For electronics buffs, the big news at the Miami International Boat Show was about software more than hardware. In the past few model years, navigation companies have boosted the power of microprocessors and given their navigation displays plenty of chops to adapt to and adopt new features as they are designed into firmware updates. A good deal of this firmware innovation looks and functions like smartphone apps on your chart-plotter screen.
Hardware or Software?
Navigation electronics are basically battle-hardened PCs capable of taking heavy spray without shutting down. Internally, electronic brains are bigger and faster, and internal memory is beefy enough to multitask like a laptop. And increasingly, just like the laptop, tablet and mobile phones on your desk, new firmware updates periodically turn your old machine into something very new and beautifully exciting.
News from Raymarine
Lighthouse 3 is Raymarine’s keystone interface that takes full advantage of its quad-core processors (think Intel Quad Core processors in personal computers, though Raymarine won’t reveal the maker or speeds of its product). This allows the Axiom and Axiom Pro systems to multitask, with, among other things, up to four functioning display windows. The Lighthouse 3.4 update adds app functionality for a GRIB Weather app, a Bluetooth audio out, and Netflix and Spotify apps for onboard entertainment. Coming soon are apps for LED lighting, Seakeeper stabilizers and other cool systems. Progressively, fishermen are expecting their multifunction displays to offer total connectivity to every system on their boat.
The systems we see now are reliable and self-diagnosing, eliminating the fear that the skipper can’t paper-clip a problem or duct-tape a glitch himself. The systems tell if so much as a light bulb has burned out or if there is an excess amp draw on the bilge-pump circuit, warning you it is about to blow.
The navigation showstopper though was Lighthouse 3.5, to be released in June. We flew a DJI Spark drone with it in Miami, using the touch-screen controls over the bird’s-eye view of the drone’s camera. Tether the drone to follow the boat, or hover over the cockpit during the fight, among other maneuvers that are controllable via the display.
The Lighthouse 3.5 upgrade will be compatible with the DJI Mavic drones for on-screen flight controls. Spark drones might come later. The Mavic boasts 4K resolution imaging and connects easily. Raymarine’s Axiom series MFDs transmit imaging in near real-time. The price of drones is dropping fast, and even the big bad Mavic can be had at $799 and be capable of shooting 32-megapixel spherical panoramas too. All I want it to do is watch my spread and tell me if that damn marlin is going to eat or flee.
Simrad Upgrades Fish Reveal, Introduces NSO EVO3
Simrad’s latest software upgrade adds app control for peripherals on your boat, such as Seakeeper and LED lights, but the most exciting upgrade we saw was new firmware that gives its StructureScan side-imaging sonar higher definition and detail than before. In addition, when the system is turned to DownScan, Fish Reveal overlays new high-definition fish targets over the DownScan bottom image. Sonar overlay on DownScan was always available before, but not with this beefed-up targeting of fish over structure. We’ve only seen demo recordings so far, but the imaging is looking pretty exciting. The new update also enables Navionics Auto Routing and C-Map’s version of turn-by-turn navigation they call Easy Routing.
While software was the mystery sauce during the 2018 Miami boat show, Simrad did offer up a new display system right in the big-game skipper’s wheelhouse. They call it the NSO evo3. First, the screen is true high definition, with a 1920-by-1080 display that would make candy look edible if you uploaded a picture to it. You can see the screen with polarized sunglasses and still view it very well even from the side. Try that trick on any system a generation ago. Now everybody on deck can see what the skipper sees.
But the display is kind of like the curves of a high-tech sports car. It gets your attention, yet what’s inside is what the Scarecrow of Oz sought: a brain. And, oh, what a brain. While most MFD-makers aren’t willing to discuss the gray matter in their systems, Simrad says its is an iMX6 quad-core processor that can handle the high-def image, manage to display multiple screens simultaneously and power up its new Halo High Pulse Compression radar and its powerful chirp sonar. Not impressed yet? Use the Wi-Fi system to link it to tablets and smartphones for visual access and remote controls. And it’s all in a glass bridge package that keeps the helm station sharp looking and cutting edge.
Garmin’s Ultra High-Def Sonar
Also in the glass bridge realm is Garmin’s new Ultra High-Definition scanning sonar that’s compatible with existing GPSMap displays. The new black box features very powerful, high-frequency sonar technology that enhances detail on nearshore targets to 200 feet with SideVu. Admit it, you’ll be looking at the bottom for some grouper structure in the offseason. When you spot some, turn the ClearVu down-scan onto it and see the bottom structure in near photographic detail, including clearly defined fish targets holding near structure.
For a while, so many navigation apps for tablets were hitting the market that they looked to challenge the nav-gear-makers. I don’t think so. In my humble opinion, tablets are and always will be lightweights compared to these battle-toughened navigation systems. Manufacturers continue to upgrade dedicated nav systems because we prefer them. And because of that preference, we will continue to keep you up to date on the latest trends.