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Garmin Start Guidance, a sail racing winner?

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Written by Ben Ellison on Dec 22, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub


While I haven't done much racing, I do know that the prestart manuevering can be quite challenging if not downright scary. It's hard enough to time a sailboat to be at the right place at the right moment going maximum speed in the right direction, but you must also avoid collisions with the competition trying to make the same perfect moves. Some sailors are shy about racing because the starts can be nerve wracking, and one nice aspect of the Garmin Start Guidance software coming out in 2015 is the fact that it's simply software built into a regular multifunction display. Now that I've seen more about how it works, I'll bet that many experienced racers will also want this edge...


I saw a brief demo of Start Guidance when Garmin introduced a slew of 2015 products in Lauderdale, and I've been bugging them for more detail since. Last week they gave me access to a in-house video along with permission to publish screenshots of it. So what you're seeing here is not necessarily the finished software -- for instance, Start Guidance will probably get its own icon instead of the Chart icon used above -- but what follows certainly looks like a good start ;-).

Incidentally, Garmin already offers sailors the Wind Gauge and Race Timer seen in the Start/Gauge combo screen at top, as well as layline and wind rose chart overlays, and I understand that Start Guidance is a combined effort of Garmin and Nexus Marine engineering.


Start Guidance is just a blank screen until you specify the ends of the start line, but that seems fairly easy. You can enter their Lat/Long coordinates if the race committee has dilvulged them or you can ping the marks by sailing your bow as close as possible to them (first having entered the distance from there to the MFD's GPS, internal or otherwise). During this time before the race you'd also determine your best speed and angle to windward (layline) in the prevailing conditions and enter those into Start Guidance if they've changed from the previous race.


Once the ends of the start line are established, the line itself will pop up on even a chart window. But the really useful info is the visualized timing and vector math that will go live in Start Guidance.


First there are the dotted lines showing where you might want to be at a user-set target time before the actual start, depending on which tack you plan to start on. This is what an experienced racer already visualizes mentally, though potentially more accurate. Note how the line furthest from the start automatically indicates the favored tack. So in this particular case -- 22 seconds before the 1 minute gun -- the demo racer seems to be jockeying for the most desirable favored pin position. There's apt to be a lot of traffic in this area so having the timing presented so graphically may allow the helmsman, navigator, and/or tactician -- who all may be one person -- to focus their attention on other important matters.


Once the 1 minute gun fires, the dotted lines vanish and the focus moves to the start line itself. Actually Start Guidance will show you "Time to Burn" whenever you're headed toward the line but here's when it gets critical. The demo racer needs to make up 5 seconds -- as shown by both the white heading line and minus burn number -- but seems in good shape otherwise.


Indeed it seems that heading up a bit got the virtual racer a sweet 2 seconds to burn with 36 seconds to go. Of course all this graphic goodness is dependent on good GPS, wind, and speed sensors, as well a accurate line-end measurements and speed/angle performance estimates, not to mention successful collision avoidance. But that's all possible, and maybe the Garmin MFDs that support Start Guidance could even declare "Well done!" if you cross the line with the 1 second perfection seen below.

I believe that Start Guidance will be included in all the new Garmin GPSMap 74xx/76xx series and will also come to 8xxx and maybe 74x MFDs as a software update. The B&G H5000 that Kees covets can already include a similar (though less graphic) start line screen, which I saw working well on the water, but maybe Start Guidance will encourage B&G, Raymarine and others to develop similar software for their MFDs. I'm not suggesting that a little software can duplicate the very sophisticated features of a high-end racing system like the H5000, but isn't it great that the feature seen here seems doable on most any modern display?


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