Electronics continue to pump fresh blood into a financially healthy marine industry. Competition among the major players is arguably at an all-time high, with companies consistently delivering new products in radar, sonar, GPS chartplotting, multifunction displays (MFDs) and autopiloting.
“It is definitely an exciting time,” says Mark Reedenauer, president and executive director of the National Marine Electronics Association. “Basically, the entire vessel is becoming integrated to a central MFD.”
New-product releases at the Miami International Boat show “will only increase the competition,” says Reedenauer. “With the brand consolidations in recent years, there are only a handful of major players who are manufacturing MFDs. Some are very aggressive, and some are sitting back and letting the aggressive ones battle it out and finding their niche in the market.”
One of those major players, Navico, held a new-product introduction with on-water demonstrations this winter in the Florida Keys for the marine media. Product managers from each of Navico’s three brands — Simrad, B&G and Lowrance — were on hand to bring journalists (there were 33) up to speed about their new products (or the next generation of the same product), many of which were introduced to the public at the Miami boat show. Simrad, B&G and Lowrance manufacture electronics for the saltwater, sailing and freshwater markets, respectively.
Navico outfitted 10 boats — nine powerboats and one sailboat, ranging from 24 to 40 feet — with its equipment, and also put the gear on five kayaks. The boats were taken to reefs and wrecks off Duck Key for demonstration purposes. Journalists huddled around the Navico product expert as he showed them the functions and how they work.
One of the most talked-about products was Simrad’s new high-performance sportfish sonar module, the S5100, which uses three independent sonar channels to produce high-resolution sonar across multiple depth ranges. I got a chance to check out the S5100 in action aboard a SeaVee 390Z center console. The top and bottom of the water column were shown in a split-view display on one of the boat’s twin 16-inch multifunction displays.
“It lets me multitask when I am out here fishing,” says Mark Griffith, Navico product manager for MFDs and saltwater sonar, who was on the SeaVee.
I was impressed. The S5100 transmits images of the water column with big, defined arches with clear target separation. Griffith told me that users can adjust specific CHIRP (Compressed High-Intensity Radiated Pulse) frequencies from 28 to 250 kHz and from 300W up to 3kW to target specific depths. Bottom line: You can see more structure and fish — and with greater clarity and accuracy.
The Simrad MFDs on the boat were also equipped with a technology called in-plane switching (IPS), which allows you to maintain sight of the screen from extreme side angles. Our boat was outfitted with a pair of Simrad NSS evo3 navigation systems with 16-inch displays. The displays of the evo3, as well as several other sonar-capable units — NSS evo2, NSO evo2, GO5 XSE and GO7 XSE — now run with a software upgrade that reduces noise and clutter in the water column. “These are subtle changes, but they add up, and it’s important to us in the market of hardcore offshore fishing,” says Griffith.
The products and their technologies illustrate Navico’s commitment to grow in the saltwater/coastal market, says Navico CEO Leif Ottosson.
“The focus for 2017 and forward is we want to win in the saltwater market — we want to take more market share,” says Ottosson. “That means B&G and Simrad will be very important. We think there is opportunity [to gain market share], and we are well set up with new product to reach the target. We have seen some extremely strong growth [in 2016], in particular with Simrad.”
Simrad revenue jumped by 37 percent in 2016 in North and South America, and 29 percent globally, Ottosson said as he outlined Navico’s financial standing on the first day of the media gathering at the Hawks Cay Resort. Ottosson said revenue increased from $308 million in 2015 to $319 million in 2016.
“Our revenues were not as high as we wanted, but we have continued a strong growth pattern since 2010,” Ottosson told me in a sit-down interview after his presentation. “All in all, we were satisfied, especially with the Simrad brand.” Competitors Garmin and Humminbird’s growing business in the freshwater market affected Navico’s revenue, says Ottosson, but he is confident that the company will gain back that market share through innovative products under its Lowrance brand.
Lowrance has added the HDS Carbon to its HDS series of fishfinder/chartplotter combo units. Offered in 12-, 9- and 7-inch models, HDS Carbon adds a high-performance dual-core processor, a multi-touch high-definition screen, dual-channel CHIRP and network dual sounder to the HDS line. Another upgrade gives HDS machines the capability of connecting to Mercury’s VesselView Link module, which shows Mercury engine data with HDS fishfinder and chartplotter views, bringing all of the information together on one screen.
