About Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison is electronics editor for Bonnier Marine Group, specifically Yachting and Cruising World. He previously was electronics editor for Power & Motoryacht and SAIL, as well as a writer for Ocean Navigator. His blog posts appear courtesy of his website www.Panbo.com, which has 80,000 monthly readers worldwide.

Furuno GP-33 GPS, hand’s on


At the risk of sounding mean, what excites me most about Furuno’s new GP-33 GPS sensor and display is what it means regarding the coming RD-33 data display we discussed a while back.  That 4.3-inch 480×272 pixel LED-backlit screen — seen above in bright sunlight on Gizmo’s flying bridge — is pleasingly crisp and bright.  And note how legible and even handsome the screen designs are, and how Furuno has dropped some of the numerical over-precision that has drawn criticism from users of NavNet 3D MFDs and FI50 instruments. You get all that screen goodness — 50% more area than a Garmin GMI 10, Furuno claims — for a maximum of 7 LENS (350 milliamps) of 12v power off a NMEA 2000 backbone…

The GP-33 can also be powered independently, with 24v even, and there’s an optional cable for NMEA 0183 and/or RS232 connections.  In other words, it can be a standalone GPS, or part of a network.  Used in the latter mode, I was hoping that activating a go-to waypoint on the NN3D MFD12, or another MFD, would bring up the same waypoint on the GP-33, so I could easily use its nice steering, rolling road, COG compass, and plotting screens.  But that feature, while planned for a future software upgrade, is not yet enabled.
   At any rate, the GP-33 also seems quite quick and does come now with lots of GPS features, like an enormous track and waypoint capacity and the ability to convert LORAN TDs, even with offsets calculated in, if you saved them.  It can also accept and plot an external MOB alert, or activate an external alarm based on several criteria like waypoint arrival or anchor dragging.  And a user gets to customize two of the seven screens, though only GPS-related data fields are available.  Any navigator who likes to have a separate GPS — and I see them often, especially on fishing boats — may be tickled by the GP-33, which seems reasonable at $595 MSRP.  As noted, though, I’m keen to see how Furuno uses this fine screen for NMEA 2000 data display, purportedly with some neat graphics and 0183 bridging built in.


ACR Aqualink View & 406Link, hand’s on


The first time was the best. I was tootling down the Bay in May when I tested the ACR AquaLink View PLB. I’d already appreciated its high build quality, and how neatly instructions about how to activate its two self test modes and primary distress function are explained right on the casing. Then when I pressed the GPS Test button for five seconds, it was very nice to have the small LCD screen show the procedure step-by-step and advise me to give the antennas a good sky view.  And it was impressive that the GPS — perhaps never used before, or at most tested in Florida — got (and displayed) a position in well less than a minute.  (In fact, the whole test procedure is so quick that I’ve had a hard getting a good photo with the scrolling screen in action.)  But the kicker was how my cell phone buzzed a moment later with a text message confirmation that the beacon’s test signal had made it through the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite system, along with a link to its accurately mapped position…

