Inventor of Ethernet confused by his new Garmin marine electronics!
Bob Metcalfe doesn’t deserve this entry’s title, but he’s a good sport and I wanted to get your attention. Plus, I did indeed spend a morning helping the Ethernet’s inventor get more comfortable with his extensive new Garmin system, and got reminded of several marine electronics truths in the process:
- Current systems can be dauntingly complex no matter who you are (or who designed them)
- Smart successful guys like this one are usually adept at finding a subject “expert” like myself to get them up to speed more quickly
- Such experts never know everything
Bob has owned this handsome Ellis 32 for nearly 30 years, often using it to visit his Maine outer island camp. So he is familiar with navigating thick fog, swift tidal currents, and big ledges. But while the Ellis yard did a beautiful job of installing his new Garmin electronics last winter — at least to my eye — the “owner orientation” aspect of the redo was mainly an email of links to the many manuals involved:
- GPSMAP 8616xsv
- GMR Fantom 24
- Panoptix PS51-TH
- Reactor 40 Hydraulic Corepack with SmartPump v2
- AIS 800 Blackbox Transceiver
- VHF 215 Marine Radio
I’ve actually spent some time with a few of those manuals now, and am happy to report that Garmin has improved in this area. But it’s no surprise that trying to figure what all this gear can do — not to mention all the nuances of making it do what you want — could challenge even an experienced boater with multiple engineering and computer science degrees from MIT and Harvard, a current position as UT ECE Professor of Innovation, and a whole lot of tech adventures in between.
So I was impressed that Bob already had a concept about how to use his two 16-inch very multifunction displays — the left big-picture strategic and the right near-range tactical — plus which functions and data he wanted on each. And I think we came up with a fairly satisfying solution, though there were bumps along the way. For instance, in the photo above he’s learning how he can select which data fields he wants showing alongside his chart/radar screen, but it took a while for us to learn together that his engine data does not show as available choices unless the Yanmar is running.
Also, I had advised Bob to bring along an SD card so we could set his system up with the ActiveCaptain app, and I’d even brought along a card with firmware updates in case the AC method didn’t work. But we couldn’t find an SD card slot.
My insistence that there must be a remote SD card reader somewhere probably didn’t help with my “expert” status, but I’d never seen a Garmin or most any other MFD that large without one. However, the SD limitation is clearly stated in the Garmin 8400/8600 install manual that I should have brought along on my iPad, especially because searching the version built into the 8616 didn’t work well and our internet connections in the Rockland marina were not tiptop either.
We sure weren’t going to pull one of the MFDs out or unscrew that sumptuous rubbed teak panel, but the Ellis installer had kindly inserted (what seemed like) a blank SD card, and so we got ActiveCaptain working on the MFD. And we might have completed the update process except that Bob understandably liked the raster charts I showed him (on my iPad’s AC app), but then his phone couldn’t quite complete the large download that would have put them on Enthusiasm’s big bright screens.
I’m actually a fan of Garmin’s multipurpose AC app and the free U.S. raster charts included, and while the system has performed fairly well on Gizmo, I suspect that frustrating scenes like the one Bob and I experienced are not uncommon. So I look forward to the next evolution, like maybe when the Garmin MFDs get online by themselves, and then, I think, a backside-only SD card slot will rarely be a hassle.
Incidentally, the Furuno TZT series MFDs are the only other backside-SD-only MFDs I know of, but their USB port supports some remote SD card functions. The Garmin 84/86xx series also has a USB port, and while I can’t find any documentation of SD support, it does support touch control (and display via HDMI) of a remote PC and also USB OTG media devices like Blu-Ray players and Chromecast streaming. Wow! Can any other MFD do either?
Mind you, I didn’t discuss these USB/HDMI ports with Bob, because they fall into the area of “What all this gear can do?” he probably doesn’t give a hoot about. But, then again, I did enjoy kidding him about how his splendid new system runs Linux despite his 1999 prediction that Windows 2000 would be the end of Linux (Wikipedia documentation here).
But I also left him with plenty of things to kid me about. The funniest involved the Fusion Apollo 770 stereo that’s also part of the new electronics. It wasn’t really part of the morning’s program, but I turned it on at some point to show him how well the MFDs could control it — Bob may have eye rolled — and we also used the big touchscreen controls and keyboard to identify and sensibly name the speaker zones.
However, the Fusion was turned down low when a later engine start generated an unsurprising low oil pressure visual alarm, plus a loud audible horn and female voice alarm that came as a complete shock to both of us and possibly neighboring boats.
Who knew? Seriously, I can’t find any reference to the rather amazing audible alarm features possible with the Garmin 84/86xx and Fusion 770 combination (and maybe other similar combinations) except for the dry manual reference I later found (above). But look, the MFD can even turn the stereo on for selected alarms; change its source, volume, and more; and do that all over NMEA 2000. Wow!
Back in the real world of boating on beautiful-but-serious Penobscot Bay, I realized that Bob’s desired strategic/tactical screen mode is nicely supported by what Garmin calls SmartMode. It allows a user to design a set of favorite screens for two or more MFDs at a given “station” (like Enthusiasm’s helm), and the saved settings seem to run deep, including details like custom data bars and radar/sonar presets.
A specific SmartMode screen setup becomes a button that will return both screens to a familiar state regardless of what’s gone on before, and hopefully “Bob Smart View” is pretty much fulfilling his screen expectations. We also made a copy of that SmartMode setup so he can experiment without messing up the “Hey, I’m underway now” version, and maybe he’s created more and gotten those raster charts loaded while enjoying this especially fair Maine summer.
But here’s the real theme of this entry: If you sometimes find yourself overwhelmed by your incredibly able and configurable marine electronics, whatever the brand, I think that we’re all in very good company.