Marine electronics expert Kevin Green shares his 12 best boating and fishing gadgets from 2015.
No fish will be safe when your fishing boat is fitted with these amazing marine gadgets. From the very latest 3D fishfinders to radar with unrivalled clarity and detail, here are 12 of the best pieces of marine electronics for 2015.
12 best marine electronics from 2015
FLIR Ocean Scout II
Nice for spotting those plastic kayak fishos is a night-vision thermal camera. I found the Raymarine/FLIR handheld model useful sailing the north of Australia with the lack of navigation marks and questionable chart data. FLIR’s latest model, the Ocean Scout II is available in two models: a 240×180 resolution and 320×240 resolution, the latter with live video output. With these, vessels can be spotted at 1500m and a swimmer at 550m, so useful for man-overboard situations. My model easily picked out croc heads at 300m in Arnhem Land.
Originally the First Mate series, FLIR’s redesigned Ocean Scouts now feature a high-res LCD display and latest-version FLIR thermal-imaging core. Both feature a 640x480 pixel display and weigh 12 ounces.
Sportsfishermen will be pleased to hear that Furuno has incorporated its dual-frequency (50/200kHz), 600W/1kW power output sounder in its new TZtouch2 displays that come in 12.1 and 15.6in displays. New screen functionality includes something called Edge Swipe; just swipe down from the top of the screen for display page options to drop down. You can also Edge Swipe from all four sides to access various options.
Another function for clear definition of fish targets is RezBoost which works the conventional transducer (without requiring a narrow-band transducer) and traditionally a feature of Furuno’s commercial-grade equipment. It also includes Furuno’s Bottom Discrimination and Accu-Fish modes. Furuno supports raster and vector charts in Mapmedia format based on Jeppesen and Navionics. Integration of other systems includes interfaces to radars (from the Furuno 4kW Dome to a 25kW Open Array along with connection to the NAVpilot autopilot. There’s third party support for AIS, Weather Fax, FUSION marine stereo, cameras, as well as NMEA 2000/0183 and Furuno CAN-bus devices. Also included is a 56-channel GPS receiver but you can still connect an external antenna.
Fusion’s music systems now have expanded connectivity with the release of Fusion-Link that supports Furuno multifunction displays allowing multi-zone audio. Fusion-Link allows boaters to navigate all stereo sources from a Furuno MFD and provides full control of iPod/iPhone/Android or CD/DVD music libraries via track, artist, album or playlist with the same ease-of-use and familiar control as on the stereos themselves. Boaters can also control the individual audio zones separately or together. Connectivity is via the boat’s Ethernet network between the Furuno NavNet TZtouch2 software and the Fusion-Link interface. This functionality is available with the Fusion 700 and 750 units. Notable features include iPad-like touch control of the music and the new Auto Volume which automatically adjusts sound volume based on the speed of the boat, plus heaps more. As well, Fusion’s famous build quality continues under new owner Garmin.
Ideal for small runabouts due to its removable transducers, Garmin’s new Panoptix worked well when I tried it recently in the shallow waters of the Baltic Sea. Using the touchscreen on the GPSMAP 7410, I switched between LiveVü Forward and RealVü 3-D Forward, the latter creating live video that updates about every five seconds depending on the depth. The only obvious limitation is maybe deep sea as the range is quoted as 300 feet.
The launch product is offered with two different transducers: the rectangular Panoptix forward-facing model (PS31) for mounting vertically at the transom or on the trolling motor. Alternatively, there’s a Down Transducer (PS30) but no through-hull option yet.
At trolling speed I watched the screen update itself quickly to reveal a 60-degree wide bottom swath and fish throughout the 15m depths. The colour coding of fish and other objects – it will even pick up your own fishing line – is another great feature of Panoptix which looks to be real competition for Simrad’s ForwardScan. Retrofitting the software can be done to Garmin’s 7in series as well.
