How do you choose a chartplotter? Most of us simply look for one with the newest and coolest features within our budget. Unfortunately, some brands fit some people better and others worse—whether you find a particular unit intuitive to use can be a real shot in the dark, until you have it hooked up and installed at the dash.
Choose one that doesn’t mesh well with your brain, and you could spend the next three or four years trying to figure out how to use it. Wouldn’t it be cool if there were some way to tell ahead of time which brand is best for your type of cerebral cortex?
Interestingly, there’s a brain type theory called “Hemispheric Dominance,” which is accepted by most scientists, professors, and researchers. Essentially, it says that individuals tend to process information differently if they’re “left brain dominant” or “right brain dominant”. Generally speaking, left-brained people focus on logical thinking, analysis, and accuracy. Right-brainers tend to lean more towards aesthetics, feelings, and creativity. Most people never consider left- versus right-dominated thought, even as it determines what mode of thinking they’ll use when doing something like, say, setting a waypoint on a chartplotter screen. And if that specific way of thinking matches up best with Brand X’s menu structure, and if we can predict this by figuring out what type of brain dominance an individual has… Bingo! Choosing the right chartplotter for that individual could become a whole lot easier.
To figure out how a leftie brain vs. a rightie brain would interact with different types of chart plotters, I developed a series of simple tasks for individuals to do with chartplotters from a range of manufacturers: Garmin, Interphase, Lowrance, Raymarine, and Standard-Horizon. I timed 15 subjects as they performed these tasks, then had each person take a 54-question Brain Type Test to determine if they were left or right brain dominant. (The test is free and available to anyone online, at www.testcafe.com). Finally, I compared the results to see if left-brainers and/or right-brainers matched up with any one specific brand or another.
Some interesting patterns showed up in the results. For starters, without exception right-brainers were faster then left-brainers at figuring any of these chartplotters out. Considering the traits of lefties versus righties, it would seem that this is telling us something we boaters have long suspected: the way chartplotter menus are laid out basically makes no sense, and isn’t the least bit logical. Secondly, Lowrance’s unit was clearly the most intuitive, taking about one third less time to figure out that the most time-consuming unit, which was the Raymarine. But Raymarine also showed the smallest spread between left and right brain thinkers. (Note: Raymarine’s new e-series has an all-new user interface, so these results won’t necessarily apply to those units. In fact, they’re patterned like an iPhone menu and are quite easy to use). Finally, we also learned that the younger a user is, the more likely they are to want a touch-screen interface. (Second note: if you’re thinking about choosing a touch-screen unit, read this article on touch-screens first!)Were we able to discover if you can take one of these brain tests, and choose a more intuitive unit based on the results? Nope. Neither brand type matched up with one specific brand any better or worse. But we did make some interesting discoveries about how our brains interact with chartplotters—and hopefully they’ll help you make your next pick a good one.