Although I’ve been an elec­tron­ics writer for 10 years, I have no magic power to pre­dict the per­fect helm setup for a new boat. The process of di­al­ing in a new elec­tron­ics pack­age in­volves a lot ques­tions about the boat, about fish­ing style and about bud­get.

But when a friend re­cently asked me to sug­gest op­tions for his new 25-foot bay boat, and then he noted he’d be adding a sec­ond sta­tion, I hes­i­tated. What ex­actly did I know about adding elec­tron­ics to a sup­ple­men­tal helm — whether for a bay boat or small cen­ter-con­sole?

Would he need a sec­ond fully out­fit­ted mul­ti­func­tion dis­play up top? Or could he opt in­stead for a les­s­ex­pen­sive plot­ter con­nected by Eth­er­net to the helm unit? Would a black-box sonar mod­ule be a more cost-ef­fec­tive so­lu­tion? What about a re­peater/ con­troller app and an iPad with a wa­ter­proof case? Is there a wire­less so­lu­tion?

I reached out to sev­eral of my in­dus­try sources and dis­cov­ered that my friend’s sit­u­a­tion has be­come a lot more com­mon, and that wire­less con­nec­tiv­ity is truly on its way.


“The trend to big­ger bay boats has been ac­com­pa­nied by a trend to sec­ond sta­tions,” says Char­lie John­son, mar­ket­ing direc­tor for Mav­er­ick Boat Com­pany, mak­ers of Pathfinder bay boats. “Not only are the big­ger bay boats bet­ter able to sup­port and bal­ance the added weight up high, in ad­di­tion, they’re be­ing used in more beach-style fish­ing sit­u­a­tions, where the added el­e­va­tion of a sec­ond sta­tion gives you a real ad­van­tage in see­ing schools of fish swim­ming on or near the sur­face.”

Pathfinder Boats be­gan in­stalling sec­ond-sta­tion units at its fac­tory four years ago; prior to that, the tow­ers were all af­ter­mar­ket add-ons. Among 25- and 26-foot mod­els, 40 per­cent


leave the fac­tory with an el­e­vated helm.

My friend had or­dered a com­pact crow’s-nest-style tower, de­signed so the helms­man stands on top of the cen­ter con­sole. He would have room for a 9-inch dis­play, and was lean­ing to­ward Garmins.

“If it were my boat, I’d use a sin­gle big screen at the helm and a smaller screen at the sec­ond sta­tion,” says David Dunn, direc­tor of sales and mar­ket­ing for Garmin. “The helm unit shares way­points, sonar … any­thing you could see on the lower dis­play you could see on the up­per. They’re both MFDs. Both are masters.”

Both units don’t have to come with sonar. The helm unit can be a sonar/ plot­ter com­bi­na­tion unit at­tached to an ap­pro­pri­ate trans­ducer. The up­per unit could be a less-ex­pen­sive non­sonar chart plot­ter; it will dis­play the sonar from the helm unit.

The pri­mary caveat is that up­stairs/ down­stairs units must be net­work­able. Lower-cost MFDs such as Garmin’s Striker, Raymarine’s Drag­on­fly, Sim­rad’s GO and Lowrance’s Elite-Ti units do not fully net­work with other dis­plays; they’re meant as stand-alone ma­chines.

With com­ple­men­tary units, a sec­ond sta­tion can be func­tional as long as there’s a sin­gle Eth­er­net net­work con­nec­tion be­tween ma­chines and a power cord routed to the power source. Most ev­ery­thing the helm unit can dis­play, the net­worked unit can also show. Some sys­tems, how­ever, re­quire a sup­ple­men­tal NMEA 2000 con­nec­tion to dis­play func­tions such as au­topi­lot and en­gine data.


An­other op­tion to con­sider could be a sep­a­rate black-box sonar mod­ule that mounts below the con­sole and feeds sonar in­for­ma­tion to a mul­ti­func­tion dis­play. If you hap­pen to have a sonar mod­ule and helm MFD al­ready, adding a sec­ond non­sonar MFD to an up­per sta­tion makes sense. If you don’t own a mod­ule, you need to price the com­po­nents.

