Firmware up­dates give your chart plot­ter all-new fea­tures


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.


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.


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’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 beefedup 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-by­turn 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-by1080 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.


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.

Go fly a drone with Ray­ma­rine's Light­house 3.5 firmware up­date, due out in June. We tested it in Mi­ami and got a bird's-eye view of the wa­ters around us, and even flew it us­ing the Ax­iom Pro's con­trols.

Simrad uses an iMX6 quad-core pro­ces­sor to man­age and dis­play up to six screens si­mul­ta­ne­ously and still present Halo High Pulse Com­pres­sion radar and chirp sonar.

Garmin's Ul­tra HighDef­i­ni­tion sonar adds in­cred­i­ble de­tail to SideVu side-scan­ning sonar and pho­to­like imag­ing to its ClearVu down-scan imag­ing.

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