If you’re thinking about upgrading the marine electronics on your boat, now’s an important time to tune in. The crop of the latest and greatest electronics for 2017 is now on the market, and this has been a big year for tech.
Fishfinder, Chartplotter, and MFD Developments
Two big items are making news this year: improved screen view-ability, and enhanced capabilities at a reduced cost.
When it comes to screen quality, both Raymarine and Simrad have introduced new MFDs that you need to know about. In Raymarine’s case it’s an entirely new line, which they’ve tagged Axiom. Axiom-series units are available in seven, nine, and 12-inch models. One of the first things you’ll notice when testing an Axiom is how crystal-clear the screen looks, thanks to the bonded-glass display. The shocker, however, comes when you put on a pair of polarized sunglasses and then try viewing the unit from an angle. No matter how far off to the sides you get, the LCD screen stays bright and visible. As any seasoned mariner knows, MFDs of the past would become dull and then completely black as viewing angle increased. With Axiom, that’s no longer an issue.
These units have full networking capabilities but also include a lot of systems built right in. The fishfinder, for example, includes CHIRP, side-scanning, and Raymarine’s new 3-D view. WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity are also built into the Axiom’s quad-core brain. Yet even with all these features this series seems spectacularly well-priced, starting at $649 for the seven-inch unit and going up to $3,349 for the 12-inch.
To get the complete scoop on Axiom, read our Raymarine Axiom review, or visit Raymarine.
Simrad’s newest MFD to hit the market is the NSS evo3. This upgrade to the evo2 adds several new features including an enhanced on-board CHIRP (dual-channel) fishfinder and a redesigned keypad with two rotary knobs, which can be used in conjunction with or instead of complete touch-screen functionality. The biggest change, however, in right before your eyes—in the form of an LCD screen with in-plane switching (IPS) technology. IPS screens enjoy greatly enhanced view-ability, and we aren’t kidding when we say we could move off to a 170-degree angle and still see the evo3’s screen. And yes, that does include when wearing polarized sunglasses. You find it hard to believe? Just check out the video in Simrad NSS Evo3 with IPS Screen Technology, or click your way over to Simrad.
If you want even more fish-finding punch than an MFD can pack, again Simrad has you covered. Their new S5100 black-box CHIRP fishfinder takes the power level up to three kilowatts (as compared to 500 to 600 watts for most helm-mounted MFDs, which don’t have the physical room to include the hardware needed for this much oomph). Get more details by reading our S5100 Black Box Fishfinder Review.
Lowrance also has a new offering this year, in the Elite 9Ti. And this is where that second thing we mentioned earlier really stands out: enhanced capability, at reduced cost. The Elite 9Ti combination fishfinder/chartplotter has CHIRP fishfinding and side- and down-scan abilities built in. It also has WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity. To get these features in a unit with a nine-inch screen, in the past you’d be spending thousands of dollars. But thanks to the falling price of technology, the Elite 9Ti MSRPs for just $849. And that’s MSRP; real-world pricing is bound to be lower, so when you add in the cost of a transducer (we’d say get the $300 TotalScan) you should end up spending right around a thousand bucks. Learn more by reading our full review of the Lowrance Elite 9Ti, or get the company line at Lowrance.
Forward Looking Sonar
Cruisers and sailors visiting unfamiliar waters will want to know about the new Garmin Front Vü system, which casts a sonar beam forward to detect underwater obstructions before you find them the hard way. This version of the Panoptix system utilizes a 20-degree, 417 kHz through-hull transducer, providing a range of 300’ forward and eight to 10 times the current depth. To learn more about it check out our Garmin Front Vü review, or visit Garmin.
NaviOP has a new way to turn things on and off, with digital switching for your boat. Everything from livewells to electrically-actuated equipment to pumps can be turned on and off from a home touch-screen on your MFD. An illustration of your boat shows you what’s on and what’s off at a glance, and on the whole, digital switching will enhance both reliability and ease of use. To get the low-down on NaviOP be sure to read NaviOP Integrated Boat Control and Switching. For more information beyond this, visit NaviOP.
In the radar realm, what’s new is Furuno’s X-Class series. These open-array antenna (3.5’, 4.0’, and 6.0’ sizes with 6kW to 25kW of power) manage to suppress main bang and get down to a 20 meter minimum detection range. X-Class also offers some serious capability when it comes to target tracking, with up to 30 targets at once including target trails, vectors, speed, and heading info; the price range is $4,565 to $6,400. Visit Furuno for more info.
Garmin’s GMR Fantom 18 and Fantom 24 are a pair of closed-array domes that use Doppler technology to identify moving targets. A nifty feature that this allows for is the coloration of targets moving in a direction that identifies which are potential collision threats. It also paints a trail on-screen, which is corrected for your boat’s motion if an autopilot or heading sensor is part of your network. Both Fantom domes are solid-state, have a range from 20’ to 48 nautical miles, and offer dual-range abilities. Other than size, the difference between the Fantom 18 and the Fantom 24 is beam-width (5.2-degrees for the 18 and 3.7 degrees for the 24). Cost is $1,999 for the 18, and $2,799 for the 24.
Tech Beyond Electronics
We love our electronic gadgets and gizmos, but a lot of the new tech we see on the water goes well beyond electronics. Case in point: boat drones. If you missed our article Autonomous Boats: Will Your Next Boat Steer Itself, be sure to give it a read. There have been a lot of developments in this field recently, and everyone from Yamaha to the US Military is getting involved.
We’re also seeing a lot of progress when it comes to gyro-stabilization for boats. While these gyros have been around for a while, the technology has been limited to large boats. Seakeeper recently introduced a new model, the 3DC, which brings gyro-stabilization all the way down to boats of just 30’ in length. Learn more by joining us on a 35’ center console outfitted with the 3DC, in How Seakeeper Works: Gyroscopic Stabilization for Boats.
Editor's Note: This article originally published March 2017 and was updated in September 2017.