Oct 20, 2020 > Electronics & instruments
It shouldn’t take four phone calls to three continents to get the answer to one question
Raymarine’s products are great, but Garmin’s customer service is better.
2 agree
2 disagree
Product review Raymarine
REVIEWED BY Alan Jacobson
Reviewer did not receive an incentive to post this review.
27 reviews, 1 follower
Beneteau 40CC Imagine
Before I took up sailing, I owned and flew airplanes. Pilots rely on radios for navigation much more so than sailors – especially if they fly when the sky is touching the ground and the birds are walking. You may have heard the expression “IFR.” It stands for Instrument Flight Rules and refers to those instances when “the pilot is navigating solely by reference to instruments,” according to the FAA’s definition. And by “instruments” I don’t mean the full-color, 3D view of the world you see on today’s plotters and multi-function displays. I earned my instrument ticket when gauges offered little more than mechanical needles to guide you to a runway. This was long before GPS or even LORAN, and decades before moving maps. Thankfully, all that’s changed since I took up flying. But those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it. And based on the history of avionics in aviation, I’d say Raymarine is on radar vectors direct to disaster. ◉ Tap to add a comment or post a review Raymarine is not in a strong position: It was on the verge of bankruptcy when it was acquired by FLIR in 2010. But first, some history from the air that may tell us what will happen on the water: My first Cessna had ARCs made by the Aircraft Radio Corporation, which Cessna acquired in 1959. Without putting too fine a point on it, ARCs sucked. My second Cessna had a brand-new stack of Narco radios. I felt safe with them only when I was on the ground. But when I began flying, King Radio, of Olathe, Kansas, was King. After two planes with ARCs and Narcos, I was jonesing for stack of Kings in the panel of my next plane – which I bought in short order. Unlike all the other brands of avionics, King’s radios just worked. It didn’t matter whether they had mechanical knobs you cranked like a TV tuner (KX170B) or digital displays with illuminated digits (KN62A) – they just worked.
The dependable King KX170B NavComm allowed countless pilots to “slip the surly bonds of earth, and dance the skies on laughter-silvered wings.”
But customer service from the factory was lousy. King didn’t care. King didn’t have to. They were King. Then Garmin came along. And the rest – including King – is history. You can still buy King avionics, but I haven’t heard of anyone buying King in 20 years. Narco went out of business in 2011. I would buy only Garmin now. Garmin crushed King in two ways, which is what Garmin is doing to Raymarine right now: First, Garmin offers products that are as good – or better – than its competitors. Garmin produces superior user interfaces and documentation, particularly for its aviation line, which is essential for pilots because it’s challenging to navigate to the ground when you can’t see it. Case in point: King’s KLN90N GPS. It’s highlighted in red in the instrument panel, below. Unlike the GPS on a boat that typically takes center stage, an airplane’s GPS is just one of many instruments competing for the pilot’s attention. Managing such complexity demands simplicity – which King didn’t deliver with the 90B.
King’s KLN90N GPS highlighted in red, installed in a state-of-the-art instument panel before the days of moving maps.
The manual for the 90N was 198 pages – all of which I read because it was impossible to operate otherwise. It proved so complicated that King eventually bowed to market pressure and released a less-capable but easier-to-use GPS – the KLN94 – because pilots deemed the KLN90B too difficut to use. In contrast, Garmin burst into the aviation market with easy-to-use GPS systems. Unlike King, Garmin’s units possessed intuitive user interfaces that were backed up with one-page “quick start” guides. Now look, below, at the diagram that purports to show how to change the depth alarm settings on Raymarine’s depth sounder. Garmin never releases documentation as convoluted as this. Raymarine’s documentation is like King’s documentation – accurate but impenetrable. Garmin also excels with world-class customer service. King’s support was lousy. So is Raymarine’s. Unlike Raymarine, you don’t get someone in India when you call Garmin. But before you jump to any conclusions, let me be clear: I’ve got nothing against India. I’ve been there – twice – and I love it, its food and its people. This website was built by a developer from India. (Hi Pursharath!). That’s me at the Taj Mahal with my friend, Sudeep, below.
