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October 07, 2013

Garmin and Volvo Penta's Glass Helm

A new look into the glass helm.


The Glass Cockpit, as Garmin and Volvo Penta call their new system, isn’t the first glass helm offering — even for Garmin --— nor is it the first to integrate engine functions into the system using NMEA 2000 protocol. But it is the first to integrate the joystick operating system into the glass display in a way that lets you run the boat, navigate, find fish, monitor all engine functions and steer an autopilot course on a glass multifunction display — all without ever touching the GPS.

As I reported in Marlin’s July issue in Pods: Fad or Future, pods are gradually making their way into the sport-fishing world and gaining broad acceptance, mainly because they make the task of handling big boats fingertip easy.

But Volvo Penta wasn’t happy with just a joystick and fly-by-wire controls in its IPS-powered helms. They wanted a system that integrated steering, autopilot functions, joystick and engine-monitoring capabilities all in one brain. The Glass Cockpit interfaces with as many Garmin 8000 MFDs as you can fit into the helm station. It integrates the engines’ electronics and joystick-control system to make navigation and piloting as easy as twisting the stick.

What’s the big deal for sport anglers? Now that anglers are accepting the new digital control systems, expanded digital displays with intuitive functions needed to follow.

Your helm station no longer needs myriad individual gauges, each dependent on its own signal and each as capricious as 1955 TV set — and all working hard behind your dash to keep the copper-wire industry in business. Using NMEA 2000 protocol, Garmin and Volvo Penta have not only hardwired the propulsion systems into the glass MFDs, but they’ve also hardwired the joystick controller to the autopilot. The installation is cleaner, easier and more reliable, and the operation is even simpler.

Here’s how it works: When you crank up the power plants, up come your MFDs. Touch the screen to bring up your engine systems (revolutions per minute, volts, engine temp, etc.) on one screen or practically any fraction of any screen. You can customize data displays and size them to your preference.

Activate the joystick, and you activate your autopilot. It begins to navigate along your current bearing. If you want to change that bearing, simply twist the joystick and head the vessel on a new bearing. Here’s the beauty of it: You haven’t suspended navigation, you’ve only adjusted it. When the autopilot senses your input is finished — i.e., you quit twisting the stick — it automatically takes the new corrected course as its new bearing.

Now, if you are following a route and you want to change one leg because, say, a log is in your path, twist the stick until you are around the obstacle, and then let it go. The autopilot recalculates your route and gets you back on course automatically. If you like, you can twist the stick again, jog around the obstacle and put her back on course yourself; the autopilot will once again resume its route. As long as you are providing input to the joystick or helm, the autopilot will stand down. When you cease input, the autopilot will accept the last bearing as its course. In an emergency maneuver, direct joystick or helm input overrides the autopilot immediately and eliminates the need to waste precious seconds reaching over to suspend navigation before taking the helm.