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Plotting by Design

Plotting by Design

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Jonathan Peers flies south to test the latest crop of technical advancements and products from the stable of leading marine electronics manufacturer, Navico.


The latter part of May 2019 saw Navico hold a press event at the vast, idyllic harbour of Palma, Mallorca. Making good use of the RCNP sailing club and surrounded by all manner of craft from kayaks and local traditional fishing boats, to countless superyachts and cruise liners, the organisers performed something of a miracle. They managed to gather over forty journalists from different countries and different backgrounds (fishing, cruising, sailing, and of course powerboating), and despite the obvious language barriers managed to ensure that each person got out on the water to experience first-hand each piece of electronic wizardry that was deemed most suited to each one. This flawless choreography was made to look easy, though I’m certain it must have been like planning a military operation.

Utilising local boats and skippers, Navico used this event to showcase their range of products, each one assigned to its own brand depending on its intended use – Simrad for cruising, Lowrance fishing, B&G for sailing, and finally bringing up the rear Is C-map, the mapping software that helps make it all work.


The Simrad Cruise

Simrad may have been around for many years, producing electronics for all kinds of boats, but somehow there has always been a gap beneath their product range – nothing to really cater for the budget conscious occasional user who may not have the time, or indeed the technical knowhow needed to install and use a complex electronics.

This is where the Simrad Cruise range comes in. Available in 5,7, and 9inch models, it is a budget priced, basic, and easy to install and use chartplotter that is ideally suited to small open powerboats. Each of these units feature a built in GPS antenna and can be flush mounted into a console, or externally bracket mounted. Wiring has been kept simple with only a power supply for the unit itself, and a signal lead from the transom mounted transducer.

Simplicity it would seem, is key. When you think about it, the majority of people who may find themselves loyal to one particular brand, do so because they are familiar with, and are therefore comfortable using a certain format. This is especially so with things like chartplotters, with a seemingly never-ending list of menus and settings to get your head around. For an occasional user, this familiarisation can literally take years, with the user unwilling to risk having to learn a whole new system by swapping brands.

Simrad’s approach with the Cruise model is to make the whole process of familiarisation as quick as possible, with easy to follow setup screens and basic menus. The emphasis is very much on being able to use the unit pretty much straight out of the box, with the majority of functions operating in automatic modes, unless the user decides to dig a little deeper into the setup options.

As far as charts themselves are concerned, Simrad Cruise comes pre-loaded with basic charts, but if you are looking for greater detail then you will be pleased to know that both Navionics and Cmap SD cards are supported, so if you are already familiar with one of those then you have no reason to have to change. Of course, with Cmap being Navico’s own brand of chart software, this combination should in theory at least work best. Now, should you opt for this combination yourself, then you can make use of Easy Routing. This rather nifty feature allows true satellite navigation, automatically generating its own series of waypoints, avoiding obstacles and shallow water, rather than the traditional point to point that we would otherwise be used to. Of course, once the route has been plotted by the unit, there is every chance that it has no choice but to take you through an area that may be considered dangerous. In this instance, the section of the route in question is highlighted in red and a warning message is displayed. The onus is then on you as the skipper to assess the risks and either continue knowing that you have eliminated any of those risks, or of course edit the route in order to plot a safe passage.


The Seven-Inch Model

Testing the 7inch model, I found the user interface incredibly easy to navigate. With this being a non-touch screen model, zooming in and out on the chart is carried out by rotating the dial. Upon doing so, the redraw speed of the chart is remarkably fast, enabling you to take a quick, close up look at your surroundings before returning to see the bigger picture, so to speak. The chart displays almost all of the same information regardless of the range selected, which on the broader ranges can look a little cluttered. This can be alleviated by either zooming in or reducing the detail within the settings menu.

The screen itself is daylight viewable, and of course dimmable for night-time use. Impressively, the screen can be viewed from all angles up to 80° upwards, and sideways.