Lowrance has given its HDS Gen3 and Elite-Ti displays a software update that improves surface clarity and removes clutter while maintaining target definition. The HDS Gen3 units also have Live Network Sonar that lets you monitor — from a single screen — two independent live sonar sources (such as at the bow and stern). Lowrance also has added a pair of larger wide-screen displays to the line of Elite Ti standalone fisherfinder/chartplotters. The Elite-12 and Elite-9 have the same functionality as the 5- and 7-inch Elite-Ti units, but on larger, high-resolution screens.
Besides the S5100 sonar, Simrad introduced a new autopilot range for powerboats and fishing boats. It has increased accuracy, easier commissioning and simple integration via NMEA 2000 networking, as well as “Continuum Steering,” which delivers more responsive and reliable steering, the company says. Simrad’s NAC-2 (up to 35-foot vessels) or NAC-3 (over 35-foot vessels) autopilot computers function with inboard and outboard engines.
Simrad’s GO Series of standalone chartplotter/fishfinders continues to grow. The latest unit has a 9-inch screen and radar capability. It also has SiriusXM weather/radio (U.S. only), an internal GPS receiver, Simrad’s StructureScan HD and CHIRP Sonar, autopilot and built-in wireless.
Simrad also introduced its next generation of its navigation system — the NSS evo3 series. Available in 16-, 12-, 9- and 7-inch models, NSS evo3 systems have an updated, easy-to-use interface with touchscreen, keypad and rotary-control knob.
Simrad says a number of changes make the user interface easier, including redesigned exit, power and MOB buttons that have been moved to the keypad corners for easier access in darkness; new menu buttons; and a new programmable wheelkey button that allows the skipper to easily dial up their most-used functions and modes.
B&G was well represented at the event, with brand managers and technicians showing the latest sailing chartplotter and navigation system — the Zeus3, which has the same wide-angle screen technology as Simrad’s NSS evo3. And B&G has introduced the value-priced Vulcan 9 — a large touchscreen sailing chartplotter for coastal cruising and club racing sailboats. The Vulcan is also offered in 5- and 7-inch units. A new multipurpose sailing instrument — Triton2 — and a new autopilot controller called the Triton2 Pilot System Control Pad were also presented.
Integration and Connectivity
Winning in the saltwater market was one of three goals Ottosson highlighted at the event. The company wants to continue to integrate its technology with other systems on board, including propulsion and digital switching.
“We are actively going to boatbuilders and engine companies and telling them we can do more,” says Ottosson. “We want to take integration to the next level.”
The third goal: Increase the “connectivity” of Navico products, systems and usage data with the boat owner and service providers. “By connecting the vessel, the boat itself can have 24/7 coverage so that when there are time-critical [maintenance] issues they can be addressed quickly,” says Phil Gaynor, product manager for Navico’s connected vessel program, which features the new GoFree Vessel product.
That connectivity also includes giving owners the ability to share data — such as “TripReplays,” which are downloads of favorite destinations with your own photos and videos — via social media. “Boat owners can share their experience and take it with them off the boat,” says Gaynor.
Much of the Navico connectivity can be carried out by Navico “GoFree” service, which functions as a provider of digital content and services across the trio of brands. As part of that service, Navico last year introduced GoFree Track with GoFree Vessel Monitoring. Track is a hardware system designed to give boat owners and the marine service industry onboard system information. GoFree Vessel is the web and mobile interface for the connected vessel.
The GoFree Track modules monitor, log and transmit information — such as battery state, RPM, engine hours, oil/temp, fuel levels and performance data — to the GoFree Vessel web interface. The GoFree Shop allows users to download charting software and apps. You can also download apps from the GoFree website. One of the most popular is GoFree Hooked, which lets you record your catches with photos, locations, catch details and notes, and then share on social media.
Navico launched the supporting GoFree brand in 2012. Back then GoFree consisted only of a device that allowed you to link a tablet to the MFD, says Gaynor. “We certainly have come a very long way since then.”
This article originally appeared in the March 2017 issue.