Because I’m also testing the Pro version of ACR’s 406Link service, the same “All’s well” short message and location link could have been emailed and/or texted to four other recipients.  Frankly, though, I consider that Spot-like messaging feature quite secondary to the reassurance felt when you can test a critical safety device like this PLB all the way through the system (short of the rescue center).  I also like how the 406Link user site keeps track of beacon tests, battery life, etc., as shown in part below.  Note that the service is available to some degree for many brands and models of PLBs and EPIRBs, depending on their test capabilities…and the offer of one free test is still in effect.
   But note also that I’ve tested the Aqualink View ten times, not eight as recorded at 406Link.  Twice early this summer I ran tests while standing on Gizmo’s extended top with what seemed like a good sky view though she was tied up at her Camden float.  I didn’t think that was huge deal, because the weakness of through-satellite PLB/EPIRB  testing is that only a single 406mHz data burst is sent, but perhaps the difficulty of explaining that is why I went on to other testing for many weeks (so many gizmos, so little time).  At any rate, I did six tests yesterday — three with GPS, and three without, including one of each from my float — and they all went through fine.  I also spoke with ACR this morning, and it is possible that my failed tests happened when their relatively new 406Link ground station was off line.  Most 406Link support calls they’re taking end up being caused because the user tried the test indoors or didn’t put in the right cell service for texting, etc.  But they also said that during real distress activations, when a PLB/EPIRB sends that 406mHz burst every 50 seconds for hour after hour, the records often indicate that a few bursts got lost in that 44,000 thousand mile plus trip from beacon to geosyncronous satellite to earth.  In other words, a failed through-satellite test doesn’t mean your PLB or EPIRB has failed.  Try again!
   Understanding the slight uncertainty of the test burst makes the little screen on the AquaLink View (and its iPro EPIRB sibling) even more valuable, I think.  Given that plus the built-in flotation, extra transmit power, extended battery life, and much more, I most definitely stand by the idea, expressed when the product was introduced, that this is “the most sophisticated and best performing PLB ever designed.”  But it is not the smallest or least expensive PLB ever designed…


The photo below illustrates size differences between the AquaLink, Spot2, and my Droid Incredible.  A FastFind 210 PLB would cast a much smaller shadow than the AquaLink, and the Spot2 is a much better messaging and tracking device (though I’m finding it to be a bit of a battery hog).  I plan to keep testing the AquaLink, particularly in harsh weather, and will report in comments here.  But I’m not going to fret much if it misses a through-satellite burst or two; as far as I’m concerned the extra size and cost are well worth it.


Raymarine SeaTalk-SeaTalkNG converter, nice


What’s yellow, white, and blue, and will help a lot of boats integrate older Raymarine SeaTalk1 instruments and sensors into SeaTalkNG/NMEA 2000 networks?  Well, check out the new SeaTalk-STng converter above, which retails for $95 and is also putting the Plus in Ray’s new Raystar 125 Plus GPS.  The manual PDF can be downloaded here, and I think it will please a lot of people who’ve messed with this stuff.  Those yellow connectors above let you not only adapt a mini network of up to five SeaTalk devices — like ST40 and ST60+ displays and their transducers, and/or a LifeTag wireless MOB system — to a SeaTalkNG backbone, but also power them…

Now Ray’s ST70 multifunction color instrument (which I first tested in early 2008) includes a similar ability to convert SeaTalk data, but this new standalone converter offers more system design flexibility, especially if you don’t want an ST70.  It may also offer new ways to avoid the expense and added complication of Raymarine’s various transducer adapter pods, though it’s also nice to see that ST70s can now directly manage certain of Airmar’s smart N2K sensors.
   Unfortunately Raymarine has not published a list of standard
N2K PGNs supported by the SeaTalk-STng converter, but the manual cites the following types of data:  “Instrument and environment (Depth, Speed, Wind etc.); MOB
(Man Overboard); GPS; Heading; Navigation Data (Waypoint information);
and Rudder angle.”  My experience with the ST70 was that it understood standard PGNs fairly well, even to an ironic extent, and I hope to soon update that experience as I’ve got my mitts on a ST70 3.0 firmware update that Raymarine will be making public soon.  In fact, some of the good news picked up in a meeting with Raymarine and FLIR yesterday was about how Raymarine is streamlining its firmware coding and distribution process.  You can hear more good news — like an increased R&D budget — if you stick with this MadMariner podcast with FLIR’s Andy Teich.