A data bar can be displayed alongside the chart, though the parameters of which cannot be customised. That being said, with the data bar displaying speed, depth, heading, water temperature and supply voltage, what more would you need?

Displayed at the top of the screen is your lat/long position, as well as the time.

Split screen displays can be selected from the main menu, to incorporate navigation and fish finder views, or of course full screen for either.


CHIRP Sonar

Simrad Cruise may be primarily a chart plotter, but it also has inbuilt CHIRP sonar.

Cruise sonar provides accurate depth readings and automatic bottom tracking as well as water temperature. This being based on the Hook range of sonar units.

Supplied as standard is an 83/200 transducer which gives you frequency options of 83kHz, 200kHz, Medium and High CHIRP.

There is no provision for nmea networking, which at first puzzled me – how are you meant to link your position to your VHF for DSC? Simple really, since April, all new fixed VHF DSC radios must now feature their own built in GPS receivers, so as long as you are prepared to upgrade your radio, then you are covered.

All controls are located on the right-hand side of the unit, and all of them, quite reassuringly, require quite positive action in order to activate them, something that will surely avoid accidental inputs whilst being thrown around in a small boat at sea. This was also the thinking behind ignoring the modern trend for touch screen operation, something that doesn’t always mix with sea spray and shaky hands.

Simrad Cruise is competitively priced at £432.99 (5”), £616.99 (7”) and £741.99 (inc VAT) for the 9”. The unit is IPX7 waterproof rated and ideal for installation in open air vessels such as RIB’s, ski and wakeboard boats, fishing boats and tenders.


Lowrance Elite Ti2

If the Simrad Cruise doesn’t quite tick all the boxes on your wish list, then its bigger brothers may well be worth closer inspection.

Lowrance has been a world-leader in fishing electronics since 1957, and now they are proud to show off their powerful, yet affordable member of the fishfinder/chartplotter family, Elite Ti2. Delivering enhanced high-resolution sonar, wireless networking and Bluetooth call/text message display, the Elite Ti2 gives anglers access to features previously reserved for Lowrance’s premium HDS range of displays.

Although Lowrance may aim their products at the fishing community, other water users such as keen divers will find this new generation of sonar invaluable when it comes to pinpointing a target on which to dive.

Active Imaging Sonar provides industry-leading clarity without sacrificing range, it delivers unmatched image quality of structure, fish and bottom composition. A 3-in-1 sonar solution, Active Imaging combines Lowrance CHIRP sonar, with Side and DownScan Imaging allowing anglers to quickly search fish-holding structure and enhances FishReveal with higher-level clarity and target separation. Simple to use, without the need to change frequencies while fishing in most conditions, the Active Imaging 800 kHz setting provides crystal-clear detail with uncompromised range. For those needing to see farther than 120 feet, Active Imaging can also operate at the 455 kHz frequency.

Although traditional networking via NMEA  0183/2000 is supported, full wireless connectivity does away with the hassle of cable installation, Elite Ti2 offers anglers the ability to wirelessly share sonar and charting between two displays, as well as sync waypoint data, and the display’s network configurator allows for quick and easy set-up of all the different components. Bluetooth connectivity allows the user to keep their phones stored in a safe location while still receiving incoming call and text notifications. Android features include incoming text message display and reply, new message and message template creation, and access to message history and call logs. iOS features include display of incoming text messages and call log.

With an uncluttered appearance, and sporting just five buttons – power, zoom in/out, menu and waypoint, the Elite Ti2 Relies heavily on its touch screen menus. Just like the Cruise model, build quality feels good, and the screen is viewable from all angles even in direct sunlight. Again installation suits both flush or bracket mounting.

Lowrance Elite Ti2 is available in 7-, 9-, and 12-inch touch screen display sizes, and various charting and transducer bundles, ranging in price from £829.99 to £2,539.99.


