Simrad Marine Electronics: The Correct Choice – Or Did We Make A Mistake? Updated 3/8/17

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*Since we posted this article, we have had several comments from readers. Of particular interest was an email from blogger Peter Hayden (MVTanglewood.com). Scroll down to read Peter’s comments on his Simrad experience. We are curious to know your thoughts if you use Simrad, in particular their radar…Please comment and let us know.*

We’ve now had 11,000 nautical miles of concentrated experience with the Simrad Marine electronics suite aboard FPB 78-1 Cochise, and the time has come for an evaluation.

This is the first time we have personally used an integrated electronics package–in this case including radar, autopilot, chart plotter, depth sounder and forward looking sonar, AIS, VHF, and side scan sonar. In the past we have chosen what we felt was the best radar (usually Furuno), autopilot (mostly WH), radios (typically Icom), and chart plotter (most recently Rose Point).

This time we went with Simrad for several reasons. They had a robust and stable software platform, the charting system accepted a wide variety of different manufacturers’ charts, we were very impressed with the 4G radar and assumed (wrongly as it has turned out) that the Halo would be a breakthrough in target definition due to its much larger antenna. We also liked the apparent ease of operation, and there were theoretical benefits cost-wise to the installation of an integrated system.

We were concerned with the autopilot being able to handle our big rudders in heavy weather without oversteering, and did not give much credence to the “Go Free” wireless app.

First the good news. The platform is indeed stable. We have not had a system lockup. The AP70 pilot is superb. There are a variety of work modes that are easily programmed and switched between, and the turn and track functions work very well. We really like this autopilot. Our only complaint is that sea state, or dead-band as it is sometimes called, is not easily changed and is global rather than being adjustable for each work mode. The forward looking and side scan sonars are useful and very modest in cost compared to a proper searchlight sonar (but of course have nowhere near a searchlight sonar’s capability).

The list of comments that follow were compiled by both Steve Parsons and this writer. Between us we have in excess of half a million sea miles of experience using radar, along with a fair amount of paper and electronic charting time as well. While it is entirely possible we have some installation or operator issues impacting our Simrad performance, we have been unsuccessful in getting a response from anyone at the company towards educating us – or checking out our systems – which in itself, of course, sends a message. Since SetSailors know we are using this gear, there is an implied endorsement if we don’t mention the negatives.

We consider radar to be the most important of all electronics tools. And the most critical aspect of radar is target definition and the ability to pull targets out of rain and sea clutter. Everything else is secondary. Here are the items we forwarded in several emails to Simrad:

  • There is not much difference between a solid red return, and upon fine-tuning the return diminishes to nothing. This is the case despite careful fine-tuning with gain and clutter. So it is harder to differentiate between e.g. a rain squall and a legitimate target compared with other radar displays, which have a clearer visual graduation of target density, i.e. gradual color change red-yellow-green-blue. Experientially this is more than just a sensitivity adjustment issue–even worse when gain, etc are set to auto.
  • You have to set EBL/VRM points before going into the menu to bring them up–not user friendly, especially for accuracy.
  • Separate adjustments for each of the EBL/VRMs would be more useful, e.g. for setting up transits on anchor watch.
  • The range rings become impossible to discern when in night mode.
  • Sometimes radar setting adjustments (gain, rain and sea clutter) don’t get applied even though the values change on screen–you have to put the radar into standby, then transmit again.
  • Targets can appear blotchy even with target magnification reduced. This is not helpful when making out the lay of a reef/pass.
  • There is no way to position the radar within the ship envelope, so using the radar for precision anchoring is not practical.
  • Actual distance measurements within 100 meters are way off.
  • There appears to be no method of saving MARPA and AIS tracks.

The chart plotter:

  • When plotting/editing a route, there are many superfluous mouse clicks. It could be more user-friendly.
  • There is no ‘fly-over’ mode after saving a route- this option is invaluable as a means of finding plotting errors.
  • Also useful would be a warning when a route being plotted extends beyond the purchased chart area.
  • In the list of saved routes there is no column for total distance for each route.
  • The vessel track sometimes stops recording and needs to be re-started. This is not an issue of available memory.
  • Would it be possible to have navigational hazards displayed when in a range greater than 5 nm? This should be a user decision.
  • This is relatively common with smaller recreational units, but the MARPA values are unreliable- the recorded tracks of MARPA vessels would be safer.
  • The AIS settings are difficult to adjust, e.g. range at which AIS targets appear.
  • The Simrad manuals are vague and not much use when attempting to diagnose a settings issue. They seem to be more of a general overview than effective user manuals.