New iThing charting apps, EarthNC & eSeaChart


Not one but two iPhone NOAA raster charting apps debuted last week, and I had had a little Beta time with each.  EarthNC for iPhone costs $25 and incorporates some fresh thinking and a lot of the resources EarthNC has long been developing for its Google Map & Earth overlay products, like EarthNC Online.  They’ve turned all NOAA RNCs into tiles that download automatically to your phone as you pan and zoom, or you can batch download an area as illustrated in the screen at upper right.  The left screen is busy looking, I know, but note how you can disappear each of those data and icon strips with the little red arrow.  Note too how EarthNC is doing waypoint navigation and tracking, fairly elaborate tracking as shown on the middle screen.  But that’s not all…

What really distinguishes EarthNC is a wealth of overlay and reference data.  Check the screen series below to see how you can easily look up local NOAA weather buoy reports and text forecasts.  You can also get tide tables, though text only so far, and a POI list EarthNC has distilled from the ENC vector charts, like significant nav aids (which can also be overlaid).  The latter seems a little thin so far, but you can use them as go-to waypoints, bookmark them, email them, even jump over to Google Maps for driving/walking directions to them, as you can all this geo-located info.  Finally, you get a choice (under the wrench button) of searching Marina Life, Cruisersnet, or Waterway Guide marina, anchorage, etc. information.  What you get is usually just an address, maybe a phone #, but also a link to more info at the guide’s site.  None of the sources are very good for Maine right now, but are probably more complete further down the coast, and what other charting app offers them?  (Well, Navimatics Charts & Tides does have ActiveCaptain data, and you don’t need a cell connection to access it, which is darn cool.)
   I’ve run into a few bugs in EarthNC, but it’s a whole lot of app for a 1.0 release, and there’s no question that the company is serious and ambitious about mobile charting.  In fact, there’s already an EarthNC iPad version, same price, and an Android version in Beta (which I’m trying).  I hope to meet with one of the principals later this week and will add what I learn to the comments section…

EarthNC_iPhone_2_cPanbo.JPGMeanwhile, eSeaChart — which costs $10, no iPad version yet — takes a much simpler approach.  You download NOAA RNC raster charts direct from NOAA and can only use one at a time, and so far it only supports go-to-waypoint navigation and distance/course measurements.  But the developers have focused on a clear, quick chart presentation — which shows (screens below) — and are already working on batch downloads, seamless charting, etc.  eSeaChart will particularly appeal to traditional paper chart users, I think, but already has lots of competition in that department, like Memory Map — still the king of fast and legible rasters, I think — and of course iNavX, still the most complete navigation app out there (I think).
   For some reason Navionics hasn’t yet released its new chart downloading app, but I can tell you that it just gets better and better in Beta, as does the original app, which is now up to V4.4.  Personally, I love how well Google satellite land photos integrate with sharp Navionics marine charts in both versions.  Oh, and I just learned that yet another player has entered this busy niche.  GeoGarage now offers raster charting iPhone and iPad apps for the U.S., New Zealand, and Brazil.  And there are several other marine-related iThing programs I plan to write about soon, and Droid stuff.


Oblivious anchor dragging, & Camden chart update


I’m generally quite reluctant to fault fellow boaters when things go wrong, because I’ve made about every mistake possible myself at some point, and probably will again.  But what I hear about this scene, captured in part on YouTube, is a bit disturbing.  That big beautiful trawler didn’t actually drag onto the rocks around Northeast Point, but that’s probably only because crews from from Wayfarer Marine, Yachting Solutions, and the Harbor Master’s office worked hard to hold her off, in pouring rain and lots of wind.  A local hero even managed to squeeze his way through a pilothouse window, figure out the complex starting procedure, hoist the anchor, and put the boat safely on a dock.  But the owner, who showed up after the storm had passed, was apparently somewhat casual about what happened, though most boaters would know that a salvage claim was a possible road not taken by the rescuers, and…

