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Helm Electronics for 2013

Dedicated stand-alone electronics hold their own at the helm.

February 13, 2013
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Click through the images above to see units by a number of manufacturers.

In the current arena of integrated and networked marine electronics, a place still exists for stand-alone ­instruments. Maybe you need a big, dedicated sonar, so a reliable fish finder is a constant; maybe you want to be sure that after a long run to the canyons, or the deep Gulf, if something goes on the blink, you can keep fishing. Or maybe you run a bay boat or skiff, and depth is seldom a concern, but you need a plotter, a set of electronic charts sitting atop your console. Stand-alones are in demand for several reasons, and manufacturers continue to provide anglers what they need.

Most traditional perhaps is a dedicated fish finder augmenting a networked helm. Recognizing this option, ­Furuno has rolled out two new stand-alones, the 5.7-inch FCV627 ($995) and the 8.4-inch FCV587 ($1,695). “These ­finders are a great fit on center consoles,” says Furuno’s Jeff Kauzlaric. “But we’ve

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put them on everything from 20-foot trailer boats to the 50-footers, as both backups and primary sounders.”

Fishermen have preferences and budgets, he says. “If they are going to fit ­something in a budget and can’t afford all Furuno, they go with a less expensive chart plotter and a Furuno fish finder. There are still people out there who want to have separate units or who want to mix and match manufacturers.”

Si-Tex Marine Electronics has built a loyal following on stand-alones. “We are one of the few companies that still has dedicated stand-alone products,” says Si-Tex vice president Allen Schneider. The success of the stand-alones, he says, is based on redundancy, simplicity and economy. “The first advantage of stand-alones is the simplicity of setting it up and forgetting it. The second benefit is redundancy. With a stand-alone, if one display goes out, you have lost only a portion of the data you need. On a network-based MFD system, if the display goes out, you have lost everything.”

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Another consideration is ­upgrading particular elements of the system, which is simplified with single-purpose ­machines. “If new technology comes along and you want to upgrade one piece of your system, you do not have to scrap the entire package to take advantage of the technology — just replace that portion of the package,” says Schneider. Si-Tex’s newest introduction is the 7-inch SNS-700 plotter ($1,199), which comes loaded with C-Map Max ­cartography, and is also available with a built-in-sonar option.

Multifunction Stand-Alone

The majority of stand-alones combine the sounder and plotter on one machine. In this case, stand-alone means a dual-function instrument that’s not part of a network. This makes sense, as plotter and sounder functions ­increasingly overlap. Case in point is the functionality of Lowrance stand-alones, most recently the Elite-7, a ­combination unit sized for smaller boats, where a network is unnecessary.

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Recording and saving bottom data is the hallmark of the Lowrance Insight Genesis mapping system that allows anglers to create custom charts based on sonar logs: a function that requires plotter and sonar to work together. The 7-inch Elite-7 is available as a plotter, fish finder or combo model ($499 to $869).

Garmin’s new 5-inch GPSMAP 547 plotter ($749.99), plotter/sonar 547XS ($849.99), 7-inch GPSMAP 741 ­plotter ($1,599.99) and combo GPSMAP 741XS ($1,699.99) are designed to fit fishing boats in the 18- to 21-foot range. Different mounting options ­accommodate just about any helm configuration, on any size boat. They can flush, flat or surface mount; the 500 series has a swivel mount ­available, and the larger 700 series has a gimbal mount. While not networkable, these are ­sophisticated instruments; the sonar ­versions are CHIRP capable for maximum detail and resolution. They are preloaded with coastal cartography, and upgradable to ­Garmin’s proprietary G2Vision cartography.

Max Options

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Raymarine has moved away from nonnetwork sounders and plotters, according to marketing manager Jim McGowan. The company’s smallest and most economical rollout, the a65 GPS/chart plotter ($814.99) and a67 GPS/chart plotter/fish finder ($914.99) combine power, simplicity and economy.

“Out of the box you can run this as a plotter,” says McGowan. “There is one screen, one box, and even with the fish finder, it’s under $1,000.” The a-series is networkable, but it’s not necessary. “You can add a second screen on the other end of the boat, or a higher-powered sounder on the network. The ­adaptability is there,” says ­McGowan. Both GPS and sounder modules are built in, so the units are totally self-contained, perfect for­ ­fishing boats in the 20-foot-and-under range. Though diminutive, the a-series has the same processor, graphics and software as Raymarine’s larger systems. “Small doesn’t mean cheap in boats,” says McGowan. “There are a lot of premium small boats, and fishermen in that category demand the premium navigational experience the a-series provides.”

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Above, a Lowrance Elite-7 HDI unit for flats and bay boats.
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Si-Tex Marine Electronics has built a loyal following on stand-alones.
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Stand-alone security: Some captains prefer the redundancy of having stand-alone electronics in case one unit fails.
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Flexibility: Garmin’s 500 and 700 ­series offer the flexibility of choosing single or dual-function capabilities, with highly advanced CHIRP sonar available.
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Network-Ready: Raymarine’s a-series comes ready to mount as a stand-alone unit, or it can be networked.
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