The Geonav writers event, part 1


I’ve been waiting on some screen shots before writing about the “Geonav writers event” I attended in early December but, frankly, the gear demonstration was rather preliminary anyway, as the two most technically advanced products — the GIS multifunction and MID instrument displays highlighted here in September — were not shown.   While I’ll soon have more about what I did see in action, I’ve realized that what I did learn a lot about in Florida was the family of companies Geonav has joined.  While it was clear that the brand would undergo serious changes when it was bought by Johnson Outdoors in late 2007, I didn’t really understand what that Johnson name meant until I received the presentation from which I clipped the slide above…

The consumer products giant SC Johnson — as in Ziploc, Fantastik, and Windex, just to name a few brands possibly already on your boat — has excellent reasons to call itself a family company.  It’s not only being run by a fifth generation Johnson, but it’s also still privately owned.  And the same is apparently true for the industrial products company Diversey and Johnson Finance.  One might think that Johnson Outdoors was the exception to the Johnson style because it’s publicly traded, but the stock is very “closely held” (as you can deduce from the very low trading volume), yet another 5th generation Johnson at the helm, and the fact that the family tried to take it private again a few years ago.  Wow!  I’m no expert, but I can’t think of another family that’s managed to grow and hang on to so much business over such a long period.  Poking around those corporate sites, it’s also hard to miss all the awards for treating employees and the environment well, and the long family interest in adventure (and fine architecture).
    So doesn’t this all suggest that Geonav is now being run by folks who play with their own marbles, think in the long term, and have an amazing record at both?  I know that my impatience with what seems like a relatively slow roll out of the new product lines was certainly mollified.  Who can argue that the Johnson clan doesn’t generally do what it sets out to do?  And the Geonav goals were made quite explicit.  The target audience is experienced owners of 24 to 60 foot power and sail boats; the competition is Raymarine, Garmin, Furuno, and Navico; and the plan is to be number two or three in a few years…if not outright winner!

Not only is that a tall order, but in some ways Geonav is a startup.  While the original company may have developed and distributed marine electronics in Europe for 25 years — some interesting stuff, too — those products, the management team, and the manufacturing facilities are history now.  What Johnson Outdoors apparently wanted was a brand name with some international cachet and a distribution network that could also work with the other members of its electronic group — Humminbird, Cannon, and Min Kota.  Business and product development are now in the hands of Bruce Angus (spotted previewing Geonav in Miami last year) and others with deep experience in the saltwater side of marine electronics, while the manufacturing and support has been integrated into the JO electronics group.  (Which has been doing some good work, even if yachties aren’t paying attention, as illustrated here and especially here.)
   Of course there was much talk in Florida about the distinctive product advantages that are are key to Geonav’s success (and which are pretty well laid out at the Geonav site).  I’ll soon discuss the hands-on taste we got of some Geonav distinctions, but I think it’s going to take a while to get a full grasp of the new contender.  What seems obvious now is that the Johnson family  — both literal and corporate — know a lot about patience and perseverance.

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.

17 Responses

  1. Andreas says:

    Looks like some neat stuff. Too bad it doesn’t support NMEA 2000.

  2. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Andreas, the G10/12 MFDs do not support NMEA 2000, but the GIS10/12 MFDs and the MIS instrument display definitely will (though they’re the ones I didn’t get to see demoed).

  3. Chris Witzgall says:

    They have some nice looking gear, but there is not allot of information there. It seems that the website is a bit ahead of actual product availability? I tried the webform to ask for a catalog, but the form errored out. There are no product manuals available. The mention that drive units for autopilots are available, but no specifics on them at all?
    Lastly, not everyone wants or needs (or has the space for) 10in and 12in displays. Bigger is not always better!

  4. One Big plus is that the products are assembled in America! Though not all of the internals are made in the USA, at least the consumer can feel good about an american worker getting their piece of the pie. Makes me want to push the product for that one reason.

