Garmin MFDs get Navionics cartography and an updated UI
For the last several years there’s been an unusual situation with Garmin MFDs. They haven’t used Navionics chart presentation or auto-routing. Considering Garmin owns Navionics and has since 2017, that’s left many scratching their heads. Well, scratch no more. Current Garmin MFDs can now use Navionics’ charts, auto-routing, and daily updates. Plus, the ability to display the new Navionics charts is part of an upgrade to Garmin MFDs that includes an updated user interface.
In 2019 Garmin released BlueChart g3 charts built using Navionics data. Although g3 used Navionics data, the presentation stayed the same and the charts looked basically the same as BlueChart g2. Chart updates continued to be released twice a year. Lastly, auto guidance on GPSMap MFDs pretty clearly used a different algorithm than Navionics’ Dock-to-Dock Autorouting. Honestly, it all felt a little strange.
Garmin bought Navionics in 2017 and in 2019 they released new charts that didn’t use some of the best features of their acquisition. But that’s all changed now. Garmin Navionics+ seems to be an elegant merger of the GPSMap’s software with Navionics’ cartography.
Garmin MFDs need their own version of Navionics cartography. So, if you have a Navionics card from another MFD, it won’t work in your Garmin unit. In the United States, each of four large geographic regions cost $150, or the entire U.S. and Coastal Canada can be purchased for $200. Vision+ charts are only available by region for $250 each. Garmin says the additional $100 gets you “high-resolution relief shading, sonar imagery, unique 3D views, high-resolution satellite imagery, aerial photography, and more.” The U.S. South and the U.S. and Coastal Canada appear to include coverage for the Bahamas. Currently, charts are only available on a physical MicroSD card, though the website says download options are coming soon.
It’s a matter of personal taste but I find the display of Navionics+ cartography on Garmin MFDs visually pleasing. I like the color scheme employed better than the one used by BlueCharts or the traditional Navionics coloring. The colors are a little more vibrant. Using BlueCharts I sometimes feel that Garmin oversimplifies the chart in order to cut down on visual clutter and confusion. It looks like they continue to simplify the chart, but, so far the details I’m seeing omitted seem pretty minor, like the red-hashed otter trawl closure area shown on the Navionics screenshot on the left.
I haven’t found Navionics’ Sonar Charts, I don’t think they’re available on a Garmin MFD yet. I hope that changes, or maybe I’ve just missed it.
Auto guidance compared
I routinely warn boaters to review any automatically created route very carefully before following it. On the waters of the Caloosahatchee River, my adopted home waters, I’ve found Garmin’s (now previous generation) auto guidance to be highly suspect. The routing routinely leaves the safe confines of a navigable channel for reasons I can’t determine. The screenshot above shows the magenta line of the automatically calculated route leaving a 9 to 13-foot deep channel to take a path that includes two-foot waters.
Let’s compare auto guidance with BlueCharts g3 shown above. Then, take a look at the route built by Garmin Navionics+ Autorouting.
I’ve done quite a bit of route planning using the new charts and have been consistently pleased with the results. But, that still doesn’t mean anyone should blindly follow the routes it creates. There’s still room to get yourself in trouble following the routes it creates. Especially when there are unusual marker swaps, private marks, or other complications.
We don’t know exactly how auto guidance routes are built but the Garmin press release announcing the new charts gives some hints:
After selecting departure and arrival points, Auto Guidance+ considers a variety of factors – overhead clearance, chart data, popular routes and desired depth – then creates a suggested route for mariners to follow to their destination.
In discussing the new charts, Ben Ellison recalled a conversation he had with Navionics founder Giuseppe Carnevali some years ago. During that conversation, Carnevali mentioned that they could use frequently traveled routes to weight the best route through an area. It looks like that’s exactly what they’re now doing.
Warnings, warnings, warnings!
First, I need to admit this rant might be a little misplaced. I’ve tried very hard to figure out how to turn off the warnings you see above, but I haven’t had any success. When using an auto guidance route, the MFD will warn you of any hazards on your route. These hazards can include anything from bridges, wrecks, other hazards, or even passing close to a marker.
I think firing a warning because the route will pass by a marker is pretty silly. It’s a lot more sillier since the warning can’t be turned off (maybe it’s just that I can’t find it?). I’m a big believer in not firing unnecessary warnings. The only thing they do is condition the operator to ignore them. In this case, that’s exactly what I do with all the hazard warnings.
Garmin GPSMap software release 26.10 brings Navionics+ compatibility and a refreshed user interface. Overall, I think the new UI looks really good. It’s a pretty mild freshening overall. The single largest change is replacing the home screens with a home overlay. Instead of full home screens with multiple rows of icons, pressing the home button now overlays a single, scrollable row of icons overlayed over the current function.
I haven’t fully adjusted to the new home functionality. In some ways, I miss the dedicated home screen but also appreciate the ease of switching between functions without losing visibility of the current function.
My biggest complaint is that Garmin has buried the MFD settings in a spot I don’t find intuitive. When you press the home button there are three dots and the word Options is displayed on the right side right above the icons. Pressing that brings up the screen you see above with a settings button on the bottom left. I use the settings on an MFD quite a bit and think Garmin buried it. I’m hopeful that a future release will make the settings more prominent.
Garmin was due for this update and I think it’s a good one. They’ve done a nice job bringing Navionics’ data and presentation to their MFD software that was (I suspect) never intended to consume Navionics data. And, I should mention that my conversations with numerous MFD product managers and developers suggest this is a larger effort than many may realize.