I’ll admit it, I’m a bit of a nerd. I like technology and while I’m not the most technologically advanced person in my family (here’s looking at you o’ brother of mine…) I think I come in at a solid second place. Therefore, the choice of electronics on our boat is a key concern of mine. I want a system that will integrate seamlessly across the boat, beyond just your regular instruments, to include our laptops, media server, iPads and any other device we can think to add. I know that this is a tall order and there will be pluses and minuses to any system we choose, but some will be better than others at accomplishing this goal.
Fountaine Pajot installs Garmin electronics as standard on their boats. The vast majority of my experience on boats has been using Raymarine electronics, and since the display Helia actually had Raymarine installed, I asked our dealer if it was possible to elect for a different system than Garmin. He assured me that it was, and thus my research began.
Garmin earns good marks throughout the web for their ease of use. I have only limited experience using them, but the interface does appear pretty straightforward and user friendly. However… they come in dead last when it comes to integration with other systems. Fountaine Pajot uses the Garmin 5008 and 5012 chartplotters on the Helia, which do not offer wifi, nor do they offer any wired connectivity outside of the “Garmin Marine Network”. We stopped by the Garmin booth at the boat show, and were told that in order to transfer data (such as weather overlays, or routing information) from a computer, you had to use an SD card to save the data on the computer, and then manually transfer it over to the plotter. Not exactly what we’re looking for, and in this day and age of connectivity, it’s pretty shockingly behind the times.
As mentioned, the vast majority of both the Admiral and my’s experience with marine electronics has been on Raymarine equipment. That has created a familiarity which is a solid plus in Raymarine’s corner. The e Series HybridTouch Displays offers a good mix of basic touch features, as well as buttons that can be used to operate the system as well. While you won’t mistake it for an iPad anytime soon, it does seem to be moving in the right direction. They also have WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, which can be used to connect to iPad’s and iPhones using Raymarine’s native apps or even the Navionics app. The WiFi means that we could connect our laptop into the system and use the Raymarine Voyage Planner software to create waypoints, routes and tracks on the laptop and then instantly send it to our multifunction display (MFD).
This is definitely more along the lines of what I’m looking for, but I have two reservations: 1) WiFi is great, but would seem more likely to fail at a critical moment than a wired connection to the computer and 2) the Voyage Planner software appears pretty basic, and doesn’t have some of the advanced features available with other software packages.
I was first turned on to Furuno when I read the great blog of s/v Field Trip and when the Admiral and I got the chance to randomly run into Mark and Sarah in St. Barts while we were on a charter, we got to see first hand how Mark had managed to integrate all electronics on his boat. The new TZ Touch line of MFDs looks really nice, but also really pricey. The NavNet 3D line of MFDs is what I have focused on as they have NMEA 0183 and 2000 capability, as well as Ethernet connectivity. In truth, I like the Ethernet connectivity a bit better than WiFi as I believe it would offer a more consistent connection and be less likely to fail. However, what really seems to set the Furuno system apart is it’s MaxSea software.
Using the optional Routing Module, I could plug in weather forecast and current data and the software will calculate the optimal sailing route based on the polars of our boat. How cool is that!? Now, I certainly recognize that conditions actually out on the water may not play out exactly as forecasted, and its probable we won’t end up sailing the exact route calculated, but these are the sort of technological features that get me excited.
I’m pretty set on swapping out the stock electronics for either a Furuno or Raymarine set up, and have to admit that I’m leaning towards Furuno. However, I’m still working with my dealer to get accurate engineering drawings of the helm and interior nav station to make sure everything will fit. In addition to the basic plotter and instruments, we’ve got other equipment to find a place for, such as our VHF, AIS, SSB, Sat Phone, Inverter Controls etc. And let’s be honest, cost plays a definite factor as well. A Furuno system wouldn’t be cheap, but right now, I think the additional features would be worth the cost.