Me and Sudeep at the Taj Majal.
But when I call Raymarine for technical support, I need to hear someone I can understand, because what passes for English in the Punjab is difficult for Americans like me to follow. That notwithstanding, my boat is fully equipped with Raymarine, including ST60 instruments, SmartPilot, AIS, digital radar and Axiom 12 MFD. So before I totally burn my bridges with Raymarine, let me say a few good things about Raymarine and its products.
My Raymarine SmartPilot, ST60 instruments and Axiom 12 multi-function display
I love all my Raymarine equipment: the instruments, the radar, the autopilot and the MFD. A year ago, everything on board was 20 years old. Last season, I upgraded the MFD and radar to digital, but kept the 20-year-old instruments and autopilot. Prior to this upgrade, a fellow sailor with more experience told me I could not integrate my analog autopilot with my new digital MFD. He insisted I would need to replace the autopilot – as he had when he upgraded his MFD. Fortunately for me, he was wrong about that – but he was right about the shop he recommended to help me with the install. I’m please to report that everything works and everything works together. No complaints. But when I did have an obscure technical problem, it was a nightmare. And this is the very reason I believe Raymarine’s days are numbered. I’ll begin by describing the issue. Then I’ll tell you what I went through to get to the bottom of it. My Raymarine Axiom 12 MFD is equipped with Lighthouse 3 software and Navionics charts. Navionics has a really cool feature called “Dock-to-Dock Autorouting.” Just pick a point on your MFD and Navionics will plot a safe course and generate waypoints – based on your draft, beam and hazards to navigation. Really cool, right? Except I could not plot a course to anywhere from my boat. No matter what destination I picked – including a waypoint a couple hundred yards from my slip – Navionics would report, “Cannot plot a safe course to destination based on vessel’s draft.” I double-checked my settings to make sure they were correct – and they were – my boat draws 5’6" and I had set the depth on the Axiom 12 set to 6 feet. So I called Raymarine and got someone in India who could not understand the issue. We were wasting each other’s time. Then I called Navionics. After 30 minutes on hold, I hung up. Then I called Raymarine again and got someone in India again. I told him, “I WANT TO SPEAK TO SOMEONE IN THE UNITED STATES!” He transferred me to a woman in the UK. At least hers was an accent I could understand. She was amazing. She spent the better part of an hour with me. I don’t remember her name, but if she is reading this now, let me say again, “CHEERS!” She refused to give up. After half an hour of trying and failing, she asked me, “Where are you?’ “On my boat,” I said. “Is your boat in the water?” “Yes, I’m in my slip.” But her questions got me to thinking…I had tried Dock-to-Dock Autorouting to local anchorages I’d visited before. All routes failed. Then I tried points closer and closer to my slip. As I picked points closer to my slip, I zoomed in on the MFD. And then I saw it. When I zoomed into my very own slip, I could see that Navionics had a sounding of 3 feet just one slip over from me. Of course, there are no spots that shallow in my marina. But the erroneous sounding just one slip away was preventing Dock-to-Dock Autorouting from creating a route from my slip to anywhere, because any route passed through the 3-foot sounding. My thanks again to the Brit who lead me to the solution. Here’s another Raymarine hero: a Level II technician named Paul at Raymarine in New Hampshire. He is top-notch. He helped me when my RS125 GPS antenna died and I replaced it with a RS150 antenna. This required a new backbone, and a 4-pin-to-5-pin adapter – an obscure part that West Marine’s resident expert insisted did not exist – until she found it after 90 minutes of searching. So if you’re stuck with a Raymarine problem, call Paul. But don’t talk to anyone in India. Unless you want Chicken Tikka Masala.
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