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Recommendations

Summary of my advice: Only buy NMEA 2000 gear from the same Big Four manufacturer. The Big Four is RayMarine, Garmin, Navico and Furuno.

The following tips are just my personal opinion. I am a non-technical guy with a moderate amount of marine electronics experience.

Avoid 183.
If you have NMEA 183 gear on your boat that works, no need to rush out and replace it. However, you should not buy NMEA 183 electronics going forward. It is a common mistake to purchase a 183 VHF radio when for a little more money a N2k unit can be had. A VHF radio with N2k will display DSC data on the chartplotter. This VHS radio has NMEA 2000 and only costs $239.
Avoid RayMarine until they switch to DeviceNet. There are two modern marine networking standards available for recreational boaters: SeaTalkng by RayMarine and DeviceNet which is used by every other manufacturer throughout the world. With one meeting at their Nashua, New Hampshire, headquarters RayMarine could decide to switch to DeviceNet, making SeaTalk obsolete. There is a precedent for this occurring with Simrad abandoning SimNet. It is a no brainer to go with the open standard that has a vastly greater selection of products. Because there is more competition, DeviceNet cables are much cheaper than SeaTalkng cables. RayMarine uses vendor lock-in to relentlessly nickel and dime its customers. For example, their chartplotter won’t overlay radar data unless you have a separate $200 heading sensor. That being said, RayMarine makes excellent quality gear and has world class customer service. I had a problem with a RayMarine VHF radio and they quickly shipped it to their factory and a tech called me to discuss the problem as soon as they got it. I just don’t think it is worth the extra money. RayMarine is the Apple of the marine electronics world. They have pricey high quality gear and attempt to lock you in with proprietary standards. Many RayMarine speed, wind, compass, rudder and depth sensors require this pictured iTC5 Instrument Transducer Converter. It costs $240.
iTC-5 Instrument Transducer Converter | RaymarineTransducer Connections on the iTC-5 | Raymarine

Avoid Furuno if your boat is 65 feet or smaller. Furuno is probably overkill for small vessels. Their equipment is used on freighters! The main reason to go with Furuno is that you want to use personal computers in your setup, which I advise against. Many boaters have had success with OpenCPN, but a PC tends to be more expensive, complex and unreliable than a purpose built device. Computers are office equipment and not designed to withstand the rigors of the sea. To be fair, you can buy marinized PCs from companies such as Argonaut and a computer very versatile. It be used for such things as weather fax. The Garmin 10" chartplotter on the left is $2,500. The Furuno 9" is $3,695.
GPSMAP® 7610
Avoid Lowrance because you get what you pay for. I tried to use the Lowrance Link-8 VHF radio because it as an affordable way to get an AIS receiver. The units kept malfunctioning and I would have to send them back to the factory and wait to get a new one shipped to me. After the fourth one broke I gave up and returned it to West Marine, buying a much more expensive RayMarine product. There is a reason their radio cost $300 when comparable ones from other manufacturers cost $650.

Avoid Simrad until they rid themselves of Simnet. My current boat, Raven, has a Simrad autopilot that works well enough. It uses the obsolete SimNet standard so it does not integrate elegantly with the rest of the equipment on the boat, which uses SeaTalk. Simrad is being deceptive with their customers. They are continuing to sell SimNet gear long after it is obsolete and not warning their customers that they have abandoned this standard. Most Simrad autopilots still use SimNet. Pictured is the AP24 autopilot control. Note the SimNet plugs.

Avoid B&G unless you have racing aspirations because it is pricey. I have not used B&G equipment but have read positive reviews by sailboat racers. Pictured is a large B&G display designed to go on the mast of a sailboat.
product group banner image

Go Garmin. Garmin is the RayMarine of DeviceNet manufacturers in that it is a unified brand that has gear for any type of boat. I have always had Garmin work well with other company’s N2k devices. The Garmin Multifunction Displays are intuitive and versatile. Unlike RayMarine their chartplotters have a built in compass. Unlike RayMarine, all Garmin components plug directly into the NMEA 2000 network with no black box. Garmin Multi-Function Displays work well as the boat's sole display so you can save money by not purchasing a screen for the wind instrument, depth etc.


Buy a radar package. Radar does not use NMEA 2000 because it does not have enough bandwidth. Each company uses a proprietary connection between the radar and the multi-function display so you must use the same brand radar as  MFD. You can save some money if you buy these items together. This Garmin radar package is only about $2,000.
Garmin GPSMAP 741xs and GMR 18HD Radar Bundle
Buy the same brand auto pilot as your Multifunction Display. Auto Pilots do use NMEA 2000 but they are fussy about interfacing with different brands. If you have a chartplotter that is a different brand than the AP, you may not be able to tell the system to navigate to a certain waypoint, for example. A typical autopilot package, like this RayMarine EV-1, consists of four components: the controller, the computer, the compass, and the hydraulic pump.
EV-1 Cockpit and Inboard Autopilots | Raymarine



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