Garmin 2015: glass bridge 7600 series, Reactor autopilot, xHD2 radar & more


Garmin introduced lots of new products in Fort Lauderdale yesterday along with the promise that all of them will be shipping by mid-February. There’s even a special Marine 2015 website, while this Garmin blog entry offers a succinct overview of the whole lineup. At the press conference the line that seemed to neatly frame Garmin Marine 2015 was “not necessarily ground breaking, but easier to select, easier to install, and easier to use.” I noticed evidence of all that along with a few features that do indeed seem unique and valuable…


Perhaps the most important new line is the GPSMap 76xx/74xx series, a portfolio of 7-, 8-, 10- and 12-inch displays with the look, feel, and underlying software base that was introduced in the 8000 Glass Helm. So you get features like SmartMode and GRID support but with WiFi and 10Hz GPS/GLONASS built in, and a lower price. Compare a $3,500 GPSmap 7612 with a $5,000 GPSmap 8212 and you might wonder who will buy the latter (but note that the 8212 is almost twice the weight, has more CANbus and video inputs and will still have a place on higher end boats).

Moreover, 76xx/74xx “xsv” models like the one above include built-in sonar and DownVü/SideVü scanning technology, similar to many current Lowrance and Simrad models but with CHIRP and more power. All that simplifies installations considerably, but Garmin is going a step further with combined transducers like this big GT51M-TH thru-hull. Have there ever been combo transducers like these before? There are also new (non-networking) echoMap models with built-in sonar, DownVü, and even SideVü in the 7- and 9-inch sizes, plus a GSD 25 “premium sonar” black box. Sonar is a big part of Garmin 2015, as it is elsewhere, but so far there’s “no comment” on the forward looking variety.


The new xHD2 open array radars may look like xHD but are said to be a complete redesign. They now go up to 6-foot 12kW and have a bird mode that is a prime reason many sportfishing boats have large radars. They also offer dual range, though neither can be overlaid on a chart when both are in use, and you can have two xHD2 radars on the same system.


I had to chuckle at the new echo trails feature, though. I’ve been testing a GMR24 xHD radome recently and was surprised it doesn’t have the echo trail option I think I’ve seen on every radar I’ve ever tried, including earlier Garmin models. Garmin’s “Power of Simple” design discipline is generally admirable and effective, but sometimes goes too far. Apparently enough users complained about the lack of echo trails that they’re back, at least in xHD2. (Update 11/1: “The echo trails, bird mode, and dual radar support are all going to be rolled into our xHD dome products in a January software update.”)


Then there’s the new GHP Reactor autopilot series. One could joke that it was developed in reaction to Raymarine’s Evolution pilot, but that’s a good thing. Gone is the spherical heading sensor, replaced by a 9 axis AHRS that purportedly provides better steering along with easier installation and setup while using less power. Garmin still requires the presence of a GHC control head, at least for the initial setup, but may be the only manufacturer to permit pilot control in their MFD tablet app (and certainly on a watch).


It will be interesting to see how well Garmin’s 2nd generation auto routing feature works now that the guidance generated can be modified. I’ve gotten a lot a of use from the original version even if it was somewhat crude and ignored nav aids, and I’m feeling the same way about the Navionics auto routing now enabled on many Raymarine MFDs. C-Map also can also provide auto-routing algorythms with its charts and I’m hoping for a healthy competition in this area.

I saw some other 7600/7400 software improvements like an improved home page and a neat-looking graphic sail racing start line screen, and I understand they’ll get added to at least existing 8000 models. But the why-didn’t-anyone-think-of-this-before! feature is partially illustrated below. If there’s a Garmin VHF radio connected via NMEA 2000, the SOS button on this 7608 takes you to a list of distress categories like fire, aground, man overboard, etc. In this case I selected sinking and thus the radio has been set up to send a DSC distress message with the specific code for sinking, which is something few people know how to do with their DSC radio even in calm circumstances. Possibly more valuable is the displayed script of the proper things to say once the radio goes from DSC to audio mode. If a Garmin AIS is on the network even your boat’s name and call sign will be filled in, and there other screens available to help you manage a problem.

Congratulations to Garmin on this improvement in safety communications and do you agree that every manufacturer of both MFDs and VHF radios should put this idea high on their developement roadmap?


Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now pleased to have Ben Stein as a very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Please don't regard him as an "expert"; he's getting quite old and thinks that "fadiddling fumble-putz" is a more accurate description.

9 Responses

  1. moose says:

    i run a marine retail shop down here in australia. been a big time garmin fan and this latest upgrade is just amazing. cant wait for it 🙂

  2. Quitsa says:

    One curious thing if the specifications are correct is that the more expensive 8000 units have lower screen resolution than the new 7600 units — 1024X768 on 8212 and 8215 versus 1280X800 on 7612 (which is same as Furuno TZT 14). I looked at an 8215 a few weeks ago and at high zoom levels, the charts did look a bit blocky.
    I really dislike Garmin cartography so no amount of features will lure me in any case, though the 8215 was very slick. I am going to go with the Furuno hardware.

  3. moose says:

    iu wish i could afford those problems 😛

  4. Richard C says:

    I read the manual on the Garmin web site for the Reactor GHP autopilot and was unable to find a “dodge” feature for steering around all those Maine lobster pots. My application is a sailboat with mechanical cable steering so I believe “Shadow Drive” is not possible unless steering is hydraulic. Does anyone know if Shadow Drive is the equivalent of a “Dodge” feature?

  5. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Richard, the GHC 20 control head let’s you change course in 10 degree increments with the left/right soft keys (and you can customize the increment). Doesn’t that enable easy pot dodging?
    Shadow Drive is nice (if you have hydraulic steering) because you can put the pilot in Standby just by using the helm. However, when you stop using the helm, the pilot steers whatever course you’re now on, not the original course…so not great for dodging off a carefully set course.

  6. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    There’s a legal aspect to the sonar wars, though it’s hard to find out what’s really going on. Garmin, for instance, seem very confident about its right to ship SideVu and DownVu technology, but both Johnson Outdoors (Humminbird) and Navico have asked the ITC (International Trade Commission) to investigate patent violations:

  7. Ben
    Very impressed with the products Garmin are bring to market next year.
    Have posted all the different models and specifications on our new Garmin website
    David Lennard
    Hudson Marine

  8. Mark says:

    I am waiting for my new electronic package from Garmin to get delivered for my new boat. 2 8215’s GMR 404hd, ghp20 gsd 26 2 gt40 thp and 1 741. I was told that this package is backordered and Garmin just came out with the 7616’s and I should consider changing. What do you think?

  9. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Mark, I think the 7616 is quite similar to the 8215, and very nice. The 8000 series is heavier built and has extra Ethernet/N2K/video ports, but I believe the 7000’s run nearly the same software and work with all the same radars, sonars, etc. I saw one in action here:

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