Navman Tracker 5500i Chartplotter
Compact and with the largest screen in its class the Navman Tracker 5500i seems tailor-made for the small fishing boat.
Navman emerged in 1994 from a collaboration between Plastimo and the Kiwi company Talon Technologies. The early offerings were very much a budget brand, but the last few years has seen the whole range take a big jump forward in quality and design.
The Tracker 5500 series boasts the largest screen for an entry-level unit chart plotter with a measurement of 125mm (5in) diagonally. Combine this with bright TFT colour, the latest C-MAP NT+ cartography, and plenty of accessories you have a competitive offering indeed.
The Navman Tracker 5500i has an integrated GPS antenna and this makes it ideal for trailer boat use. The screen on the Navman Tracker 5500i is a healthy and visible 125mm diagonally but it seems bigger at first glance. Vertical display emphasis is a good method for small spaces and works whether you are looking at a sounder, or a chartplotter.
Resolution is 234 x 320 pixels. Brightness and contrast are easy to employ by hitting the on/off button and using the rocker switches on the cursor pad. Polaroid sunglasses are no problem with these screens and the unit is waterproof to IP67 standards.
The unit employs the new SiRF Star11 receiver to afford excellent fix stability and quick acquisition. The Navman Tracker 5500i will store up to 500 alphanumeric waypoints, with 48 user defined icons and eight character letters available for each waypoint.
Waypoints can be displayed easily on the chart through the display menu and the list is accessible this way as well. They can also be entered using text entry and graphically from a chart.
There is also a full range of waypoint editing capabilities. The Navman Tracker 5500i lets you create up to 10 routes containing up to 50 waypoints each. Adding waypoints to a route is a relatively easy procedure using the cursor on the relevant electronic chart.
The Navman Tracker 5500i has the full range of waypoint functions. Danger alarms can be added to waypoints and are great for use near dangerous areas like bommies, isolated shoals and restricted areas
The trick with a danger alarm involves nominating the waypoint at a safe radius away from it up to 9.99 nm. If you enter the danger zone the unit sounds an alarm and a visual warning appears on the screen.
A word of warning - it's not wise to risk life and limb on any piece of electronic equipment. The US Military can turn the system off or reinstate selective availability at will. Use GPS as an aid to navigation only and use every other means of keeping watch possible, it's the law, your responsibility and good commonsense.
There are a number of other alarms available on the Navman Tracker 5500i, Arrival, Anchor, Cross Track Error (XTE) and Low Fuel, if you have the fuel transducer that plugs into this unit.
There is a tide function on the Navman Tracker 5500i that works in Australia! The stage of the moon and a sine curve tide display is there at the touch of the display button. Obviously the Kiwis are aware Australia exists and treat our requirements with some respect which is a lot more than what a lot of American cartographers and GPS manufacturers seem to do. Maybe they confuse us with Austria!
Home computer waypoint management requires C-MAP NT Planner, a module that attaches to the PC and allows desktop working. More about this later. The Navman Tracker 5500i has a good tilt and swivel stand and power data cable with a moderately quick release.
It is a smart looking unit and with the optional fuel transducer it can provide fuel consumption readings on remaining fuel, economy and range. The Navman Tracker 5500i will also interface with other Navman units such as sounders and allow on-screen data displays using this function.
Chart plotting involves using electronically generated charts to render your surrounding area. The Navman Tracker 5500i uses the new C-MAP NT+ charting software, which is still the best medium price product in my opinion. These charts have a tremendous level of detail and do a reasonable coverage of the most frequently used locations.
Why use a chart plotter? The majority of trailer boaters don't use paper charts because they are too hard to handle in a small wet boat. A chartplotter is compact and easy to use. The floating cursor allows you to create waypoints and routes and quickly see where the land is.
Waypoints can also be displayed by using icons and you can see at a glance what areas are close to them. C-MAP NT+ will give you very fine scale resolution and some light and navigational information on the chart.
The trick with Chartplotters is to obtain the electronic chart for the area you're going to frequent. Outside this area chart resolution drops away dramatically and there is only coarse resolution on the world chart supplied. Compare this to a 500m resolution and you'll get the picture.
The Navman Tracker 5500i is certainly a versatile tool for navigation. All kinds of information can be displayed on screen at will. Graphics are good without too much detail to confuse, yet enough to be very useful.
The colour key on the setup menu allows normal, sunlight, night and paper settings. The latter allowing normal chart emulation colours to show, while sunlight allows full sun viewing and night helps with your night vision.
A C-MAP user card is available at $77.00 to save waypoints, tracks and routes on the Navman Tracker 5500i giving a bit more versatility and data safety.
The Navman Tracker 5500i performs creditably, with quick updates when scale is changed and a good display. The night display is great and the display size is good for the price, easily visible at low speed and daylight.
Long-term exposure to direct sunlight on a hot day plays havoc with most TFT screens and the Navman Tracker 5500i is no exception to the rule. A hot screen goes an ugly black colour so if you can keep it under cover all the better.
The chart colouration is great with close renditions of paper charts available. Navigation figures are also big and bold. As with all multiple purpose tools, there is a bit of getting used to the menu system, but it's not at all a clumsy unit. After spending some time with the manual all concerns are addressed.
The manual is good but could be bigger and water proofed. The menu system is easily accessed on the front panel and the display button will provide a list of all functions. Double pressing the menu key takes you to a list of set-up modes, a single press will allow items related to the current display to be accessed and adjusted.
I found accuracy very good, regularly getting within 15m of target with a good proportion of fixes within 10m.
The Navman Tracker 5500i comes with 140 Datums and one Map shift feature to use when the datum is unknown. Unfortunately the new GDA datum for Australia is not available here as is the case with most GPS brands. And there will be a wait for charts in that datum till they become available at dealer level.
The Navman Tracker 5500i can be used in conjunction with most maps. Hot start time is less than a minute and cold start about 5-10 minutes.
My only real gripes with the unit involveds is I couldn't keep it! Other than that it has my pet hate - a gloss screen. At night, ambient lighting makes gloss screens unreadable at some angles. A few prominent manufacturers seem to think a gloss screen is groovy, but I don't agree.
The Navman Tracker 5500i is a competitive offering in price and quality. It offers a quality machine that doesn't have any real drawbacks. A range of accessories such as fuel transducers, PC downloads kits, carry bags and a two-year warranty further sweetens the package. At the retail price of around $2,000 (plus chart costs) it seems a good choice for those boats with limited dash space.
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