Lowrance HDS LIVE + Live Sight

The HDS LIVE is a flagship model, being more of a multi-function display rather than just a chartplotter. Available in 7, 9, 12 and 16 inch screen sizes, there is a model to suit most applications. Unlike with other models, the touch screen features full pinch to zoom capabilities, rather than just single point selection. As well as all the features of the Cruise and Elite Ti2 models, the HDS LIVE has a few clever tricks up its sleeve.

Livesight Sonar provides the most detailed views of fish, down to every turn and flip of the tail, as they swim in and around cover. You’ll be fishing in real-time as you watch fish react to your lure, see how they are relating to structure and gain insight on what will work, what won’t and what to do next.
This live, real time view can be utilized yet further by using Livesight forward, couple this with the Lowrance Point-1 GPS antenna, an innovative on-chart indicator shows the direction the transducer is pointed, allowing anglers to line up on a waypoint or pinpoint the structure they are trying to fish.

Using Genesis live charting allows real-time, custom charting of the seabed, generating far more detail than is provided on the supplied chart. Using digital depth from your own transducer to create depth-contour overlays on charts, this newfound detail can be saved to SD card for future use. You could in theory chart the entire seabed in your local area of coastline, or indeed lake, simply by trolling back and forth “colouring in” the existing chart. Depth contours can be allocated different colours, meaning that if you marked say the 3m contours in red, you could then plot a course quite easily by simply following the red areas on the chart.

Smart phone integration allows anglers to display important fishing information and entertainment from their smartphones on their 12- and 16-inch sunlight viewable displays. Users can view their smartphone in full-screen or split-screen windows via HDMI connection allowing them to stream video, view Google Maps and fishing data on the HDS LIVE touchscreen – all while their phone is safely stowed.

HDS LIVE features a low-profile design with edge-to-edge glass SolarMAX HD screen; bracket, flush and rear mounting options; user-programmable keys; and an optional fully-programmable Bluetooth remote.

HDS LIVE ranges in price from £1,219.99 to £5,200. Active Imaging can be purchased as a bundle with HDS LIVE or as a separate accessory for £310; the LiveSight transducer is priced at £2249.99.


Simrad Smart Boat

The smart boat system is a fully integrated operating system monitoring and controlling almost every aspect of the boat. Getting my hands on the test boat, a HOC33 cruiser, any scepticism I may have had soon vanished as I began to gain an understanding of what this system is all about; it’s a whole new way of thinking, but more importantly it could very well be a glimpse into the future of how boats are produced.

Presently, the system has its own sim card installed and creates its own Wi-Fi hotspot. This not only allows networking with smartphones and tablets whilst on board, but also allows access to the boats systems from anywhere in the world. In the interests of safety, only certain operations can be performed remotely, such as unlocking cabin doors and monitoring things like engine and service data. Once aboard, the owner’s smartphone automatically connects to the Smart Boat Wi-Fi hotspot, which in turn allows access to all functions.

With a huge screen filling the entire console, there is no room for any other electronics, but this exactly what the designers want. The idea being that things such as engine gauges, sound and navigation systems, rocker switches, in fact anything electrical, will now be hidden away, or eliminated altogether with all controls interfaced via a canbus network.

Even though all of the boat’s features are controlled using the computers joystick control, the steering wheel itself wouldn’t look out of place in a modern sports car, playing host to a healthy array of buttons, each with it’s own dedicated function – and yes there is one for the horn!

This could all sound quite unnecessary, but like it or loathe it, technology moves on, and at quite a pace! The overall thinking being that this Smart Boat system will appeal primarily to boat owners who may lack certain practical skills, such as carrying out engine checks and even docking the boat, thereby making power boating even more accessible to those who may otherwise be put off. The canbus network can be infinitely extended, meaning that future DIY installation of electrical devices or equipment will be a simple plug and play affair, alleviating need for running countless cables and spending time configuring new systems.

With this system still being developed, there are many more features still to come. Utilising technology from the automotive world, the future certainly looks very exciting indeed. PBR will no doubt be keeping a close eye on developments and bringing those to you as they come along.

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