What are your priorities for electronics?
First is reliability. I usually choose gear with a proven track record from companies with a good reputation for quality and service. When one is “out there,” one needs to trust that the gear will always work.
Second is user friendliness. Simple is good. I don’t want to have to pick up the manual every time I use a piece of gear. I want it to be easy and intuitive. This is also important when you have occasional crew for passages.
Third is a good world-wide service network. I like brands that have an extensive and well established service network. If and when it does break, it makes it way easier to get it fixed.
What hardware have you been happy with, and/or unhappy with?
Icom M710 Sideband radio. I am very happy with this one. It has been 100% reliable, gets in and out where others can’t and is very easy to use (not many buttons and dials).
Icom M127 and M45 VHF radios. Same as above.
Magellan Inmarsat C. Great equipment, but horrible customer service from Comsat. SailMail is much better for email via the SSB and a Pactor II modem.
Standard HX255 handheld VHF. Good reliable units and easy to get parts and accessories from West Marine and others.
Furuno GPS 35 Navigator. I’ve got two. They have been 100% reliable and are so easy to use, one might not need the manual.
Furuno 1832 Radar. This unit is compact but has a nice sized display. It has been 100% reliable and is easy to use. I especially like the “Watchman” feature for energy savings on passages
Furuno DFAX. This unit works well when it is working. I have had two failures in seven years. The good news is that Furuno has a good service network and I use a sideband based program as a backup.
W-H Autopilots. These 15 year-old pilots have been very reliable, and when I need service, Wil Hamm is easy to reach and very helpful with organizing parts and repairs.
Heart Interface Freedom 25 Inverter and Link 2000 battery monitor. Great gear, reliable and easy to use.
B & G Hecta and Hornet Instruments. These 15 year old instruments are still reasonably reliable, but are more on the “bleeding edge” of technology. This may be the next major upgrade.
Interphase Forward Looking Sonar. Good concept, difficult to use and understand the data. The jury is out on this one.
Dell Inspiron 4000 laptop computer. Great display for chart plotting and various other sailing/cruising programs. Fairly reliable after one year and excellent service experience so far..
For entertainment gear (stereo, TV and VCR) I use Sony. It performs well, is not too expensive, reliable and easy to get service.
Finally, if you were replacing everything today, what do you think you would do?
If I had to replace everything today, I would spend a lot of time talking to people who have new gear to get their feedback. I would weight that against the familiarity of what I have now and decide what is going to best meet my long term needs. One thing that I would definitely do is make sure that the radar, GPS, instruments and autopilot could all “talk” to each other and to the navigational software. The ability to have all of the information visually displayed on the screen/chart makes life much simpler, and I like simple.