During the past 12 months a good portion of the marine electronics industry has been promoting and producing products that create better images of the structure and activity below the boat — both directly under the keel and in the depths surrounding it.
Sonar and fishfinders have stood out as a priority for the major manufacturers — Raymarine, Navico (Simrad, Lowrance and B&G), Furuno and Garmin. Garmin introduced its Panoptix All-Seeing Sonar, which creates a live-video look at the water column. Raymarine has homed in on the small-boat market, debuting eight new models of its DragonFly standalone fishfinders. Furuno has improved its sonar technology, touting a new feature called RezBoost, which drastically improves the sharpness of the images. Simrad has been pushing a navigation and safety sonar technology — ForwardScan forward-looking sonar, which gives a clear picture of the water column and bottom below the boat and forward of it.
Raymarine and Garmin have expanded their focus on the small-boat and freshwater markets, and Simrad and Furuno have stuck with mainly coastal-oriented products. Connectivity also has become more of a priority. Electronics companies are creating systems that link technologies — radar, sonar, weather data, GPS mapping, autopilot and more. Companies believe that Wi-Fi will continue to establish itself in the marine world, with boaters gaining more capability to control and monitor their boats on mobile devices.
Social media offerings and cloud storage are still in their infancy, but crowd sourcing is catching on, and most of the manufacturers either offer some form of cloud storage or it’s in their immediate future.
We asked manufacturers to size up the success level of touch-screen technology in their marine industry segment now that it has a few years under its belt. In short, touch-screen advances have been slow to mature in marine electronics, compared with mainstream technology, but most electronics companies now have multitouch technology (pinch-to-zoom, swiping and other methods of manipulating the screen with more than one finger).
Companies have been promoting more products with lower price points — for example, Raymarine’s $199 DragonFly fishfinder and Lowrance’s $999 autopilot for small outboard boats. In addition, integrating radar, sonar GPS mapping and other tools and technologies (autopilot) into one integral unit has become an effective way to increase product value, manufacturers say.
In this article we take a closer look at what each manufacturer has been doing during the past year. We highlight the technologies they’ve pushed, the markets they see as ripe for growth, their targeted consumer base, and their views on future trends and technologies. Also, we’ll run through some of the improvements in user interface and answer this question: Will knobs and buttons become obsolete?
(Editor’s note: Electronics companies launched more sonar-oriented products two days before press time at the July 13-17 International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades show in Orlando, Fla. Our ICAST coverage online includes a report on Lowrance’s new StructureScan 3D, which gives anglers the ability to see fish, bottom contours and structure on the company’s Lowrance HDS Gen3 fishfinder/chart plotter. Also, read about Johnson Outdoors’ Humminbird Helix 7 SI, an economical standalone sounder/GPS known for its bright, sharp horizontal screen. The Helix, geared for the freshwater market, won the Best of Show award for electronics. Trade Only in a future issue will cover Johnson Outdoors’ relatively new effort to establish itself in the saltwater market with its ONIX and ION products.)
Furuno’s hottest product has been the NavNet TZtouch2, which was introduced earlier this year — an MFD that combines integral GPS, sonar and radar. The integration allows buyers to avoid the addition of black boxes and save $1,350 over earlier NavNet systems, says Furuno advertising and communications manager Jeff Kauzlaric. A system with a 12-inch screen with add-on components would cost more than $5,000, compared with the TZtouch2’s $3,995, he says. “That’s a tremendous savings — a marketing point that we’re strongly making,” says Kauzlaric. “The TZtouch2 allows us to get into the smaller-boat market and opens up the sail market.”
On the fishing side, the new RezBoost technology on the company’s sonar can show fish targets and images as much as eight times as sharp as conventional fishfinders — and without having to install a broadband transducer, says Kauzlaric.
The marine industry has lagged in the implementation of touch-screen technology, Kauzlaric says, but it has picked up the pace. “Technology has become less expensive, which helps, and using multitouch is very familiar to people,” he says. “You will always have your installed electronics unit as the brain, but there will be more interaction when people are away from the boat. Plus, I think the industry has done a good job improving overall user interface and making the navigation of menus much simpler. There is much less digging through layers of menus.”
In future software updates, Furuno plans to add cloud storage and crowd sourcing with electronic charts. Kauzlaric says the industry should continue to push the use of social apps. “It’s a great marketing tool — it shows people how you are having a good time on the water,” he says.
Furuno also recently came to the market with a new Fl-70 instrument and data organizer, designed to work seamlessly with TZtouch and TZtouch2 and the NAVpilot 711-C autopilot.
Raymarine’s DragonFly fishfinders range from $199 to $799. “The DragonFly has really opened the market up for us on all levels,” says Jim McGowan, marketing manager for Raymarine, which is owned by FLIR. “The freshwater market is such a huge market with so much opportunity. A lot of these boats, like pontoon and ski boats, have no electronics at all.”
