Written by Ben Ellison on Mar 15, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub
One of many features in Raymarine's latest software update (besides the just-discussed LightHouse charts) is support for multiple sonar sources. While I didn't have the hardware or even the working vessel to test this, it's neat that the demo video I screenshot above is built right into the LightHouse II update (and actually more detailed than the one currently on YouTube). But who needs multiple sonar sources? I know that some readers may perceive it as feature glut, but not I, and I'm not even much of a fisherman...
The major manufacturers seem to be working hard to bring CHIRP improvements to even modest fishfinding hardware and also to the structure detail of high-frequency narrow-beam down and side scanning. I find the latter particularly useful for gunkholing and just plain interesting to keep an eye on (explanation here). And let's hope that Simrad ForwardScan is not the only integrated forward looking sonar in the works. These new technologies are being delivered as black boxes or built right into even small MFDs -- often at little added cost -- and after that purchase/install it's just a matter of installing a new transducer (like this ForwardScan or this Ray CP100 DownVision), plus having a software switch like the one shown above. Then all your MFD screens can have new ways to see underwater.
The LightHouse II feature list also claims new support for GPX format waypoint files, and I found out that it includes importing and exporting GPX route and track files as well. Those waypoint names in the route TestWayNames, for instance, were quickly typed into Coastal Explorer running on a PC. There are also planning improvements like the ability to set a planned SOG or see leg times either as hours or as ETAs. I still don't think that any MFD has the planning abilities of CE or other PC charting programs, though. (But then again, I think we'll soon see a combination of Navionics Mobile auto-routing and auto-syncing with Ray MFD's that's going to be very attractive.)
Plus a Raymarine MFD system can also now handle up to 3,000 waypoints, 150 routes of up to 200 waypoints, and 15 tracks of up to 10,000 points. There are also more waypoint symbols to choose from, and you can search and save waypoints by area, all of which will be appreciated by aggressive cruising navigators and fisherfolk.
With LH II, Ray MFDs also get some level of "DSC support over SeaTalkNG/NMEA200," though I'm hesitant to publish this screenshot. I should not have been messing with a DSC Distress Alert, even from a handheld radio in my mostly underground basement lab, and I was so quick to cancel it that the MMSI apparently wasn't received. But if this was real, wouldn't that be a screen alert that could lead to a speedy rescue? The receiving radio was a Simrad RS-35, and while it seems to perform most DSC functions very well (review to come), I haven't yet figured out if it will receive individual positions from another manufacturer's DSC radio with its "Track your Buddy" function, or whether they'll plot on LightHouse II.
It's not at all new, but note how Raymarine let's you show blue Tidal Current and/or yellow Wind vectors (as well as COG and/or Heading vectors) customized for different chart windows. Note also that fat current arrow is because the simulated boat was doing 30 knots over the ground (SOG) but only 2 through the water (Speed or STW)...
In my experience, Raymarine has always been behind the competition in diagnosing NMEA 2000 networks and selecting a preferred data source when there's more than one. But every version of LightHouse gets better, and I was pleased to call up this detail on a small but very mixed network. The manufacturer's names would have been nice, too, but FYI the list is Raymarine, Fusion, Actisense twice, Vesper Marine, and Garmin. And it's the NGW-1 NMEA 0183-2000 Gateway that does the work of translating 0183 GPS, Heading, Depth, Wind, Speed and other messages from SailSoft's powerful NemaStudio simulation software. I can cruise anywhere on the lab's MFDs even while Maine still suffers through a too long spell of ice and frozen snow.
Now for some features that arrived before LightHouse II, but that I hadn't tried yet, like that handsome Apparent/True wind gauge above. To get it to fill an entire window on the a77 screen, I had to put it in the preconfigured single item Rolling road window, but doesn't it look sharp, especially now that LightHouse II can autohide the top databar? I still wish Ray offered a side databar alternative, because the autohide can get a tad annoying when you use menus much, but note also how much chart ahead you can get in head up mode with vessel offset.
I also tried Raymarine's version of Fusion-Link, which came with LightHouse v6.27 a year ago February (revision history here). It can't do all the deep setup tasks like naming zones that Garmin's Fusion-Link can, and I don't think that even the basic controls are quite as functional. Note, for instance, the tiny type on the source choosing bar, which doesn't get any bigger even if you run the Fusion app full screen. But, cripes, it is a free stereo interface if you already have the hardware, and thanks to the Ethernet connection it does include cover art. Plus, it turned out that Ray has gotten quite liberal about how you set up Ethernet.
I thought I might need to use a switch or a Crossover Coupler, but that was old SeaTalk HS thinking. It was especially nice that I could confirm the greater flexibility of RayNet architecture and the Fusion connection specifically by searching the manual PDF on the Raymarine e127. I ran a Raynet-to-Raynet cable between the two MFDs and Raynet-to-RJ45 to the Fusion IP700 and it all just worked. I know that some advanced users also want the same network to go their boat's WiFi router so they can also use Fusion apps without changing the WiFi source, and I learned in Miami that Raymarine wants to make that happen, too (though they made no committment to when).
So LightHouse II and the whole rapid development of Ray's multi MFD software looks good to me. But I will close with a couple of complaints, illustrated below. For one, I'm surprised that the Navionic 3D mode still doesn't default or even option to look ahead mode (like every other developer's 3D mode). A prime advantage of 3D is seeing detail around and just ahead of your boat while still seeing some detail further ahead, but putting the boat in the middle of the 3D screen reduces all that and emphasizes the detail behind you. It also bothers me that the otherwise useful data overlays that you see at the bottom left of both windows below can't be customized for each window, like many other features can. Am I in the minority for thinking that dual head-up windows are the norm in this world of wide-screen displays?