The mod­ule route gen­er­ally costs more. But con­sider these two roughly equiv­a­lent Raymarine set­ups: 1) an Ax­iom Pro 9 at the helm and an Ax­iom 7 (without sonar) up top: $3,198; 2) an Ax­iom 9 (without sonar) at the helm, an Ax­iom 7 (without sonar) up top, and an RVX1000 mod­ule: $2,797.

Raymarine and other man­u­fac­tur­ers also of­fer apps that can pull elec­tron­ics­dis­play in­for­ma­tion from an MFD to a tablet, where you can see and con­trol all func­tions. If you al­ready own a tablet and a wa­ter­proof case, this could be a cost-ef­fec­tive so­lu­tion — whether tem­po­rary or long-term.

“The down­side is the typ­i­cal tablet-on-a-boat prob­lems: poor sun­light-view­ing, glare, non­wa­ter­proof, prone to break­age,” says Raymarine mar­ket­ing direc­tor Jim McGowan. How­ever, if you pur­chase a RAM mount for the tablet so you can ad­just the screen an­gle, you might find it work­able.

In the case of Fu­runo and Lowrance/ Sim­rad (both brands are owned by the same par­ent com­pany: Nav­ico), most of the same rules ap­ply. How­ever, Fu­runo

does not make fully net­work­able dis­plays in a 7-inch size. The com­pany’s TZ­touch2 MFDs come in 12- and 15-inch sizes.

“There are no low-cost op­tions,” says Eric Kunz, Fu­runo se­nior prod­uct man­ager. “But the good news is that there are no us­abil­ity lim­i­ta­tions.”

Kunz did, how­ever, grant that the TZT tablet app could pro­vide a vi­able sec­ond-sta­tion op­tion, “but I don’t see it be­ing very com­mon.”


Lowrance HDS and Sim­rad NSS dis­plays can fully net­work and share data over more than one MFD. Sim­rad prod­uct line direc­tor Steve Thomas says that an NMEA 2000 net­work is also re­quired to carry au­topi­lot and Son­icHub data as well as in­stru­ment in­for­ma­tion among two or more Nav­ico-brand units.

How­ever, the com­pany has gen­er­ated some in­ter­est­ing sec­ond-sta­tion so­lu­tions. Capt. Robert Tros­set III, son of long­time Key West char­ter guide R.T., wanted steer­ing in his sec­ond sta­tion without hav­ing to run hy­draulic lines to the tower, Thomas says. With NMEA 2000 and Eth­er­net, along with an au­topi­lot sys­tem, Tros­set steers his boat through his Sim­rad MFD, us­ing its knobs and on-screen but­tons.

Lowrance also just de­buted wire­less com­mu­ni­ca­tion through its new Elite Ti2 units. This opens a whole new cat­e­gory of com­pat­i­bil­ity. With one Elite Ti2 at the helm and a sec­ond one in the tower, the two units wire­lessly share in­for­ma­tion. The sec­ond-sta­tion unit would need only a power source.

Wire­less rep­re­sents the wave of the fu­ture. In a few short years, the de­bate over which units to use — ei­ther at two sep­a­rate sta­tions or side by side at the helm — will be moot. For now, my friend de­cided on a Garmin 7612xsv and a Garmin 942, and I have gained some valu­able in­sight.

Whether you own a small cen­ter­con­sole or a large bay boat, you’ve likely con­sid­ered a sec­ond sta­tion. Here are some tips on how to rig it for elec­tron­ics.

On smaller boats, a sec­ond sta­tion perched above the top of the con­sole can be the best op­tion. A dis­play up top eas­ily shares func­tions with a net­worked helm unit.

Most sec­ond sta­tions are not shaded by a top, so sun­light viewa­bil­ity is key when choos­ing an elec­tron­ics dis­play. It’s also why a tablet with a con­trol app of­ten fails to of­fer a vi­able al­ter­na­tive.

Sim­rad NSS and Lowrance HDS dis­plays fully net­work with one an­other. Lowrance’s newElite Ti2, which just launched this fall, wire­lessly net­works with ad­di­tional Ti2 units.

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