Furuno TZT3 on the Water
Some of you will remember that I reviewed NavNet TZtouch2 for Panbo back in 2015 shortly after Furuno began delivering the system. Proving that I am an incorrigible “early adopter”, I am back to share initial impressions of the TZtouch3 MFDs and other new hardware that Furuno introduced last winter.
The saga began last October when I ran my 37-foot custom cold-molded wood/epoxy sport fishing boat from my home in Massachusetts back down to where she was built at Lightning Yachts in Beaufort, North Carolina. The plan was to have the yard make a few changes and set myself up for early offshore fishing in the spring down south. Three years of using an electronics suite made by another leading manufacturer (which shall remain nameless) had left me disappointed, especially in the radar’s reliability and performance.
The long trip down confirmed my dissatisfaction. I decided to swap out one of the two MFDs at the main helm for a Furuno TZT2 and replace the 25kW 6-foot radar array with the Furuno equivalent. Although I would lose the flexibility of a fully networked system, this was the simplest way to get what I knew would be a much better radar.
Then in the middle of the winter, Furuno started dropping hints in the market about the introduction of new products at the big Florida boat shows… so I just had to wait and see. The Miami show came around and after getting assurances that Furuno had learned their lesson from the TZT2’s long shipping delay and was ready to ship the new hardware within a few weeks, I decided to remove and sell my old stuff and go to a full Furuno system. The major exception was the autopilot, which worked fine and would be a lot of labor to swap. That replacement did not seem necessary since it could take navigation data over NMEA 2000 just as well from a Furuno MFD as its own brand.
Next thing I knew, big boxes had shown up in Beaufort and my helm looked like this:
The system I have on board consists of the following:
- Two TZtouch3 16-inch MFDs at the main helm
- TZtouch2 12-inch MFD at the tower helm (the new TZT3 12 is too wide to fit)
- DRS25A-NXT 200W solid-state Doppler radar with 6-foot open array
- SCX-20 satellite compass
- DFF-3D black box triple beam fish finder
After about six weeks using the new system, I am really quite pleased and don’t regret my decision to change at all. Having had a TZT2 system in the past, the TZT3 was very familiar. I would characterize the changes as evolutionary, not revolutionary. The display screen is a little brighter and higher resolution. The new user interface (which is now also available on the TZT2 with the version 7 software update) consists of many relatively small changes that taken together significantly improve ease of use and functionality.
A good example is the ability to shift back and forth to full screen for each element of a multi-panel display. Let’s say we have a custom three-panel screen with the left half devoted to the chart plotter and the right half split between the sonar and a “highway” navigation display. The unit can be set so that a quick two-finger tap on one of the three panels will put it in full-screen mode. A two-finger tap on the full screen takes you back to the split-screen display. One very useful customization feature in the user interface is that there are two finger long tap and short tap gestures and each can be set to a variety of tasks. I use the short tap for full screen and the long tap for saving a screen shot. Either gesture can be used for other commands, however, such as saving a waypoint, opening the settings menu, showing the list of waypoints, or opening the tide graph.
Another very helpful change is the contextual menus. If the radar display is active, swiping up from the bottom brings up a detailed radar settings menu. The same is true for the chartplotter and sounder. On the old TZT2 interface, it was necessary to go back to “Home” and then select the radar, chartplotter, or sounder settings. Now one step takes the place of three.
From a performance standpoint, the TZT3 is a very fast system. It retains the nearly instantaneous chart redraw that was a hallmark of the TZT2 and all of the menu and settings pop right up with virtually no delay — a lot faster than the TZT2 and the system I replaced.
TZ iBoat Cloud Integration and Furuno Apps
One of the most useful features of the new Furuno user interface is the full synchronization with the Nobeltec Time Zero internet-based infrastructure of apps and webpages. The TZT3s and TZT2s with the version 7 software can be logged in to a free TZ Cloud account over WiFi and will automatically synchronize waypoints and routes in both directions. If one TZT3 on a boat’s network is synchronized with the TZ Cloud account, the other units will all be synchronized locally as well.
This allows for a constant complete backup of all waypoints and routes to the Cloud storage in real-time whenever there is WiFi access from the boat. It also makes it very easy to plan a route at home using the TZ iBoat app on an iPad since it isn’t necessary to do anything at all to move it to the MFDs on the boat other than ensuring the MFDs are logged into the TZ Cloud account over WiFi, which they will do automatically if WiFi is available. It’s quite impressive to drop a new waypoint on the MFD and then see it appear on the iPad a couple of seconds later or to delete a waypoint on the iPad and have it disappear from the MFD in a few seconds. Of course it is always possible to create a backup file on the MFD and save it to a microSD card, or to export the current data set from the app and download it. This allows you to create a “frozen” data set just in case something goes wrong.
