After a successful 2015 that saw an 11 percent gain in revenue, Navico kicked off the new year by introducing an array of more affordable products and enhancements to its sonar technology in hopes of continued growth and possible acquisitions this year.
At a media event in the Florida Keys in late January, Navico deputy CEO Marc Jourlait told journalists the company is poised to make acquisitions this year.
“I would love to talk to you about [mergers and acquisitions], but I can’t,” he said during his presentation at the 2-1/2-day event at Hawks Cay Resort on Duck Key. “Rest assured we have a number of targets. In some cases we have signed deals; we just can’t announce them yet. In the next few weeks and months we are going to make some noise. Something that is in our DNA is acquiring companies, integrating them and then taking what makes them really unique and different. So stay tuned. We are all chomping at the bit to tell you about it.”
Louis Chemi, executive vice president and managing director of Navico’s recreational division, presented a revenue report for 2015 and a forecast for 2016.
“In 2014 we were up 5 percent from 2013 and we were really proud of that,” Chemi told his audience of about 50 journalists. “In 2015 we were up 11 percent from 2014 — so [this was] another phenomenal year.”
Chemi says he expects the company’s business to grow 15 to 20 percent this year. “As you can see, I am not unambitious about 2016,” he says.
Navico, which owns the Simrad, Lowrance and B&G marine electronics brands, in the past seven years has introduced at least a half dozen big-hitter technologies or products, starting with its broadband radar in 2009. Its DownScan sonar followed in 2010, SailSteer was launched in 2012, ForwardScan sonar came out in 2014 and the Halo radar was unveiled in mid-2015.
This year the company is promoting StructureScan 3D, yet another sonar advancement, as well as lower-cost electronics units for all three brands, such as Simrad’s new $649 GO7 XSE standalone GPS/sounder combo unit. The GO7 is part of the company’s new lower-cost GO Series.
Navico aims to strengthen its product portfolio by focusing on developing value-priced products, Chemi says. “Outside of Lowrance, we didn’t really have the value-priced products, and that’s something we’re trying to do with Simrad and B&G now,” he says. “We want to expand our footprint in that market.”
Lowrance’s new Hook product line and B&G’s Vulcan offer similar value-priced units.
Simrad’s GO Series and Lowrance’s Hook use Simrad’s new TotalScan, a single transducer that combines CHIRP (Compressed High Intensity Radar Pulse) with high-resolution StructureScan HD and DownScan imaging technology.
Not only is Navico coming up with more ways to read what’s below the boat, but it’s also expanding its library in the sky. The company this summer will launch a new online program as part of its GoFree cloud-based information service. It will allow boaters to manage and monitor a boat’s engine information and vessel security and capture their boating experiences through photos and navigational charting history.
The program is called GoFree Vessel. “The bottom line is that data management is a reality for every product you buy today,” says Phil Gaynor, Navico senior telematics product manager. “It should be on your boat, as well. GoFree Vessel allows management of security data, vessel maintenance data and social data.”
GoFree Vessel works with Navico’s new hardware —- GoFree Track — which records engine and sensor data, such as cabin door closure, engine temperature input, shore power connection and high-water bilge monitoring. “These sensors are always on and always being monitored,” says Gaynor. “Should an alert occur, a message is sent to the GoFree Cloud and then forwarded via email to the owner and/or service personnel.”
A mobile device app called Hooked from Navico is also part of its cloud services. It gives users the ability to document fishing trips and create their own tournaments and compete with other cloud-connected anglers anywhere in the world. You can use your phone to upload photos of your catches, as well as their lengths and weights.
Each service — GoFree Vessel and GoFree Hooked — works with separate apps. The Hooked service goes live in March and Vessel View in July.
“I see [GoFree Vessel] going to commercial and rental markets right off the bat because the need is really there for commercial vessels as a service, and rental customers will really be attracted by the enhanced boating experience, one that captures the experience,” says Gaynor.
The new GoFree services are two more signs that the marine electronics industry is continuing to catch up with the technology of other industries, such as auto, says Jourlait.
“There is no question in my mind [that] boats are going the same way as cars, phones, watches — they will be connected, they will be integrated and they will become smart,” he says. “And we at Navico intend to lead this next wave.”
Part of the connectivity involves better communication between Simrad and Lowrance units and outboard engines. Simrad and Lowrance will now be able to display Mercury and Suzuki engine data, the company says.
Navico has enjoyed rapid growth since 2009, improving its business each year through the multiple products under the three brands. Simrad focuses on the sportfish and power cruiser markets, Lowrance targets inland boating and freshwater anglers and B&G’s products are geared to the sailboat market.
On the water
Navico’s press event showcased the new electronics on eight boats ranging from 24 to 45 feet and five kayaks. On a 278 Dusky Open Fisherman I got a chance to see how some of the new technologies worked on the water.
Navico had outfitted the Dusky with many of its new navigational technologies.
Two Simrad NSS evo2 touchscreen navigation systems with 16-inch displays anchored the center console’s helm. Simrad’s new GO7 XSE standalone GPS plotter/sounder combo unit (with a 7-inch display) was mounted starboard of the steering wheel; three IS35 multifunction instrument gauges lined the area just above the wheel.
The overhead electronics box housed a Simrad RS35 VHF radio with Automatic Identification System capability, along with a Sonic Hub docking station for mobile phone connectivity.
Tito Perez, a Simrad key account manager, showed me the features via the touchscreens, focusing on Simrad’s Halo radar and StructureScan 3D sonar. The boat was equipped with seven transducers for various sonar views, including the 3D view, 2D DownScan, SideScan and ForwardScan. Even with all these functions in play, we were using only five of the seven transducers, says Perez.
“All of the transducers are not being used for what I’m showing today, but they get used as this boat is set up with different products for testing,” he says.
We were out on the water for about 90 minutes trolling about so Perez could run through all system functions. For a while we had StructureScan 3D displayed at the bottom and StructureScan SideScan 2D at the top of one of the 16-inch units. I thought about how far technology has advanced, remembering the blotchy monochrome picture of the first GPS/sounders in the late 1990s.
Perez switched to a screen showing images from the Halo radar, which delivers close and long-range detection and high target definition with minimal clutter, the company says. To illustrate the capabilities, Perez laid down the radar image on top of the chart plotter display. It showed the radar imitating the shoreline and the nearby breakwater as the boat pushed through the water at 7 mph.
The boat also was equipped with AIS. We marked and tracked another boat — a Sea Vee 34Z, also rigged with Simrad equipment — about a quarter-mile away.
Back inshore, as we cut through a narrow channel, the radar teamed with the StructureScan 3D in a split-screen display, showing the carved-out shape of the channel bottom, as well as the breakwater to starboard and private docks and their boats to port.
Perez also told me more about the GO7 XSE, which includes TotalScan and ForwardScan, which was introduced in 2014. StructureScan 3D operates with its own transducer and does not work with the GO Series.
This article originally appeared in the March 2016 issue.