Cellphones, tablets and the Internet drive our work and leisure, and our fishing soon might enjoy the same benefits. As chart plotters get more powerful and computerlike, they steadily become — well, more computerlike. Direct Internet connectivity is here, albeit in its early stages, but the future of this marriage holds immense promise. The ideal is Internet connection from the helm, anywhere in the world, to update systems, software and chart sets at a touch. That’s not far-fetched, and it gets closer all the time.
The starting point on that path is mobile-device integration, and most builders have this. No one is sitting still on this category. Some have more, and some are staying mum, but the coming year hints at a lot in the development of Internet integration.
Furuno leads this charge with the NavNet TZTouch platform, which includes a unique IP stack that allows direct Internet access, according to senior product manager Eric Kunz. The hookup can be through either Wi-Fi connection or Ethernet, hard-wired at the dock. The edge is the ability of TZTouch to directly download software updates for the plotter.
“There’s no more going to the dealer for upgrades,” Kunz says. “Like with your cellphone, you get a notification that there is an upgrade available, and it’s an opt-in procedure.” The next obvious step is direct download of charts, or direct purchase of new chart sets. Not even Furuno is there yet. However, chart-upgrade notification is part of the plan. Full chart upgrading is likely to roll out in 2014, according to Kunz.
Multiple MFDs will supply full integration with mobile devices — both phones and tablets — across the boat’s network, and can be configured in a mind-boggling number of ways. “It’s no less sophisticated than an office network,” Kunz says. Another feature of Furuno’s Internet access is MaxSea’s Chopper, which delivers NavCenter weather to overlay plotter charts. Access the website through a third-party satellite link, such as Inmarsat, and you have Internet all over the ocean, and worldwide weather service, which is free to MaxSea chart users.
Simrad and Lowrance -plotters, while not incorporating Wi-Fi, can be hot-rodded with the GoFree Wi-Fi Module add-on for backward compatibility with existing MFDs. So equipped, plotters access a well-developed system of mobile-device monitoring and control, and wireless transfer of files. “It’s an open-protocol system,” says Simrad global brand manager Dennis Hogan, “so any number of third-party apps that exist, or will be developed, are compatible.”
The result is a plotter that can be manipulated from a mobile device, including the transfer of waypoints and NMEA 0183 data such as course and speed, and display both plotter and radar screens. While data transfer for Simrad and Lowrance relies on an SD card, that’s not likely to last for long. Direct software upgrades appear to be right around the corner. The recent development of Insight Genesis — wherein users upload plotter and sonar information gathered in the field and create custom charts — makes it a short step up to direct chart purchasing and downloading from the plotter.
Standard-Horizon introduced Internet connectivity first, through built-in Wi-Fi in the CPN700i and CPN1010i chart plotters. “Basically we have an Internet reader on the MFD,” Jason Kennedy says. “We have gone to a third party [operating system], so when you go to Yahoo! to read mail, it renders correctly.” Another improvement: The revised operating system handles YouTube accurately in combination with the built-in speakers in the MFD.
There’s also free weather service from Jeppeson available for download over an Internet connection. “You click on your plotter, and it downloads the Jeppeson SeaWeather map directly onto the chart,” says Kennedy. Standard also offers a mobile-device app that allows monitoring of the MFD from a phone or tablet.
Garmin is suspiciously quiet on the subject of Internet integration. Plotters that come equipped with Wi-Fi are the GPSMAP 547/547xs, 741/741xs, and echoMAP 50s and 70s. The 4000- to the 8000-series have available Wi-Fi adapters that allow the same capability as built-in Wi-Fi products. And there is full cooperation between plotters and Garmin’s BlueChart Mobile cartography for nav planning and transfer of waypoints and routes. That’s a lot of powerful capability to support such limited use, so when Garmin says, as it did, that it is “going to be making more use of the Wi-Fi over the next six months,” expect some characteristically significant rollouts.
Raymarine has pushed most of its Wi-Fi development momentum toward mobile-device integration. Wi-Fi networking comes standard on the c-, e-, and gS-Series of multifunction displays, and as an option on the a-Series.
Raymarine has a full gamut of apps that link the MFD with mobile devices. RayView repeats whatever is on your MFD to your smartphone or tablet, mirroring the plotter screen. Stepping up, RayControl, designed primarily for phones, offers a fully functional, wireless remote manipulation of the plotter, with a virtual keypad that replicates the controls of HybridTouch MFDs.
RayRemote, the free app for tablets and devices with 7-inch or larger screens, provides full control of the MFD. A virtual slide-out keypad mimics the physical keypad of the c, e and gS-Series. The only thing not controllable remotely is the autopilot. “The safety squirrel decided autopilot control needs to happen at the actual MFD — that’s the only feature control not available on the tablet,” says Raymarine’s Jim McGowan