Having used the Garmin Active Captain interface, my observation is that the TZ iBoat is much superior and completely seamless. With Active Captain, the possibility of creating duplicates of waypoints and routes is high when uploading and downloading. Active Captain doesn’t really synchronize so much as overwrite from the local MFD data set to the web based data set and vice versa. Creating a route at home and transferring it to the boat’s MFD is fairly cumbersome and requires the user to go through a couple of steps, unlike the automatic synchronization of the TZ Cloud system.
The TZ iBoat app also largely replicates the chartplotter user interface of the TZT3 and can thus be used on the boat as an additional display even when away from an internet connection by using one of the MFDs to create a local WiFi access point. The iPad will then get real-time data from the MFD for position, heading, AIS, and so on. In the iPad screen shot above, you can see the app displaying AIS targets, depth, wind speed, sea temperature, and sea temperature, all of which are coming from the TZT 3 and being updated. While the app itself is free, it is necessary to buy a chart subscription for the app if you want the full functionality. The US charts are about $20/year.
Furuno has not updated the legacy NavNet apps for a long time. These do work with TZT3 but have very limited functionality apart from mirroring the MFD display on board. My impression is that they will eventually discontinue the legacy apps in favor of the Time Zero iBoat app.
I don’t own a copy of the Time Zero PC software and thus could not try out the integration with that platform. Nobeltec says it works the same way as the TZ iBoat in linking to the Cloud accounts, however, and has more powerful tools for editing and managing the waypoints and routes. It can also integrate fully with the MFD network and show radar and sounder displays.
SCX-20 Satellite Compass
From a value for money standpoint, the most impressive piece of new gear is the SCX-20 satellite compass. It costs just a little more than most conventional heading sensors (typical discounted “street” price is around $1,000 versus $725 for the Furuno PG700 magnetic heading sensor) yet it provides remarkably better performance in a very small footprint compared to prior models of satellite compass. With magnetic fluxgate heading sensors, even after going through the calibration procedures, small heading errors creep in. Running north with no current or wind might see 0 degrees heading and 0 degrees course over the ground from the GPS, while running south might show 180 degrees course over the ground and 177 degrees heading. Rough seas would make matters worse from the pitching and rolling.
With the SCX-20, the heading errors just don’t happen and it seems immune to sea conditions. Indeed, using the three-axis speed output it can generate (Panbo illustrations here), it is easy to see what is happening when there’s a disparity between the heading and the course over the ground. For example, you might be making 27 kts forward but also 0.5 kts to starboard from the current, producing a course over the ground of 90 degrees while the boat is headed 86 degrees. The GPS position and speed data from the SCX-20 is also amazingly accurate due to the four high-performance GPS receivers it uses. Apparently the SCX-20 is proving so popular that dealers cannot keep them in stock, so I don’t seem to be alone in viewing it as a breakthrough product in terms of price and performance.
DRS25A-NXT Open Array Radar
After 30 years of using magnetron radars, I made myself a guinea pig for Furuno’s effort to produce a solid-state open array radar that could equal the long range and target discrimination performance of their 25kW magnetron, which has been the top end of recreational radar for many years. The “25” in the DRS25A-NXT Furuno model designation is intended to signify that this is the solid-state equivalent of a 25kW conventional magnetron, but with all of the advantages of a solid-state radar such as instant-on with no warm-up, Doppler target tracking, low radiation levels, less power consumption, and longer service life. The DRS25A-NXT has 200 watts of output power, which is eight times the nominal power of the Simrad Halo 6 open array and nearly double the power of the new Garmin Fantom 126 open array. It is derived from the high power commercial solid-state radars Furuno introduced a couple of years ago.
When I fired it up for the first time, I was a bit anxious due to my prior experience with other solid-state radars. Those units worked just fine for navigation targets out 6 to 8 miles and would probably get the job done for most people most of the time. But I need more than that. I need to be able to see birds 4-6 miles away so that I can find the fast-moving tuna that will frequently be under them. I also need to see small lobster pot floats in the fog or at night when they tend to leap out of the water unexpectedly to grab a prop. That’s also why I mounted the biggest antenna array that would fit (even though some people claim the six foot radar antenna makes the boat look like an idling helicopter when spinning).
