Today’s electronics systems for recreational boats can funnel huge quantities of information and even control through today’s fully integrated helm systems. Ethernet- and NMEA 2000-based systems are leading to all-inclusive helm and ship’s systems management. Collaborative efforts, such as that between Volvo Penta and Garmin have resulted in the Glass Cockpit System, which allows seamless integration of numerous functions, among them a boat’s joystick control with its autopilot. And helm electronics can facilitate control of solid-state digital switching, through such partnerships as Simrad and CZone or Raymarine and Empirbus, and thereby govern everything electric onboard. Not only has function gotten better: The user interfaces of these systems have improved remarkably over the past five years to become more intuitive and user-friendly. And in fact, the usability of the systems will only continue to get better thanks to regular software updates that add functionality and power while fixing bugs.
But as is sometimes said, with great power comes great responsibility, and routing all that function through a single screen in some instances, or even a pair of screens, can present a certain level of perceived information overload as boaters begin to ask themselves: What am I not seeing? After all, a helmsman would have to have the perfect split-screen presets to show all relevant data and have it in front of him all the time, even in light of changing conditions. That’s a big task when everything, right down to the ship’s stereo system, is controlled on the same screen. And who among us can’t say we haven’t gone on a recon mission into the deeper menus or system adjustments on a long cruising leg (after all, when do we have the time to do it otherwise?) only to find we’re looking at different data than we do when we’re in full cruise mode.
The challenge is to make sure to set up everything you want to see at the right time. So now your wonderfully flexible screens end up dedicated to one function—where’s the fun in that? Instead, the designers of systems are sensitive to the comfort level of boaters and provide powerful smaller displays to help the cause, whether it’s a couple of instrument units (sailors use them all the time) or a smaller MFD placed off to the side and linked to the system. The additional instruments can be set to one data source (heading, for one example, or engine temperature for another) and left there. A smaller MFD off to the side can be dedicated to constant collision avoidance, showing AIS data only, or just a radar display.
“One trend we have been seeing lately though is people using our 6- and 7-inch a65 and a75 multifunction displays as big-screen instruments,” says Jim McGowan, marketing manager for the Americas for Raymarine. “They have very robust, customizable data-display pages and they are touchscreen. And you can also program to always start-up to whatever screen you want, so they behave just like an instrument. The bonus of using them as instruments is that you can also still call up all of the normal MFD stuff on them too, like radar, a chart, IP video camera feeds, weather, and more.”
And thanks to that integration all the data that you have immediately available on that separate display is also available to add to your main screens. Radar overlay on the chart is still an option. Same goes for AIS: Targets will still appear on the chart plotter and in some systems allow direct one-touch DSC VHF calls. So now you can have some flexibility on your main displays, and use that power, and you won’t miss a thing.
This article originally appeared in the February 2015 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.