As technology marches forward, it trickles down, bringing fancy features to smaller boats. If your vessel doesn’t have an MFD and you’re contemplating a new one, here are four reasons to check out the newest displays.
Small but Powerful
The new units are small in footprint only. They all have built-in 10 Hz antennas and some have integrated sonar capability, so boat owners only need to buy a transducer to catch more fish. Garmin’s GPSMAP 742xs and 942xs (7 and 9 inches, respectively) are almost as capable as the manufacturer’s flagship GPSMAP 8600 series.
Models in Raymarine’s Axiom series have a high-performance GPS/GNSS system built-in and run the same LightHouse 3 operating system with a powerful quad-core processor and tons of memory. This allows the 7- and 9-inch units to do just about everything its 24-inch flagship can. The screen can split four ways to accommodate multiple functions simultaneously, which is a great way to de-clutter a dash, whether plotting a course or watching for fish.
A great example of big-boat features available across most manufacturers’ small MFDs is support of scanners, sensors, peripherals and even apps. Digital switching is the fastest growing feature, because it allows for the removal of tactile buttons or switches on the dash, saving even more space. The new units also integrate with engine data. Simrad and Lowrance MFDs work with Suzuki, Mercury, Yamaha and Evinrude.
The Axiom line supports wireless HDMI video output, which enables the units to connect to an external monitor, NMEA2000 engine data input, videoover- IP and even control a drone for aerial imaging. Also available is Raymarine’s new Augmented Reality, which enhances live marine camera views with identification tags on navigation aids, AIS contacts and waypoints. Users will know exactly which buoy is coming up in the dark and where to find a channel in the fog.
The core sonar technology for Axiom is RealVision 3D sonar that connects to an all-in-one transducer that supports high-definition CHIRP DownVision, CHIRP SideVision, high-frequency CHIRP (for finding fish) and RealVision 3D sonar with a full 3-D presentation, all with a $400 entry-level transducer.
Garmin’s small CHIRP sonar with ClearVu, and LiveScope, UHD and SideVu can all be added to its small units, as can audio control with Fusion and other stereos via NMEA2000. Third-party apps from Netflix and Spotify are supported by many brands, so everyone can watch a movie on that glorious new screen.
Compatible & Easy to Install
The beauty of the small systems is they’re mostly plug-and-play, at least for the basic functionality, because most features are already built in. There are no extra modules, black boxes or switches needed, and there’s little extra wiring required.
Anyone integrating with external devices such as engines, a VHF radio or an AIS receiver may need to budget for a networking starter kit to establish a data backbone that can be expanded. Kits start around $100. With most units, all of the necessary cabling is already in the box.
Beautiful but Affordable
The new MFDs can pack so much information onto one screen partially due to their clarity. Garmin’s screens are bonded glass with circular polarization, so they are sunlight readable even to someone wearing polarized sunglasses. Meanwhile, all of the screens across Raymarine’s Axiom line are engineered for full tropical sunlight viewing. Resolution varies by size. Axiom 7 and 9 are 800 by 480 (WVGA). They all feature optically bonded screens for maximum light transmission and zero fogging or contamination.
Most small models are also touchscreen- enabled, like a smartphone, so the learning curve is minimal. Simrad (sister company to Lowrance) has 5-, 7- and 9-inch units in its GO series that have touchscreens and excellent viewing angles. Prices range from $400 to $1,000.
Expect to pay $999 to $1,299 for Garmin’s smaller displays. Transducers start at $99 and go up to several thousand dollars depending on the mounting style and transmit power. These are capable of 1 kw CHIRP, so users can choose from a wide variety of transducers.
An Axiom 7 unit with RealVision 3D and its transducer will cost about $1,500. The Axiom 9 with RV3D and a transducer comes in at $1,900. For cruising (non-fishing) boats, Raymarine offers Axiom and Axiom Pro models with a basic CHIRP depthfinding sonar built in. It works to 900 feet and provides bottom contour and hardness readings. Transducers range from $60 to $250.