We brought you the news when Lowrance released the latest in new MFD units, their HDS Gen3, and now they’ve upped the ante with SmartSteer and Outboard Pilot. The latest software update (HDS 3.5, which is free to HDS users) ties your MFD in with your electric trolling motor and/or outboard, to give you complete control of the boat without ever touching the wheel. It also brings some new capabilities, which to an angler like me, seem down-right awesome. Topping the list is the virtual anchor—you no longer need to carry a big, heavy anchor, chain, and a ton of line, no matter how deep the water may be. Check out this short video we shot while testing the new system in the Florida Keys.
As you saw, the Xi5 had no problem fighting a tough current to hold the boat in the exact same spot. Maneuvering to the left or right was just as easy and reliable; just press the arrow on the MFD display, and the boat jogs back and forth in five-foot increments. There are also several handy pre-sets in the HDS; a spiral pattern (you can set how tight) to be used when searching for a wreck or small piece of structure, a zig-zag trolling patter, and a heading lock, to name a few. You can dial in speed—exact speed—to slow-troll just how you like. And you can pre-program in any set of waypoints to create a trolling route or work a shoreline.
To really put the system to the test, we motored over to a tiny piece of structure we knew held fish: a VW Beetle, sunk on the bottom in about 10’ of water, right next to a channel. Snapper, grouper, and jacks were holding around it, but obviously, with a target this small we had to be in a very specific spot to effectively offer those fish our baits. We positioned the boat 20’ up-current of the mark and started casting. Soon, we realize the Beetle lay just a bit off to port, and the guys fishing from the starboard side of the boat weren’t getting bites while the guys on the port side were catching fish on every cast. We hit the left arrow twice, slide the boat 10' over so it was directly in front of the sunken car, and everyone onboard started hitting the fish. The boat remained on-station for over an hour, despite changing currents and a stiff breeze, until the bite died out and we headed for the barn.
Down-sides? With the system itself, I didn’t see any. However, whether or not you can take advantage of it depends on how your boat is rigged. The MotorGuide Xi5 is the only electric trolling motor that works with the system, and, of course, you need to have an HDS Gen2 or Gen3 with that software update. You’ll also need to haul plenty of juice, in order to keep power feeding to the Xi5 (which is available in 12, 24, and 36 volt models ranging from 55 to 105 pounds of thrust). One final perk: if you step away from the helm you can still maintain complete control over the motor, via a wireless remote.
Control of the boat’s main powerplant comes via the Outboard Pilot, which works with both hydraulic and cable steering and is intended for boats up to 30’. As with the trolling motor, you can maintain full control of the boat via the MFD unit, and either utilize pre-programmed courses and tracks or use those you plug into the machine on your own. And unlike some other systems, this one is simple enough to install yourself. Virtual Rudder Feedback eliminates the need for a rudder position sensor, and a Point-1 GPS antenna serves as the heading sensor.
Just what will the system cost you? Over and above the prerequisite MFD and motors, either $1,000 (hydraulic) or $1,499 (cable) gets you the entire ball of wax.
For more information, visit Lowrance.