…The next day, he purportedly drove that big, beautiful trawler right over the tide covered Northeast Ledges as he exited Camden Outer Harbor!  Note the ledges on the Coastal Explorer chart screen below; while it’s true that an occasional boater gets confused about the two channels with sometimes hidden danger in between, the vast majority get in and out of here fine.  I’ve also indicated where the trawler, purportedly anchored on only 86 feet of chain, dragged. The whole incident is a reminder that, in this country at least, you can own a boat like that without a license or any experience, which is why smart insurance underwriters won’t write policies in such situations.  A lesson for a lot of us is the value of leaving your boat accessible, and with operating instructions in an obvious place, so that someone like our local hero — a consummate boat driver with a number of saves under his belt — might help you out when you’re not around.  That idea may run counter to some people’s security needs, but I have an idea on that subject I’ll explain next week.
   Note also the 7/22 Update date on the NOAA ENC below.  That’s because NOAA quickly fixed the Inner Harbor shoreline detail mistakes I pointed out earlier this summer.  The Coast Guard has also verified the actual location of the private channel buoys (numbers 8 through 18), and after a couple more steps they too will be corrected on the chart.  (I’ve seen the USCG paperwork and it does seem clear now that the mistaken locations came from a private aid permit application filed by our Harbor Master.)  I’d like to extend a big thanks to NOAA and the USCG for all this.

trawler_drag_in_Camden_Harbor_cPanbo.JPGPS.  Here’s what that big, beautiful trawler’s helm looks like…another case of DBE! (don’t blame the electronics):


Comar AIS-2-2000 receiver, & N2K firmware updates


Sweet.  Comar’s new little dual band AIS receiver not only outputs NMEA 2000 but is powered off it. Could there be a simpler install?  In fact, the AIS-2-2000 doesn’t even have NMEA 0183 plotter or PC ports.  But the way things are going, especially given all the charting programs slated to support the Actisense gateway, who needs no stink’n’ 0183?  Actually a lot of boats do, which is why the Digital Yacht AIS200N2K is a nice product to have in the pipeline.  And actually you may recall that NMEA was none too quick about writing N2K PGNS to match all the 0183 AIS messages, but the Comar unit is designed to deal with that tardiness…

Comar’s U.S. distributor, Milltech Marine, is clear about how the AIS-2-2000 will ship ($399, real soon) able to output all existing standard AIS PGNs, which should cover Class A and B targets fine, and can be upgraded when NMEA gets around to writing PGNs for AIS ATON buoys and whatever else the authorities dream up.   I like the sound of this as I’ve used two early NMEA 2000-capable Class B transponders that didn’t output the standard Class B static data message — Simrad’s AI50 and Raymarine’s AIS500 — and I’m not sure that an update has been offered for either yet.  But while it’s no fault of Comar or Milltech, it is a disappointment that an AIS-2-2000 will have to be sent in for updates.
   Which reminds me of the slick new Garmin NMEA 2000 Updater that a Panbo reader kindly pointed out, seen below.  It’s just an SD card reader with an N2K port, costing $80, but it will be useful for boaters who want to try, say, Garmin’s GMI 10 and/or some of its sensors, i.e. Garmin gear without an MFD and SD card slot for updates.  Garmin’s update process, incidentally, has gotten even better than when I last enthused about it.  Check out how many devices they managed to bundle into the last package. I ran that update on Gizmo’s somewhat large N2K network the other day — no problem, even the N2K powered and controlled GXM audio/weather receiver hardly skipped a beat — and then passed the update card to a friend with an almost entirely different network of Garmin devices.
   At any rate, here’s an idea: Couldn’t NMEA spec out a standard SD card N2K update protocol that any company could manufacture and all companies like Comar could utilize for firmware updates?  The project might even make sense for Maretron or Airmar, whose customers, or their installers, now have to use a PC gateway to update their sensors.  Or maybe Garmin would consider letting other manufacturers update gear with their update device, adding value to it?  There may be liability issues and so forth, but I can dream, can’t I?