Although I am by nature skeptical, I have to say that Furuno delivered the goods with the DRS25A-NXT. Running with auto gain and auto sea state, I was inclined at first to switch to manual tuning to reduce some of what appeared to be clutter. Lots of small low-intensity targets were speckled about here and there across the 3-mile range I had set. But since it was a nice clear sunny day, I was quickly able to confirm that I was seeing real targets on the radar display, not noise or wave tops. Those marks were birds and small pot floats, and even a few pieces of small floating debris such as escaped party balloons and tree branches. The target discrimination was spectacular. I spotted a pair of kayakers over a mile away paddling along less than 10 feet apart as two distinct targets. The ARPA (automatic radar plotting aids) that Furuno calls “Fast Target Tracking” picked them up and quickly showed their course vector and speed.
Here is a screen shot that illustrates the ability of the radar to see small, weak targets. The red targets with numbers are moving vessels being tracked by the ARPA. The other red targets on the water are buoys, stationary vessels, and few lobster pots with radar reflecting flags. The weak black marks are birds and small pot floats. You can also see the convenient slide out data box on the left with the contextual radar control menu that allows immediate access to the gain, sea state, and rain settings (set to Auto here).
Furuno has also produced the first solid-state radar that can match the bird-spotting performance of their own magnetron radars, which in my experience are the best. I have made quite a few offshore fishing trips and seen small groups of birds as far as six miles away on relatively calm days with the DRS25A-NXT. The “bird mode” setting is not all that helpful, however. I felt I was doing better with the traditional manual tuning approach of turning off the sea state filter and cranking the gain up.
The other weak performance aspect of prior solid-state radars has been showing targets at long range. The DRS25A-NXT succeeds in equaling or exceeding the performance of a magnetron in this area as well. Running home from offshore with the other manufacturer’s 25kW magnetron I had previously, the relatively low island shoreline would start to appear on the screen about 10-12 miles out. With the new Furuno radar, I can see it from about 16 miles out. It does extremely well with thunderstorms as well. In the screenshot above, you can see a thunderstorm that’s 95 miles away and behind a large area of rain.
With the highly accurate heading data from the SCX-20, the radar overlay on the chartplotter is a perfect fit to the charted shoreline. Above is a screenshot from my slip showing the harbor basin. There are some sailboats rafted up on moorings ahead of me. At the upper left, you can see two boats passing close together in the narrow entrance channel between the rock jetties.
Note that the long-range rain storm image is overlaid on a raster chart while the harbor view shows you the vector chart. One of the frustrations I had with my prior system was that it pretty much locked you into the manufacturer’s proprietary cartography. The TZT3 is very flexible. It comes with free U.S. NOAA raster and vector charts that are updated regularly. For many regions, Navionics and C-Map charts are available for purchase. Recently, the highly detailed C-Mor bottom contour charts also became available for purchase.
One of the major strengths of the DRS25A-NXT is its ability to track as many as a hundred targets that it can acquire automatically. It identifies the moving targets through both the conventional ARPA and by the Doppler shift, which is something only a solid-state radar can do.
Above you see the “Target Analyzer” mode in which targets that are moving away or have no risk of collision are painted green and ones that pose a risk of collision are red. The same shot in conventional mode is below. (The ARPA Fast Target Tracking is active on both screens and is tracking some small boats in a pond behind the shore as well as what are quite likely some cars on a road.)
Internal CHIRP Sounder
The TZT3 16 has a very capable 1kW built-in CHIRP fish finder, generally similar to what is available on competing MFDs. As would be expected from Furuno, which has long had a reputation for producing excellent fish finders (the company introduced the world’s first commercial fish finder in 1948), the TZT3 internal sounder provides excellent results. Of course sounder performance is very much dependent upon the quality of the transducer it is driving. But even with relatively low-cost transducers, the performance is very good. With the mid-level Airmar B175 pair of transducers that I have installed, which I was also using with the prior system, I definitely noticed an improvement. The Furuno sounder does a great job showing fish holding close to the bottom and throughout the water column.
DFF-3D Multi-Beam Sounder
Furuno pioneered side-scanning sonars for recreational fishing boats a number of years ago. Those units have an enormous transducer assembly that has to be lowered through a tube inside the hull, and correspondingly big price tags. They are only found on very large multi-million dollar sport fishing boats. Faced with competition in the recreational market from low-cost side-scanning sounders from Garmin, Simrad, and Raymarine, Furuno developed the DFF-3D as a moderately priced alternative. It isn’t exactly cheap and will run over $3,000 with the special transducer that is required, which is quite a bit more than the systems from the other manufacturers.
Is it worth it? I think for many fishermen, it will be helpful but won’t exactly be a life-changing device. The major advantage it has over the competition is the ability to operate at much greater depths. The competitive offerings can’t really display much beyond 100 feet. I have used the DFF-3D in 300 feet of water and it was holding bottom and showing good detail. It will show bait and fish well off to each side of the boat with sufficient detail to identify whether something is out there. The most interesting display is the moving bottom map, which you can see in the screenshot above. The single red dot near the center is a fish. By tapping on the screen, you can drop a waypoint on the location where the fish appeared and steer back over it.
