I use this unit in the US North Atlantic. I have a 17 foot Newport daysailer that I take from the mainland New Hampshire coast to the Isle of Shoals, around Portsmouth Harbor, into Southern Maine and around Hampton and Rye NH. Before I had the Magellan, I had charts, a magnetic compass and dead reckoning to determine my whereabouts. I still use those methods, but not because I have to - I just like to keep the skills up.
Benefits on the water Using this unit makes sailing much less stressful. I no longer have to scan the horizon for landmarks, buoys or lighthouses when heading for a particular destination. I simply set it, and various way-points, on the Meridian before leaving shore and it guides me in effortlessly.
Color or Gray-scale Before I bought the Magellan, a friend who has a much larger boat and far more money than I do strongly recommended getting a color unit. He pointed out that color images impart more information than gray-scale. After using the color Magellan for a couple of months, I have to agree - color images, especially when on the open ocean, are more informative at a quick glance than gray-scale. It's easy to see if an approaching buoy is red or green, for example, with a quick look at the screen.
Compared to other brands I checked out Garmin and Lowrance before settling on the Magellan. Both of those manufacturers offer color GPS units, but the price-point for color is considerably higher than the Magellan - at least $100 more than the Meridian. And those other units didn't come with oceanic aids to navigation installed. They had to be purchased separately and loaded from a CD. The Magellan has preloaded all of the buoys, nuns and cans that I'm looking for in coastal waters.
It also comes with the standard GPS bells and whistles. Knot-meter, trip planner, ETA, miles off-course, etcetera, but they are well-documented and I won't reiterate them here. Suffice it to say that it has everything necessary to conduct a coastal cruise in US waters. As I understand it, there are different areas of the US coast loaded on each unit depending on where you buy it. So if you're purchasing on-line, be sure that the one you're buying is loaded with the coastal area that you are planning on cruising.
Downside of a backlit screen
Others have noted the short battery life and they are not exaggerating. 6 hours is all you can expect if you use the back-lighting. But I find the non-backlit mode readable, even in bright sunlight, and the batteries last about 10-12 hours in that mode. Just be sure to carry extra batteries when you head out.
The unit comes with a serial cable to connect it to a PC. The documentation calls this a serial/power cable, so I believe that it doesn't use the batteries when it's connected in this way. There is no connection for on-board power.
In-use It takes about 2 minutes to lock onto satellites the first time it powers up for the day. I'm not sure why, but it is much faster locking on when I power it up if it's been off for a short while. It tracks very well whether I have it zoomed in all the way or zoomed out fairly far.
The menus and interface are extremely easy to use, even under adverse conditions. I was fighting 5-foot seas and 20 knot winds one day recently and I had no problem moving quickly between the different screens when I had a free hand.
Setting way-points, destinations and icons is very easy and intuitive. It's a lesson in effective user-interface design.
The unit is light and the buttons are placed below the screen on its face. This allows you to manipulate the controls without blocking the display with your hand. It's also quite light-weight so it doesn't weigh you down if you keep it on your person.
After using the Meridian for a couple of weeks, I purchased a mounting bracket for around $20. It's very helpful to have it at-hand without digging it out of my pocket while sailing.
Joe Pescatello is an author, an avid sailor and commercial software developer. Visit http://UncleBobsAttic.com for a sample of his work.