Inmarsat Isatphone Pro, hand’s on & thumb’s up

Inmarsat_Isatphone_Pro_testing_cPanbo.JPGMaybe I’m missing something, but the Isatphone Pro seems every bit like the game changer Inmarsat claimed it would be.  I’ve made calls from the boat and backyard, sent myself text messages and emails, and replied to them, but have yet to detect a performance issue.  Plus I find the handset easy to use.  And, mind you, this is a sat phone that’s only been shipping for a month or two, and it’s using an Inmarsat I-4 geosynchronous satellite orbiting about 22,000 miles over the equator at 98° West.  As the phone is telling me in the photo above, it does like to have its antenna aimed vaguely at the bird, and I’d guess that would be even truer if I moved further north and/or east, thus putting more atmosphere between the phone and I-4 Americas.  But consider that I’m at about 45°N and 68°W with a lot of trees around me, even to the southwest in the background (and that DirectTV couldn’t get a decent signal here, even on a roof higher than the one you see)…and here’s how I sound:

In fact, I talked with Charlie Doane for about 10 minutes last night from the same location, and it went very well, even when I tried swinging the phone around as though I were on a lurching vessel.  I had earlier tried talking to myself via cell phone, and had heard a substantial delay — not surprising given maybe 50,000 miles of wireless transmission! — but Charlie and I didn’t step on each other.  The good folks at the SatPhoneStore say that they still recommend Iridium if a user may be around mountains or other high obstructions, because its galaxy of low orbiting satellites handles those situations better, but they also said they’re selling every Isatphone Pro they get.  The cost differential is pretty striking: $1,295 versus $595 for the handsets, and $40/month + $1.40/minute versus $15/month + $1/minute for minimum service.  Note also that Inmarsat is offering some very attractive prepaid SIM cards — like 250 minutes for $200, good for two years, no monthly service charge — but you might also bridle like I did at the “Only available outside the U.S.” qualification.  Well, no worries; I’m told that this is due to a technical or legal glitch that Inmarsat hopes to fix before the year is up.  It really does seem like the cost of having a sat phone for those few times many cruising boats are beyond cellular just went down big time.
   The Isatphone Pro will not yet serve as a (very) slow data modem, like an Iridium can, but when that feature is enabled in early 2011, I’ll bet it works smoothly.  I say that because I easily loaded the phone’s USB drivers and even synced selected contact info from Outlook into it, and also because the text messaging and text email seemed to work well.  Below you can see that it even has a helper window for keying in text (and it can also try to predict words, though that’s not actually shown here). I did not receive emails or texts to the phone until after it had been on the network for about 10 minutes, but I could get used to that..

Inmarsat_Isatphone_Pro_text_testing_cPanbo.JPGThe Isatphone Pro also has a built in GPS. In fact, it won’t connect to the network until it’s established a position, which can take some time, but then again you can easily send your position to someone, as seen below.  It seems to me that once a marine docking station is real (soon, I’m told), it wouldn’t be that hard to create an auto tracking app.  Heck, there’s already a firmware download tool on the Inmarsat site, along with the manuals.  This isn’t a smart phone but I suspect it’s as close as a sat phone has ever come before.  But I should test its performance more, especially in rain and fog, and in motion. It’s an awful long way to those I4 sats, and I notice that when I tested the Iridium 9555 last summer, it worked in Gizmo’s main cabin, where the Inmarsat phone doesn’t seem willing.  I have little doubt, though, that a new phase in the sat coms horse race is ON.


MFD comparisons #3, chart plotting in 3D part 1


If I can miss major ways that MFDs display currents and tides, lord only knows how much I might mess up a comparison of 3D charting.  There are so many aspects to 3D presentation, and virtually no bench mark as to what is right.  In fact, I’m running the Raymarine E140 Wide screen shot first because it illustrates one of the few things that’s clearly wrong, I think, which is to put the vessel on center, so that you get the most detail of the waters you’ve already passed through.  But Raymarine has long offered good Look Ahead features in its 2D chart presentation (as seen in the left window, set at 2/3rds ahead), and I know that 3D Look Ahead is high on its list of planned software updates…