  5. Chris says:

    I’ve seen these new Geonav units few times already in different venues, and I must admit they look good. Usability has not been tested in any way yet, at least I think that the software has so far been some sort of Pre-production software… Or then it is just not as good as the price tag would let one assume.
    Anyway, the website has been the same for over a year now, only additions have been the GIS and autopilots that were added. These new units have been “launching” for almost a year now (Genoa boat show Oct 2009), and I am starting to feel that Geonav/JO might miss another season. All major boat shows (at least in Europe) are just around the corner or are already over (London, Dusseldorf)..
    And have to agree previous Chris, would have loved to see 8″ display as well, or even a 7″ and 8,4″… 10″ and 12″ is a deal breaker for many users with smaller/OC boats. But that is why JO has Humminbird, even though it is not the same .. 🙂

  6. Arno Molenaar says:

    The Italian site is still up and there are the smaller chardplotters

  7. Bruce says:

    ‘Thank you’ to Ben and the comments. Ben clarified that GIS10 and GIS12 have NMEA2000. The G10 and G12 are targeted for single station installations and we feel the built-in 2kW sonar is a unique value in this category. The MID110 provides NMEA2000 graphic and alphanumeric info. Geonav in fact, is a start-up and presents a lot of challenges, but it has been fun to bring a comprehensive product line to market! The products are manufactured in Alabama with components from various countries. It is not possible to obtain all components from one country any longer. Geonav and Humminbird address different sectors of the market and the latter have a terrific line-up for the smaller vessels and there is very cool stuff in the pipeline.
    Best to you all
    Bruce Angus

  8. Arno Molenaar says:

    I checked my Geonav 4c and its made in Taiwan

  9. Chris says:

    Arno: Do not confuse the “old” Geonav lineup with the new one (G/GIS). The old ones are original Italian Geonav (manufactured in Far East), and the new ones comes from JO factories in the US.
    Your G4C is manufactured years before JO bought Geonav.. It was the times with Navionics…

  10. Bruce says:

    Arno – The Geonav 4C and Gypsy handhelds are legacy products and no longer available. You are correct that they and other legacy Geonav products were made in Taiwan. The new Geonav products are made in Alabama.

  11. Chris says:

    Bruce and/or Ben,
    is there any confirmed schedule for G/GIS model availability yet? When are we going to see these new units in the market?

  12. Bruce says:

    The G12, G10 and MID110 will ship in February 2011. Shipping now are GSC110 autopilot and accessories, radars, transducers, AIS, MapMaster, 3-axis heading sensor. GIS12, GIS10 and GSM2000 with Side Imaging sonar will ship in fall 2011.

  13. Chris says:

    Briuce, thank you for the update.

  14. Sandy Daugherty says:

    I’m guessing that’s Koden’s radar, a non-issue. Its a bit much to expect a startup to lead with a fully mature and competitive product as challenging as state of the art radars.

  15. Sandy Daugherty says:

    Bruce: are there plans for satellite weather overlays?

  16. Bruce says:

    Chris – Yes, we are using Koden manufactured radars (they mfg in Taiwan) for the reasons you mention. We have additional radar product plans in the hopper.
    Sandy – our MapMaster PC product currently does GRIB satellite photo overlays. We don’t have a sat wx option on the MFDs yet. The big sportfishers definitely want sat wx but I think the overall market for real time wx on 25-50 ft boats is being eroded by the ubiquitous smart phone wx (e.g. ‘MyCast’) in conjunction with marine Wi-Fi and cellular amplifiers, which will serve the needs of most day-trippers and coastal excursions.

  17. Sandy Daugherty says:

    Bruce: 25-50′ boats get beyond cell phone range. But more importantly, easily accessible and more easily understood satellite weather, super-imposed on a chart showing your route, radar, and obstructions is a totally satisfactory answer. If you don’t have it, you aren’t a player.
    Please re-evaluate that decision; without it you have the first strike against you, being the new kid is the second strike. Not having a price advantage would be the third. Having it will keep you in the game.
    I’m rooting for you, as should everyone else in the market, because new competition is essential.

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