Raymarine in 2014 also came out with its version of digital switching, the technology that links most electrical components and can deliver their information to a common area (see Page 28). Raymarine has partnered with the Swedish company Trigentic and will integrate that company’s EmpirBus distributed power system with a typical on-board Raymarine network. The new Boston Whaler 420 Outrage at the Miami International Boat Show earlier this year was shown with this network installed. I tinkered with it on an iPad, calling up different systems and status levels of electric power.
Digital switching has great potential in the marine industry, adds McGowan. “When we are trying to get them to jump on board, we try to stress with OEMs that it’s easy to install,” says McGowan. “There is a big savings in the amount of copper wire they will have to pull through the boat. And the wire and cables we do run are shorter and lighter.”
McGowan sees wireless technology exploding in the next few years. “There will be more networking via Wi-Fi and better reliability and security,” he says.
In the thermal imaging department, FLIR began shipping its FLIR One, which the company says is the first thermal imager designed for smartphones. FLIR One attaches to any Apple or Android phone and displays a live thermal image on the screen. The company is marketing the tool for home use, as well as marine. The FLIR One sits at the low end of the market, but FLIR’s new $75,000 thermal imaging camera — the M400 — is at the other end. It has optical zoom and radar interfacing and a video tracker that allows you to home in and follow a small area, says McGowan.
FLIR also introduced the new Ocean Scout handheld night-vision camera. It has the latest thermal-imaging core for more detailed images. It replaces the First Mate Marine Scope, which came out about two years ago.
Raymarine has yet to delve into the cloud storage arena, but it does have technology that allows sonar users to record bottom information and upload it to Navionics for use in its charts.
The big news for Garmin this year has been its Panoptix All-Seeing Sonar, says Ted Gartner, director of corporate communications for Garmin International. How is it different from conventional sonar? With no delay, it delivers a live-video look at the water column. The Panoptix Forward transducer has LiveVü Forward and RealVü 3D Forward modes to show what’s ahead of the boat. The transom-mounted Panoptix Down transducer has LiveVü Down, RealVü 3D Historical or RealVü 3D Down modes to show what’s lurking below the boat in any direction.
Panoptix is geared to the small-boat and freshwater markets, says Gartner. “We have centered on the offshore boater, and now we are broadening our market coverage to freshwater,” adds Gartner.
But Garmin is also paying attention to its products for big boats. The company spent a good deal of 2015 incorporating multitouch technology into its MFDs. And the 8000 series displays now have a “Smart Mode” feature that saves preset functions when you power up, such as grouping radar, charting and sonar views. The function is part of Garmin’s effort to improve user interface.
“The marine industry is taking a lot of cues from the mainstream,” says Gartner. “Bottom line: Boaters don’t want to have to read the manual when they’re out on the water.”
There have been bumps along the way, but the industry “has really nailed multitouch technology,” he says. “Very soon it’ll be hard to find units with big arrays of buttons.”
The use of mobile devices will continue to gain momentum, he says. “The smartphones and iPads will never replace standalone marine electronics, but it certainly will become more of a part of it,” says Gartner. “I see certain portions of the industry picking up social networking quickly, such as the bass fishermen and boats that are used for water sports.”
Simrad has been touting what it calls a “revolutionary” radar technology for the recreational market — HALO radar, which combines the close-range accuracy of broadband radar with the long-distance accuracy of conventional pulse radar. The product comes on the heels of Simrad’s ForwardFacing sonar, a safety-based product that develops underwater images forward of the boat, helping boaters stay away from shallow water, rocks and reefs, and submerged debris.
“The R&D for HALO radar goes back three to four years,” says Steve Thomas, product line director for Simrad. “It performs superbly, with fantastic close-in images that can actually show the edge of your boat or structure a few feet away. We’ve been successful in reducing the blind spot of the HALO radar to as small as 20 feet.” The long-distance capability spans 72 miles.
“With the introductions of our new radar and forward-scan technologies, it has been a busy 12 months,” says Thomas.
Simrad is also aiming to penetrate markets for small boats and freshwater boats through the development of standalone, non-networking electronics with the Simrad GO-7 product, says Thomas.
Thomas’ take on touch-screen technology: “It’s here to stay. And it has made its way onto smaller boats with our Lowrance line. People have come to expect it.”
Thomas thought that some of the earlier hybrid models were a bit difficult to transition between manual and touch control. Not anymore, though. “We’ve also made them simpler to use, highlighting the important access menus,” he says. “That’s part of the improvement, for sure.”
Thomas says some boaters always will want dedicated buttons for certain features, such as Man Overboard and a waypoint button.
Commenting on social media on boats, Thomas says, “There are still some challenges with getting data off of the boats to the Internet, but that’s improving, and the easier it gets, the more people will use it.”
Navico late last year began promoting its GoFree product — a dedicated brand for digital marine solutions. It delivers extensive content and an MFD-based store with software updates, mapping and other data.
Lowrance also introduced its Outboard Pilot for single-outboard-powered boats under 30 feet. The autopilot pack features Lowrance Smart Steer control for HDS Gen2 or HDS Gen2 Touch displays.
This article originally appeared in the August 2015 issue.