I suspect that the TMI (too much information) on the horizon, and the lack of spot soundings, may also be on Ray’s list, but the latter is one of many 3D aspects that are subjective.  I watched a friend nearly swoon when he saw Garmin’s Mariner 3D with hazardous depths marked in reds and oranges, and that was before Garmin added the spot soundings option seen below.  I like seeing those numbers myself, but understand that they’re not really necessary and may be viewed as noise by other navigators.  I wish Garmin would make zooming in and out of its various 3D views possible, not just tilting, but also understand that it’s made many friends by keeping things simple…

The 3D view on the Simrad NSE — only available when using a Navionics Platinum card — can be zoomed and tilted, and I’m getting fond of it.  But I’m also aware that some boaters don’t care for 3D at all.  Where do you stand?  And if you do use it, what do you like about your MFD’s presentation and how can it be improved?…


And of course let’s not forget NavNet 3D.  Furuno has gone further than anyone with 3D, and it’s my current favorite in this regard.  I even like upside down raster charts in 3D.  I’m going to spend more time comparing 2D and 3D charting across the MFDs, but I’m also writing magazine articles on the subject right now, and would appreciate any and all feedback.


MFD comparisons #2, mostly currents


I sort of knew that “shootout” was a poor word choice — implying the certainty of corpses and so forth — and I’m officially dropping it from the Panbo title vocabulary; it’s too hard to be that certain!  A glaring example was omitting Furuno tide graphs from the MFD tide “shootout”; I knew better, really, but somehow briefly lumped tides and currents into the POI info that’s so far missing from the NavNet 3D charts (but won’t be once Active Captain and C-Map data is supported).  In fact, you just click and spin the RotoKey to Tide Graph, click again, and you get the nice screen seen above of the nearest prediction station.  But it’s not perfect, and when it comes to current predictions, it looks like none of the MFDs are…

If you click on the Furuno screen above, you’ll see that yesterday’s midday High in Rockland was predicted as 12.3 feet, but the Garmin 7212, Raymarine E140 Wide, and Simrad NSE12 all had it at somewhere between 11.3 and 11.6 feet.  In fact, the NN3D number doesn’t equate to its own graph; 12.3 — actually the am heights — appears to be a mistake.  I was somewhat surprised to see slightly different predictions from all the machines, but the formula is complex, with numerous harmonic constituents, and besides we don’t need precise predictions even if the tides themselves really were that precise.  That’s why I think it’s just noise to predict tides to seconds and 100ths of a foot, as Furuno does, (I even like how the Canadians round all tide and current predictions to five minute increments).
   At any rate, things got dicier on all the MFDs when I started looking at Current predictions.  I like the way NN3D can overlay current arrows for the numerous prediction stations in my region, but it can’t animate them over time or graph them.  MaxSea Time Zero can animate current arrows, and will get current graphs eventually, I’m told, as may NN3D.  (The screen shot below also illustrates the improved ENC/S57 display that came with the latest NN3D update, but also the fact that Furuno can’t provide data where NOAA hasn’t yet created it; there are no soundings in that blank area no matter how deep you zoom in, and I’m looking forward to trying Jeppesen C-Map vectors on the MFD12.)

Furuno_NN3D_current_overlay_example_cPanbo.JPGMeanwhile, I was surprised to find that the Garmin 7212 apparently won’t predict any of those currents seen above, nor many others in my area, though it does a fine job graphing the data stations it does have, as seen below.  You can view the data in text table form or, better yet, move the prediction line (seen at 11:29 below) across the graph with your finger tip.  The Simrad NSE offers no currents at all {Wrong! see below}, as noted in the tide prediction comparison, while the Raymarine E Wide has a full selection of current stations with graphs and tables.  However, Ray’s current table isn’t in chronological order, which is confusing (and unlike its tide table), and all the current predictions seem able to differ more than a little from the official data.  The NOAA table, for instance, shows yesterday’s flood at Lower Hell Gate maxing at 3.4k at 11:11, while Garmin predicts it at 4.3k a few minutes later.  That’s over 25% off, right?