The Helix 7 Series is the latest addition in Humminbird’s range of compact-format fishfinders, with widescreen colour and high brightness (1500nits) for sunlight viewing. These have just debuted at the Sydney International Boat Show.
The glass-bonded 7in screens come in five varieties of functionality, ranging from the Helix 7 Sonar to the Helix 7 SI GPS model. All units have an X-Press Menu System keypad control, 480Vx800H pixel matrix, and 7in and 256-colour TFT display.
The flagship Helix 7 SI GPS supports a wide range of functionality popular with pro-fishers including Side Imaging, Down Imaging and SwitchFire Sonar. The 7in widescreen is an ideal size for split-screen views of your target area, and there’s a single micro-SD card slot for Navionics charts. The internal GPS supports 2500 waypoints and 50 routes, so all your favourite spots can be stored. These screens can be gimbal or dash mounted – with optional kit. International models support 200/50kHz (350ft) and optional 50kHz transducers are available for extreme deep-water use (600ft).
Navionics charting app has just got even better with the addition of the SonarPhone T-BOX transducer ($US199.95). Combined with Navionics SonarCharts HD bathymetry mapping, it gives a comprehensive picture below your keel. The other good news is that these log data files (DAT and GPX formats plus others) are compatible with many other manufacturers including Lowrance, Raymarine, Simrad, and B&G, in addition to Humminbird and Garmin.
Using wireless connectivity for supported devices the Navionics app can share sonar recordings that allow you to build a data archive of trips. SonarPhone T-BOX uses Vexilar’s SP300 T-Box system to pair with a mobile device for sonar displays. Simply install a Navionics Boating app ($10 to $50) on your phone or tablet to create a handy portable sonar system. On tablets the larger display is good for split-screen viewing of sonar and charting data simultaneously. The unit comes with a dual-beam 83/200kHz transducer and reaches depths of 240ft.
Lowrance’s compact MFDs just got better with the release of software upgrades that give outboard motor controls for these 7, 9 and 12in models. The newest releases are version 4.5 for HDS Gen2 Touch and version 2.0 for the HDS Gen3 (with inbuilt fishfinder and new StructureScan 3D). These enable control of the Lowrance Outboard Pilot via the Lowrance SmartSteer interface. The Lowrance Outboard Pilot is an HDS autopilot add-on system designed for boats up to 30 feet and contains everything needed to fit an autopilot to a hydraulic or cable-steer single outboard motor. The SmartSteer interface provides control and can steer on a set heading, to a waypoint or along a route.
The other new feature of version 4.5 is support for Jeppesen C-MAP MAX-N+ 2015 cartography with the most current detailed marina charts; and custom contour shading, composition and vegetation layer shading for Insight Genesis Premium account users. There’s also support for Mercury VesselView and Mercury SmartCraft integration improvements for Smart Tow in the updates.
C-MAP charts can be displayed in different imagery styles, including: Shaded Relief for a 3D view that brings seabed terrain to life; No Contours which removes contour lines from the chart to minimise clutter; Raster to give the chart the look of a traditional paper chart; and, High Resolution Bathymetric providing a higher concentration of contour lines for greater depth detail. There’s also a new photo-overlay feature giving satellite images of selected areas as an overlay on the chart.
Existing users can upgrade using the wireless feature which also allows the GoFree app. The unit is sized to fit the same bracket and flush-mount cutout as Lowrance HDS Gen2 Touch.
Lowrance StructureScan 3D allows anglers to easily see fish, underwater structures and bottom contours in a three-dimensional display on their HDS Gen3 fishfinder-chartplotter. StructureScan 3D imaging scans underwater terrain to create high-resolution, 180-degree wide, 3D views in depths to 300ft and as far as 600ft port and starboard.
Key features include: Leading Edge scanning, SelectScan and Vertical Depth Enhancement. The Leading Edge scanning reference provides a clear graphical illustration of the sonar beams as they intersect with the bottom contours and gives the angler a better sense of target depth. SelectScan water column target colouring automatically shades fish-holding cover and suspended targets in a colour that contrasts the selected colour palette, making target identification quicker and easier than before. Vertical Depth Enhancement provides emphasis to vertical drops and crucial depth contour changes making them easier to identify relative to the surrounding underwater terrain.
