keys are logically grouped and easy to operate even while wearing gloves. The user interface is simple and direct with dedicated keys to control power on/off, LCD screen and keypad backlight levels. An audio tone sounds when the maximum or minimum range of adjustment of either of the illumination level controls is reached. The man overboard function of the EVENT/MOB is activated when more than momentary pressure is applied to the key.

Plotter function control is via the usual arrangement of control keys; ZOOM IN/OUT (15 levels with the chart cartridge were used), PAGE, MENU, GO-TO, EVENT/MOB, TRACK, CLEAR, ENTER, INFO and EBL/VRM. The latter functions as it does in a radar set and proved to be as useful in the plotter as it is in the radar. The 10-key alphanumeric keypad makes it easy to enter waypoint or mark identification data. Waypoints or marks may be identified with up to eight characters, a choice of 16 symbols and any one of eight colors. The sensitivity of the joystick control for the cursor position can be separately adjusted in both its on-chart and menu selection functions. The system's internal data storage can accept 5,000 user points, 50 routes each containing up to 100 points and 5 tracks.

As with virtually all chart plotters, moving the cursor to the edge of the displayed area of the chart will initiate a screen redraw, bringing adjacent areas of the chart into view. The TrawlPlot 12 adds a useful additional method for instantly shifting to adjacent areas of the chart image. Eight of the keypad keys are marked with arrows that show in which direction the chart will be shifted when the key is depressed.

"Soft" labels are used to show access to commands such as Move, Delete or Edit (for waypoints or marks), Expand or Expand All when the cursor is close to an object of interest such as a navigation aid or obstruction. Unlike some plotters where separate soft keys are placed adjacent to the screen, the soft label on the TrawlPlot 12's screen refers the user to one of the numerical keys. The data page displays for Depth, Navigation Data, 3-D Road, GPS Status or GPS Data are accompanied with a set of soft-key identifiers across the bottom of the screen that allow instantaneous selection of any of the other data pages including the chart. I found this data display very useful.

Unlike many of today's multiple function chart plotters, the TrawlPlot 12 limits its application to charts, navigation and display of sonar data. Its large and exceptionally clear color screen and the clear logic of its control program make it a pleasure to use. The clarity of the screen image is in part due to the omission of the high-performance, nonglare filter required to make LCD's sunlight viewable. The TrawlPlot 12 is daylight-visible, but using it on an exposed bridge in direct sunlight will prove difficult. Installed in the environment for which it was intended, the viewing results will be outstanding. n

Contact: Si-Tex, (727) 576-5734; www.si-tex.com.