By Capt. Adam Peeples
Selecting an electronics package for a center console is no simple task. Multi-Function Displays (MFDs), sounders, transducers, autopilots, radar, forward-looking infrared (FLIR), and boat handling technology such as Yamaha HelmMaster give the boat owner a seemingly endless list of options to choose from.
Settling on the package of products that works for your situation, involves wading through the sea of choices and ultimately selecting the manufacturer and components that suits your needs.
Garmin, Simrad, Furuno, and Raymarine are the primary manufacturers of complete electronic packages for center consoles. I personally prefer Garmin electronics, as their user interface is extremely intuitive, and I have the most experience operating Garmin systems. All of the top marine electronics manufacturers make a solid product that can get the job done.
The electronic systems on your boat should aid in navigation and increase your ability to find and stay on your target species. Electronics should make your boat a safer and more effective fishing platform. When outfitting a boat, it is wise to ask the question, “How will this system help me?” If there isn’t an easy answer to this question, you could bypass the addition of the product or system.
While brand preference is a personal choice, the basics of a center console electronics package comes down to two things: navigation and fishing capabilities. The electronics you install on your boat will either help you navigate or catch fish. Any systems that do not accomplish one of these things aren’t necessarily not needed, but are excluded from this article.
The Multi-Function Display is the piece of equipment that ties all the electronic system together. After installation, the multifunction display is the part of the system that most users will interact with most often. While it is possible to get by with only one MFD, the ideal setup will have two or even three. This will allow you to monitor multiple systems such as the chart plotter, radar, and sonar easily, while giving the crew the added safety of redundancy. Being 50 miles offshore and having your boat’s only MFD go south is not a good scenario.
Garmin’s GPSMAP 8612xsv is a 12” touchscreen monitor that is NMEA 2000 network capable. Packing a wide array of features, this MFD networks sonar, radar, cameras, and media such as Sirius satellite weather services and is available from 10” to 24”. It offers wifi capabilities to pair with a smartphone app through which users can monitor and control all the systems on the boat. Other manufacturers offer similar, equally capable MFDs.
In my opinion, it really boils down to which user interface one prefers. Once you have decided on an MFD, the rest of the process is a bit easier. For many boaters, the rest of the electronic systems on the vessel will be from the same manufacturer that produces your MFD. At this point, where you fish and how you fish will dictate the requirements for the rest of the electronics package.
Radar is a must have for navigating at night and during periods of limited visibility. A high-performance open-array radar such as Garmin’s GMR 606 xHD provides not only
the safety of navigational and weather reading capability but is also powerful enough to find birds working tuna schools. A smaller and more compact dome radar, such as the Garmin GMR 18 xHD, has ample power for close range navigational use and weather reading out to 48 miles.
A good sounder and transducer are vital to just about all types of offshore fishing. While products like Garmin’s XSV line of MFDs contain processing capability for your bottom machine, a sounder such as the GSD-26 will allow you to get the most out of your transducer.
Compressed High-intensity Radar Pulse (CHIRP) technology transmits across a range of frequencies—traditional sonar relies on a single frequency. CHIRP provides better target distinction at depth. Rather than seeing a single mass of tuna 300’ under the boat, CHIRP allows you to see the individual fish while distinguishing between the target species and bait returns.
The advantages of CHIRP over traditional sonar make it a must have on any offshore boat. The transducer is the key to bringing the entire fish finding capabilities of the system together. With bilge space being tight on most center consoles, a compact CHIRPready transducer is ideal for most systems.
Craig Cushman, the Director of Marketing for the AIRMAR Technology Corporation, says that the most popular AIRMAR transducer for center consoles is the B175 series of thru-hull transducers. Requiring a hole of only 3 7/8” hole and taking up minimal space in the bilge, the 1kW B175 supplies powerful CHIRP capabilities in a small package. I have a B175H and a B175L on my Cape Horn.
They perform well for bottom fishing, deep dropping, and daytime sword fishing. For larger center consoles such as Captain Shane Toole’s 42LR Freeman Necessity, the option for larger and more powerful transducers exists. Fishing out of Orange Beach, Captain Toole describes AIRMAR’S R599 3kW CHIRP-ready in-hull transducer as his “secret weapon” for projecting a high-quality return of structure and bait.
Toole runs a full Garmin electronics package with two GPSMAP 8624s, a GHP-20 Autopilot, GSD-26 sounder paired with an AIRMAR B175H and a R599 CHIRP-ready transducer, GMR 606 xHD open-array radar, and a GXM-52 SiriusXM marine receiver. According to Toole, the capabilities of the system along with Garmin’s user-friendly interface increase his ability to find and stay on the fish.
Captain Adam Peeples runs the One Shot Charters out of the Destin, Florida area. In addition to running a first-class operation, Peeples is a combat veteran with two deployments in Iraq and a stint as an instructor at the US Army Sniper School to his credit.
Do you have any comments or questions for us? We’d love to hear from you.