Simrad test-drive: Now I’m a believer

by Tim on September 23, 2011

I got a chance to sea-trial some newer Simrad tech last month aboard Mad Max, a 36-foot center-console fishing boat sporting 10 (ten) times the horsepower I carry on Two Lucky Fish. Captain Max Dennemeyer (http://pacificcoastcharters.us) was helping Simrad host this event, demonstrating a variety of gear for journalists and dealers. You know…marketing!

And in my case, it worked. Since the Simrad demo, I’ve been out cruising on my own boat for about two weeks, and I’m currently sitting in a coffeehouse in Coos Bay, Oregon, halfway through an offshore delivery from Seattle to San Diego. So with over 700 nautical miles under my keel since the demo, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to consider how Simrad’s gear might serve my needs.

First, let me clarify which Simrad gear I’m focusing on: I’m talking about the NSS Sport MFD with “touch sensible” interface, StructureScan Sonar, and Broadband Radar.

Each of these deserves a separate article, but I’m just going to hit the highlights today:

The “touch sensible” interface really is intuitive. It reminded me of using Rose Point Coastal Explorer on the PC: You virtually never need the manual. Just poke around and guess, and you’ll probably find the function you’re after on the first or second try. I don’t know how many times during the demo I asked a question like this: “Hey, how do you get to the screen where…Oh never mind, I found it.”

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Furthermore, there are almost always two ways to accomplish any task: One using the touch screen and another using the knobs and buttons on the unit. After being tossed around in the Pacific Ocean the past few days, where violent motion sometimes precluded using the mouse and keyboard on my laptop at all, I am a firm believer in the necessity of physical buttons and knobs in any offshore navigation interface. That’s necessity, not mere preference. I had to abandon my beloved Rose Point Coastal Explorer the other night in heavy seas because I just wasn’t able to manipulate any of the controls. It sounds stupid, but offshore veterans will know what I’m talking about.

StructureScan Sonar rocks. On my own boat, I like to explore the many “nooks and crannies” in Puget Sound and the Salish Sea. I like poking my nose into spots that are poorly charted, with barely enough water to let me in and back out again. Several times I found myself wishing for more than the simple linear sequence of numbers available from my depthsounder. I wanted something like this:

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Likewise, on the radar side, I want Broadband Radar! When I was feeling my way back from Port Townsend to Seattle in heavy fog (which had apparently not discouraged the salmon fishermen at all!), I was able to identify targets reasonably well with my old Raymarine radar, but the returns from some boats were very small, and could be lost for several scans in a row sometimes. I doubt I could have seen kayaks or large floating debris at all, had any been present.

Many veterans will respond to that last statement by saying “Radar won’t pick up kayaks and debris, ya dummy!” But those folks haven’t played with Simrad’s Broadband radar. This thing picks up birds, which is one reason fisherman like it: Birds feed on little fish; the same little fish that big fish feed on.

If I’m running in fog, I want to see anything large enough to carry a person, and it appears to me that Simrad’s Broadband radar is one of very few tools that will do this. Check out this screenshot:

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That’s 1/8-mile range, with a custom guard zone set up from dead ahead and down the port side. That’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout! :-)Seriously, for my needs, this is the kind of detail and range I care about. I’m less concerned with targets five or ten miles away; I want to know about targets—large and small—that are near me, that I need to do something about. In fog, I would probably run the radar at about two miles range. At night, in clear visibility, I would rely on lights from other boats, and run the radar at 1/4 mile or less, with a narrow guard zone set up directly in front of the boat, scanning for junk in the water ahead.

Once again, there is a lot more to say about both of these imaging products, and obviously I haven’t gone into the details here at all. The technologies underlying Simrad’s Broadband Radar and StructureScan Sonar are fascinating in and of themselves, particularly if you’re a geek like me. Perhaps I’ll delve a bit deeper into those in a future article.

Are there any drawbacks? Yes: Range is probably the biggest one. Broadband Radar does not have the range of larger traditional pulse radar. If you want 25-mile+ radar, you’ll need to one of those. StructureScan Sonar won’t give you depth data at high speed or deeper than about 400 feet. But since the NSS MFD is packaged with the Broadband Sounder module anyway, you’ve got deep depth at high speed if you need it; we had Mad Max over 60 mph with a solid depth reading all the way.

Run these powerful imaging technologies through the intuitive hybrid touchscreen interface of the NSS MFDs, and you’ve got an awfully nice navigation package for either fishing or coastal cruising.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Roger Critchlow September 23, 2011 at 8:51 pm

Interesting, if you and the boat are getting rocked around, then all the usual user interface controls get hard to use. And physical knobs and buttons may work longer than a tiny touchscreen interface, but they eventually get trying, too.

It wouldn’t be hard to incorporate an accelerometer into the electronics — heck there are probably several already in there — and have the user interface adapt to conditions. Go from finger tip, to finger width, to hand width touch buttons as the g-forces increase. Ignore touches that coincide with big bumps. Go to a simpler menu structure with big labels, too, in case holding your head still enough to read small print has become a problem.

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Chris Hallock September 27, 2011 at 2:02 pm

Tim,

I am in the same electronics boat as you, I have the older Raymarine C80 with sounder and 2KW radome and want to retire it for a new system in the modern era. I have been thinking about switching to the NSE8 (same flush mount hole as C80) and adding the structurescan and broadband radar.

I hope Santa or the CFO I mean ‘the wife’ will bring me a new system this winter to install! I really like what Simrad is doing from a user interface and features standpoint. They are actively adding new features still to the system with new major software releases.

Thanks,
Chris

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