Garmin_current_graph_example_cPanbo.JPGBy the time I finished looking at MFD current predictions last night, I thought the Furuno seemed capable of being most off, particularly comparing that 1.8k ebb calculation below to Garmin’s 3.7k and Raymarine’s 3.6k for the same time and station.  And given NOAA’s official max ebb of 3.4k about 20 minutes earlier, NN3D is the most inaccurate in this case, but it seems like all these developers need to check their math and/or NOAA harmonics!  Then again, I don’t think an experienced navigator ever expects current predictions to be very accurate.  And I’ll leave you with a brag that thought and this particular chart always reminds me of.  Back in my youth, I several times managed to sail the Sasanoa River — Hell Gates currents working for me — in the 35 foot schooner Vernon Langille without electronics or auxilary propulsion, beyond two sets of big ass oars, and often with much of the enormous cockpit filled with fire wood.  I do believe I also had printed tide and current tables ;-) 


PS: The screens below illustrate the built-in NSE graphic current predictions I missed, plus how on-chart icons can be searched:


MFD shootout #1, tide predictions


I may regret that title eventually, though I’ve just been cruising with four premium MFDs for two weeks, often using them seriously for four or five hours a day.  But that doesn’t mean I’ve learned every nuance of these complex beasts, or that I’ve developed strong preferences.  Actually I have (mostly minor) complaints about every one of them!…even if they’re all way better than the electronics I used around this coast 40, 30, 20, 10, even 5 years ago.  I’m going to start with something fairly simple…

I was a little surprised to discover that the Simrad NSE doesn’t offer current predictions, but it seems the quickest at pulling up a tide graph (above).  Hit the “Pages” mode key (Simrad calls them Direct Access Keys, and I’ve come to love them), spin the rotary knob a few clicks to “Tides”, press/click and voila…the nearest tidal station prediction for today.  Up/Down cursor keys get you different days, and the (context) Menu key gets you the list of nearby predictions.  Note the legible fonts and font sizes — something I see and like everywhere on the NSE.
    As for current predictions, here in Maine the official data is fairly useless because the coast is so complicated — we learn to use tide level, geography, and ultimately pot buoys to figure things out — but I’d be a little miffed to learn my NSE can’t tell me, say, which way the four knot +/- current in the Cape Cod Canal is running.  But there are so many sources of that data these days, from smart phone apps to insurance company paper freebies to just about every computer planning or charting program.  That’s also why I can’t get too exercised that the Furuno NavNet 3D MFD12 on Gizmo’s bridge doesn’t have any tide or current predictions at all (yet).  But that does make it the odd man out (along with the inability to save screen shots, which is somewhat a personal bugabear, given what I do, though not completely).
   The Garmin 7212 — and this applies to every Garmin I’ve tried — is nearly as quick as the NSE.  Home/Information/Tides is just as quick, in fact, but then when you go Back, you have to again choose which navigation screen you want, whereas the NSE just goes back to where you were.  The Garmin, like the NSE, makes it graphically clear where you are in the tidal cycle, and unlike the NSE, lets you key in any date in the future (that’s where the 7212′s touch screen works especially well).  The Raymarine E140-Wide isn’t too shabby either…

Garmin_tides_example_cPanbo.JPGThough if a tide (or current) icon isn’t in sight on the Raymarine chart, you have to remember that you can hit the OK button to get screen info, than the “Find Nearest” soft key to search tides, currents, and other good stuff.  I don’t really understand why the search box, tide graph, etc. isn’t full screen, but maybe it is on less than 14″ displays.  I also think that the graph and table could be designed for better legibility (see the other two), and ditto for the data bar seen at the right.  It’s attractive looking, for sure, but in my view actual dynamic data should almost always be bolder than labels.  Then again, my E140 Wide is still running the software that came with it last Fall, an issue that will come up again tomorrow when we look at 3D chart screens.