For navigation there’s 3D Waypoint Overlay for revisiting marks. Use the keypad to save a waypoint at the boat location or switch to cursor mode and save a waypoint over specific targets, baitfish schools or terrain. The software comes with a transducer to connect with existing Lowrance HDS Gen3 MFDs
The Nobeltec Furuno PC-Radar bundle ($US3990) combines Wi-Fi radar pioneered by Furuno with Nobeltec’s TimeZero Trident software. Furuno’s DRS4DCM 24in 4kW Wi-Fi radar dome launched in 2013 but with support from Nobeltec’s software offers significant enhancements. This system can run on any laptop, smartphone or tablet, and the early connectivity limitations have improved by a powered NMEA 2000 port able to bridge some Furuno N2K sensors through the radar’s Ethernet connection.
PC-Radar also has automatic 24/36/48rpm antenna rotation speed and with the Option Pack has the very useful big-boat feature of ARPA (automatic radar plotting aid) as opposed to manually operated MARPA (mini-automatic radar plotting aid). A marine radar with automatic radar plotting aid (ARPA) capability can create tracks using radar contacts. The system can calculate the tracked object’s course, speed and closest point of approach (CPA), thereby knowing if there is a danger of collision with the other ship or landmass.
Navico’s next generation of its patented Broadband Radar, Halo Pulse, promises the best of both worlds: long-range and close-range detail. An open array unit with 4 and 6f versions, it is an evolution of the 2009 Broadband Radar that gave boaters wide-beam functionality but now comes with what Navico describes as "pulse compression" to give the penetration afforded by the traditional magnetron units, but without the potentially hazardous radiation output. The key attractions are short-range blind spot identification and long-range 72-mile penetration. So those myriad poles and buoys that surround you during a night-time port approach should be less of a hazard. The demo I watched showed targets both near and far. Even those pesky poles lying at 90 degrees bearing showed up on the Simrad screen.
Raymarine has released an improved version of its glass bridge e Series, the eS that include the new LighthouseII operating system. The three new MFDs – in 7, 9 and 12in displays – use HybridTouch controls, so combine precision dials with touch.
Company owner FLIR has ensured there’s extensive camera support inbuilt to LighthouseII along with Internet Protocol (IP) for remote control of gear such as thermal-imaging. Other options on the eS Series include multiple displays, Evolution autopilot control, entertainment, engine monitoring and digital switching integration options.
Skippers can also access eS displays from their smartphone or tablet anywhere on board using eS’s integrated Wi-Fi and Raymarine mobile apps. As Raymarine’s most advanced multifunction displays the eS Series feature optional CHIRP DownVision sonar and charting support for vector and raster charts from Navionics, C-MAP, and its own expanding library of LightHouse charts. The eS Series also feature a built-in 10Hz GPS and GLONASS receiver for fast satellite acquisition.
Raymarine 7in eS Series price: $1795
Raymarine 9in and 12in eS Series price: Between $3395 and $4795
This castable sonar unit is ideal for kayaks and small craft and comes from Vexilar which has also partnered with Navionics in some projects. The SonarPhone T-POD weighs only 114grams, so even the lightest spinning rod can cast it far (transmit range is about 100m). It can also troll at up to 4kts and anglers can attach their phones to wrists, allowing fishing and simultaneous sonar viewing in high-definition.
So it’s ideal for working in those tight river banks and other places where fish may hide. It uses a 125kHz transducer with a 30-degree cone of view to transmit via Wi-Fi to Apple or Android devices.
The 400W T-POD transmits data at 100mbps, allowing full-colour displays and can also pair with multiple devices at the same time. The 3.7V rechargeable battery lasts four hours per charge. The free app displays a traditional sonar view and can show a zoomed-in range as well as other conventional sounder features. It reads depths to 120ft.