I have barely seen a cruising sailboat without a chart plotter these days. Most of them have them as a piece of hardware similar to a gps device in a car, chart software on a tablet and/or phone or on a computer (openCPN for example). Ikoko carries paper charts as well but we don't really use them anymore. At least when coastal cruising.
Before we started our journey last year I was in the market for a chart plotter as well. I wanted one with a built-in AIS transceiver. I didn't like the idea to have a separate AIS unit to connect with a chart plotter, have more cables, more installation... you get the idea. Unfortunately I only found two manufacturers offering such devices.
I bought a Chinese product from a well-reputed company called ONWA. I wrote a post about this experience: http://goo.gl/CvcIgb.
|more pictures at the end of this post. This pic shows the chart view on the Onwa Plotter|
Unfortunately I bought the unit from a dealership in HongKong called Huayang Technology. In the beginning I was surprised about the level of service during the buying process. A couple of weeks later I had the chart plotter sent over to Europe without any problems. A couple of months later I installed the plotter on Ikoko. No problems here either. The installation was a breeze. GPS antenna, VHF antenna and power was all I needed to connect the unit. After 3 hours all worked perfectly.
Just about when we left from The Netherlands heading south through the English Channel the Plotter gave up and broke. When switching the unit on I only got a black screen. I exchanged many Emails with Huayang and suddenly the service level dropped significantly. After I tried to update the plotter with new firmware, which Huayang sent to me after 10 weeks (finally - hurrah - but nothing worked), they went silent and I didn't hear back from them for months. I dropped them Emails every other week, telling them how upset I was and that I will write all about my experience on our blog, go to the press etc.
Finally they came back to me and asked me to send the plotter to them for repairs. This was in December last year. I paid an awful lot of money for the parcel to China. 3 month later I got a call from the Marina office that there was a parcel waiting for me at the post office to be picked up from somewhere outside of Europe. Guess what. Huayang never tried to pick up the plotter from customs. I was sooooo angry.... I dropped them another Email but never heard anything back.
ONWA and AVES Marine - the good guys
Just when I was ready to bury the plotter deep in a bilge, I received an Email from Alan. Alan is from the UK, a sailor and a Stories from a Boat blog reader. He was also in the market for a plotter and showed some interest in ONWA .... asking me about my experiences. Over the last year we occasionally exchanged Emails.
In spring this year he dropped me an Email, telling me that he is opening up a dealership for ONWA in the UK. His company is called AVES Marine and they sell the whole ONWA range of products.
Did I mention that ONWA is a cool company? My bad experiences are only with Huayang (the HongKong Distributor). ONWA is a professionally managed company with awesome and reasonable priced products. They get the job done and this is what I like. No fancy touch and what have you.
Anyways. Alan asked me to give him some more information about my experience with Huayang. I forwarded him all of the Emails that went back and forth, which he discussed with ONWA in China. Apparently Huayang was known for a bad service level and they threw them out as an official distributor this year (if they ever were an official distributor).
ONWA and Alan (with AVES Marine) offered me to send my plotter to them for repairs. The next day I dropped the parcel at the local post office and was crossing my fingers.
What followed then was a great experience and shows how ONWA and AVES Marina are caring for their customers. Alan dropped me an Email once he received the plotter. He also told me that during the shipping the cover of the plotter broke and that there would be some scratches. He even attached pictures for proof.
Here is the Email communication around the repairs of our plotter:
Hi Kosta,Received your plotter today. Unfortunately it suffered minor damage in the post, nothing serious so no real problem; I have attached some images to show the damage. There are some marks to the corners of the case and the sun cover has a piece broken off in one corner.
I have replaced the screen but this isn't the problem so it suggests the main pcb may be faulty. I have mailed Kenny at Onwa to explain what I have done today. Interesting is the brighter area in the centre of the screen (see image) this may mean something to the Onwa experts....
I thanked Alan for his prompt answer....
Hi Kosta,Progress: Kenny (remark: Kenny is from ONWA) is going to send me a new main pcb for your plotter and I have also asked him if he can include a new sun-cover to replace the one broken in transit..Let you know once I have the new pcb.
Isn't this great service. I quite like it to be informed as a customer....
Hi Kosta,New pcb for your plotter has been shipped today.Will write again once I have it.Regards,
Hi Kosta,Good news for you - your plotter is all up and running and ready to be returned; can you let me have your address so that I can get it sent off to you?Kenny @ Onwa has supplied the part free of charge and threw in a new sun cover to replace your damaged one as well. I think this was a really good gesture from Kenny as although your warranty from Huayang was technically valid, as we both know they had no intention of honoring it. Kenny might have taken the attitude that it was bought from an unauthorized supplier so tough but he didn't which I think demonstrates his commitment to customer support......
YESSSS. Thank you Alan, thank you Kenny. I think this is awesome customer support. Try this with Raymarine or Garmin or any of the other big shots.
If you are in the market for Chart Plotters, Radar, Depth Sounders, Fish Finders.... make sure to check out AVES Marine. The prices of the ONWA products are very interesting and before you buy a multi-thousand EUR/USD touch and remote controlled piece of fragile art from the known manufacturers, with features you will never need when cruising... go to ONWA and AVES Marine. This will save you a lot of money and with their service commitment you will be on the save side as well.
Now here are some images when I got the plotter back from Alan. Everything works, I am happy and now I am going to install our ONWA plotter again. One last remark. You see some strange patterns on the images. This is not what you see in real and only because of my camera and the flashlight. In fact, the display is bright, crisp and clear.