Weather Data Portal
Furuno provides free access to weather data and forecasts that can be downloaded to the TZT3 over Wi-Fi and also accessed through the TZ iBoat app. It is a reasonably good source of predictions for wind, waves, temperature, and precipitation. Moving the time slider at the bottom advances the forecast period, and tapping anywhere on the screen shows local detail (as seen above).
In addition to my old autopilot, I had some other devices from the original installation that would need to work with the new Furuno TZT3 displays, including an Airmar 220WX weather sensor, NMEA 2000 fuel tank and freshwater tank sensors, a Digital Yacht AIT 5000 Class B+ AIS transponder, an Icom M604 VHF, and a Standard Horizon GX5500 VHF.
We ran into just a couple of minor quirks and limitations of the TZT3 hardware and software during the installation. Otherwise it all worked together. Though I suspect that Bill Schwabe at Lightning Yachts — who built the boat four years ago and did the electronics installations both times — might disagree. He had to do some fine-tuning to get everything to fit because of the greater depth of the TZT3 compared to the MFDs I had before.
As with the TZT2, the TZT3 does not have an NMEA 0183 input port, so getting the DSC sentences from the VHF radios onto the network would have required an adapter to convert them to NMEA 2000 PGNs. I decided this just wasn’t especially useful or important enough to justify the cost. In the quirk department, the TZT3 could see the fuel tank sensors and display the tank levels. However, the Furuno software created a dilemma in setting up the fuel used and remaining range data boxes. It has two modes that are exclusive and cannot be used together: “manual” fuel management in which you input the quantity of fuel in the tanks and add every time you buy more fuel, and “automatic” in which the system uses tank level data from the sensors. The problem with this is that tank level senders are not very accurate as the fuel sloshes around at sea and a poor option. With the “manual” mode, the remaining fuel display is extremely accurate because the MFD is using the fuel consumption data from the engine ECMs and subtracting it from the fuel quantity you have entered.
Manual fuel management was the way to go but oddly this made it impossible to display the tank levels from the sensors on the MFDs. I came up with a work around by reconfiguring the fuel tank sensors to appear as “oil tanks” on the NMEA 2000 network. It works but Furuno needs to do a little code writing. I think that the other manufacturers’ products all allow for manual fuel tracking and fuel tank sensor data display at the same time.
The other installation issue we discovered wasn’t a Furuno problem. My old autopilot was happy to allow me to set the SCX-20 satellite compass as the GPS source but refused to use the heading data from the SCX-20, which is vastly more accurate than the autopilot’s fluxgate compass and would improve steering. After a few exchanges with the initially puzzled but quite helpful and diligent tech support at the autopilot’s manufacturer, I was told that they had deliberately blocked the use of any heading data except their own because of performance concerns. Sounds to me like a way to make sure that customers are forced to buy only their heading sensor.
Summing it all up, I think that the new high power solid state DRS25A-NXT has set a new benchmark for recreational radars. It’s an expensive and somewhat specialized tool that makes sense for larger boats and offshore fishing, though it isn’t any more expensive than equivalent open array radar products from other companies and actually cheaper than some. The SCX-20 is a no-brainer if you need a good heading source for chart radar overlay and want to improve the accuracy of your GPS position and speed data. Your autopilot will steer better if it will accept the heading from the SCX-20, which most will do (my old one being the exception). It brings the precision that was previously only available at two to three times the cost from earlier Furuno satellite compasses.
The TZT3 MFDs are a very well-thought-out product demonstrating that Furuno spent lots of time and energy incorporating all the lessons they learned from the TZT2 and prior MFDs. It has a very polished, intuitive user interface with many nice little features that make it easier to use. As with any new generation hardware, the display screen and processors keep getting better and faster as manufacturing costs continue to drop. I like the flexibility that Furuno permits in the choice of cartography. Their free NOAA charts are just fine for most US users.
I think we have reached the point with MFDs that it is hard to go wrong with any of the “big four” offerings from Furuno, Simrad, Garmin, or Raymarine if what you need is a good GPS/ chartplotter. The TZT3 has really helped Furuno to catch up as the TZT2 was getting a bit outdated after five years. This shifts the focus to the peripheral equipment such as radar and fish finders, especially as you go up the cost and performance curve. Personal preference plays a big role in shaping a view as the who makes “better” recreational marine equipment. The new products from Furuno are outstanding and represent a very favorable balance of cost and performance. Especially when it comes to the new high power radar and fish finder units and the new SCX-20 satellite compass, Furuno has created a high benchmark.