Garmin and Volvo Penta's Glass Helm

A new look into the glass helm.

garmin volvo pic

garmin volvo pic

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.

Just as a navigation tool, the implications are tremendous. But how does it fit into your angling? I suspect you’ve already imagined some of that.

Say you’re trolling a weed line and it bends away from your course. To snug up to it, twist the joystick toward it until you’re satisfied your baits are as close as they can get without snagging, then let the stick go. The autopilot takes over.

Say the best has finally happened and you’ve got a nice blue one up in the spread and stalking your right long. After watching the fish follow for a minute or two, you can tease the fish a bit by pulling back on the joystick to let your baits drop — and then push it forward again to accelerate and make your baits look like they are trying to escape, hopefully triggering a bite. Say you’ve got the bite and the fish takes off on a contrary 180, racing straight away from the boat. Your angler can’t hold him and needs help from the helm. Twist the joystick again; override the autopilot, and turn to chase the fish with the pointy end.

You can pooh-pooh technology all day long, but remember that when the first GPS systems came out, the experts said they’d never give up loran. Yet when GPS technology proved itself more effective, the experts quickly forgot all about loran.

When you get your hands on a Glass Cockpit-equipped IPS-powered sport-fisher, you’re going to forget all about the traditions you fought to cling to. And that is exactly what Volvo Penta and Garmin expect to happen.

Glass Helms Are Still Developing

Simrad, with it’s NSO series, was among the first to present a glass helm. It featured bonded-glass displays that were both water- and airtight to eliminate the possibility of fog in the robust displays. Simrad’s newest EVO 2 system has a dual independent video output, maximizing the flexibility of display functions between main helm, bridge and flybridge. On a recent test of the Jupiter 41, Simrad displays that were linked to an electronic buss allowed the operation of all electrical systems throughout the boat — all from any touchscreen on the network. You may not yet be able to manage the autopilot via a joystick, but you can run the autopilot with a remote control. In addition, remote apps allow users to use Wi-Fi on their iOS or Android devices to monitor and control systems, essentially giving skippers nearly complete control from anywhere on the vessel.

Furuno NavNet TZtouch glass helms also interface with iOS devices through purpose-built apps. NavNet Viewer allows users to monitor navigation details, while the NavNet Remote, which works with iPads only, gives the user control of the navigation suite. Both apps are free of charge.

Raymarine bases its Glass Bridge on its gS Series displays, which take the glass to the rim for a clean flush-mounted look. Each operates as its own navigation display and lacks only the external GPS antennae. The displays range from 9½ to 16½ inches diagonally and integrate with iOS or Android apps for monitoring or remote controlling the system. Each display sports one high-definition multimedia interface output and two composite video inputs, making linking displays together easy. However, the beauty of Raymarine’s system comes from its LightHouse interface, which is resident on the company’s series A, C and E MFDs. What it means is that if you have a full bridge system on deck but want an abbreviated system in the flybridge or tuna tower, you can add a simple MFD to that station and get full capabilities on the smaller screen. Sword rattling from Raymarine indicates there may be a new fly-by-wire integration solution in its systems by the time you turn these pages, but at press time, they weren’t talking.

Garmin and Volvo Penta have a strong leading position, but unless patents restrict such functions, it won’t be long before the other MFD manufacturers find new ways to combine engine instrumentation, controls and steering mechanisms with all the functions of the latest in marine navigation products.