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  • Garmin have certainly embraced the recent sonar revolution enabling skippers to get a much better picture of life beneath their boat …
  • There have been several sonar systems launched recently that give a realistic 3D picture of the seabed, so it is no real surprise that Garmin have come up with an easily fitted system with much the same benefits.

Garmin Gear

Greg Copp shares his thoughts on some of the latest marine electronic devices from Garmin …

 There is no better way to get to grips with marine electronics than a day on the water – in this case off the Jurassic coast of Dorset, with a fully furnished RIB from Ribcraft. Our navigational suite of two plotters, a multi-frequency transducer and an HD radar dome was joined by two distinctly Garmin-like gadgets: the Quatix 5 and the VIRB Ultra 30.

Featured in the last issue of PBR, the Quatix 5 is an all-singing, all dancing GPS Bluetooth watch, and the VIRB Ultra 30 is Garmin’s version of a GoPro – but with a difference. On the face of it, the Quatix 5 looks like a gadget-filled waterproof watch with a £499 price tag. However, after testing it, and after a Bluetooth hook-up to the electronics fitted to the Ribcraft, its concept and potential, especially in a fast, open boat, became apparent.

That said, you really need a VIRB Ultra 30 to go with it. What is different about the VIRB? Well, like a GoPro, it is small, has a waterproof case and can shoot up to 4k video, and high-definition stills. However, unlike GoPro, it can be controlled by a quick press of a button on a wristwatch. It can be turned on and off via a switch on its waterproof case, but when it is mounted on a wheelhouse roof, grab rail, A-frame, windscreen, mountain bike, motor cycle, helmet, etc., then dabbing a button on your watch makes much better sense.

This might seem indulgent when the end result is simply to record your testosterone-fuelled moments of madness, but it has practical implications. The VIRB will transmit via Bluetooth to your plotter. You can fit it to watch over your stern, so when you tuck into a tight berth you can keep an eye on your aft quarters without leaving the helm. It has a GPS overlay facility so you can display/record speed and coordinates transmitted from your plotter. It also has a G-Metrix sensor recording how much punishment you are dishing out to your body. If you do not have a Quatix to control it, it has various alternative means. There is a touch screen, which works through its waterproof case, voice control for start/stop recording/snapping shots, and of course an app – the VIRB app, which turns your mobile phone into a remote control.

Its high-sensitivity microphone has been built to work in windy conditions, and a three-axis image stabilisation facility aims to capture steady footage, though exactly how effective that is likely to be in a lively boat is another matter. There is a Photo Modes facility enabling bursts of 60fps in wide mode, night shots and time lapse photography. Wi-Fi connectivity allows the VIRB to connect to all tablets and smartphones, and One-Touch Live Streaming provides a facility to share video on YouTube via an Apple device.

Our test boat had two plotters – the 10″ 1022xs and the 9″ 922xs. The larger 10″ 1022xsv has a traditional keypad and rotary knob, which is ideal for a lively open boat, where gloved operation in wet conditions makes touch screen operation unrealistic. The bright display was easy to view in the sunny conditions of the day, even with sunglasses. The high-resolution 1024 x 600 screen made it easy to zoom in to take a close look at the features of Dorset’s Jurassic coast, courtesy of Garmin’s BlueChart g2 digital charts. Connectivity is in three forms: traditional hard-wiring, in the form of NMEA 0183/NMEA 2000 for autopilots, VHF, AIS, Fusion link and weather; Garmin Marine Network, which provides a cable system allowing the sharing of radar, sonar, charts, user data, camera footage and Panoptix sonar (for Panoptix sonar see Boat Tech); and finally wireless connectivity via Garmin’s BlueChart app to a mobile phone/tablet, enabling, among other things, the ability to turn a tablet into a second ad hoc plotter screen, as well as Bluetooth connection to the VIRB Ultra 30.

There is a particularly handy feature known as Auto Guidance that comes with BlueChart g2 Vision HD charts. Though Garmin are not alone in this navigational concept, it is only recently that we have seen satnav-like passage guidance available on chartplotters. This feature has to draw on a variety of information, including vessel draught, tidal height and tidal streams. It aims to offer a passage to anywhere on the water, though I suspect most people would limit it to pilotage, and then with a degree of scrutiny to start with. You can insert waypoints into the proposed passage and review potentially hazardous points and segments of the voyage in greater detail. It also has the ability to make speed recommendations, presumably in restricted waterways. Whether you would want to trust artificial intelligence to make a detailed passage plan is another thing, but at the very least, Auto Guidance can rough out a course that you can then fine-tune if need be.

As well as Auto Guidance, BlueChart has a few other interesting features: Depth Range Shading enables you to see at a glance 10 different depth ranges, which is ideal in small, fast boats; detailed 1ft contour charting of the seabed is also possible – ideal for fishing or getting a detailed look at restricted waters. The 922xs has the same comprehensive range of features as the 1022xsv with the same screen resolution, and like the 1022xsv, it can be flush- or bail (bracket)-mounted. However, it is a purely touch screen system, which, though comparatively smaller as a result of having no key panel, is harder to operate in a lively boat, especially when wet, which is why our test boat had both forms of plotter.

Complementing the plotters was Garmin’s latest digital radar, the GMR 18 Xhd Radome. Weighing just 7.7kg and 50cm in diameter, it was perfect for the 7.5m Ribcraft. However, it can see out to 48 nautical miles if need be, as well as zooming into a buoy just 20 metres away – one of the many advantages of digital radar. It transmits at 4kW and has a typical power consumption of 30w, making it realistic for a single-outboard-powered boat. Like all modern radars, it features radar overlay on the chart screen as well as a dual-range display. Providing you fit an optional heading sensor, you have the security of target tracking, enabling collision avoidance, further enhanced by a guard zone alarm alerting you when objects enter your predefined safety zone. On-screen echo trails indicate the wake of moving objects, making it easy to differentiate between stationary and moving targets. For clearer imaging, the GMR 18 has ‘Dynamic Auto Gain’ to adjust the gain levels between harbour and offshore waters, as well as ‘Dynamic Sea Filter’ to automatically adjust gain between calm, moderate and rough sea states.

Garmin have certainly embraced the recent sonar revolution enabling skippers to get a much better picture of life beneath their boat with a simple all-in-one transom-mount transducer – the GT51M-TM, which links directly to the 922xs and the 1022xsv. There have been several sonar systems launched recently that give a realistic 3D picture of the seabed, so it is no real surprise that Garmin have come up with an easily fitted system with much the same benefits. Ideal for those who want CHIRP traditional sonar, CHIRP ClearVü and CHIRP SideVü scanning sonar, this transducer displays clear and crisp fish arches with superior target separation as well as clear pictures of objects, structure and fish that pass below and to each side of your boat. Garmin state that it is optimised for rough sea conditions, so one can also hope that it operates effectively at high speed, unlike some earlier-generation transducers. The CHIRP ClearVü/SideVü elements have a power rating of 500w per element (1500w total) and operating frequencies of 260/455 kHz. The traditional CHIRP sonar has a power rating of 600w and operating frequencies of mid-band CHIRP 80–160 kHz. It also includes a built-in fast-response temperature sensor. The maximum depth reading is 1800ft courtesy of traditional 600w CHIRP, while ClearVü can see down to 1000ft and SideVü reaches down to 750ft.

The 922xs can be bought from around £1,250, the 1022xsv costs approximately £2,000, the GT51M-TM retails at £500 or less, the VIRB Ultra 30 is £390, and a Garmin GMR 18HD dome radar can be had from £1,050 if you shop around.


For details on all products visit www.garmin.com

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