We are hopeful that there will be a software upgrade that corrects these issues, or we will find a glitch somewhere, but if not, we will eventually have to replace the Halo radar. Based on this experience the owner of FPB 78-3 has decided to go with Furuno gear.

Email from blogger Peter Hayden:

I had a very similar Simrad experience on Tanglewood, and my blog (MVTanglewood.com) has been referenced in various comments on your blog. Sorry you had to go through the same thing. I had a long litany of issues, and Simrad was unable to fix, or even give me a plan to fix any of them. Possibly the worst of them was the near useless MARPA performance, which their engineering team in NZ finally reproduced and confirmed was a design/software issue. They said it would be fixed in 6-9 months, but I elected to abandon the Simrad gear and switch to other. It has now been 2.5 years and they still have not fixed the MARPA performance, so in retrospect I made the right decision to cut bait. Lots of people try to blame it on the radar begin a small, consumer device, but Furuno’s similarly sized, consumer devices perform as expected, so there is no merit to that excuse.

It’s all quite a shame because I genuinely believe Simrad has a good – even exceptional – system architecture and strategy. That’s why I bought into it in the first place. But the implementation quality level is very poor, and only suitable for the center console market where people generally don’t know good from bad. It’s not their fault – they just haven’t used a wide enough selection of equipment to know what should be expected.

Anyway, I’m now very happy with my collection of dedicated devices, each best-in-class, but still integrated using industry standard interfaces so I’m not locked into any one vendor. The results have been very satisfying.


Posted by Steve Dashew  (March 8, 2017)




9 Responses to “Simrad Marine Electronics: The Correct Choice – Or Did We Make A Mistake? Updated 3/8/17”

  1. Gene Says:

    Yet another example of the “walled garden” approach under performing a standardized open architecture platform. The worst part is that as long as the center console market segment Peter Hayden mentions keeps buying Simrad there is no incentive for them to correct the issue. My turn to be Captain Obvious–I bet you were at least a little miffed that you didn’t come across Peter’s blog about his experiences before you made your choice to go with the Simrad suite. Not rubbing in the salt–more commiserating because I have been there more than once.

    Steve Dashew Reply:

    Actually Gene, we were well aware of Peter Hayden’s issues, discussed them with Simrad, and were assured they had been or were being addressed.


  2. Eric Bradley Says:

    I was close to pulling the trigger on a navigation package nearly identical to what you have on COCHISE for our 60′ steel hull trawler CONGRIO. See Passagemaker Magazine March 2017 issue, page 60, for an article about the boat. The advice I have received from several “experts” is stay with an integrated system of one brand. In addition to the benefits you point out is that if something goes wrong with one component the finger gets pointed at the other guy and nobody solves the problem.

    Perhaps the development of sophisticated integrated systems is regressive. Our last boat had a mixture of Furuno radar, Simrad autopilot and chart plotter, and ICOM radios we bought in 1999 and it all worked, including the Furuno MARPA, flawlessly.

    The question I have is, do we now go with a single brand integrated system or a collection of the best in class of dedicated devices? I tally Peter Hayden’s vote for the latter. Is anybody else using a collection of different devices these days and contrary to what experts tell me, do they talk to each other as they are advertised?

    Steve Dashew Reply:

    Hi Eric:
    Based on what wee know so far I would choose the best in class and not worry about integration. This worked for us before we “integrated”. The Simrad gear is OK, excepting the Halo radar.


  3. sverre koxvold Says:

    Delicious comments.
    When I was sailing around the North Sea/Norwegian Ocean, instrumentation was not so crucial as I was never more than 2 days from land. But crossing oceans, that’s when exact and durable guides are important. So sharing your views after testing the Simrad equipment over a long period, is very very useful to others.
    Thank you for doing this.

    Sverre, now in Scotland.


  4. Matt L Says:

    Interesting article that confirms to importance of the FPB concept:

    Massive rogue waves aren’t as rare as previously thought
    Findings are critical for safe operations at sea

    https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170308114617.htm?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+sciencedaily%2Ftop_news%2Ftop_science+%28ScienceDaily%3A+Top+Science+News%29

    Best Regards to the SetSail Team and the SetSailor Community at large.

    Matt L

    Steve Dashew Reply:

    Interesting link Matt:
    Thanks.


  5. Douwe Gorter Says:

    Interesting article! Since you asked for comments on experience with integrated instruments, here is our take on it. On our aluminium Dijkstra 55 we have chosen to install a rather minimal set of instrumentation. Installed 2014, now 10.000 miles both in cold, north Norway and warmer, Portugal, Azores circumstances. We have chosen mainly instruments we had good experience with on our last boat. Sailing instruments: B&G Triton, performance ok although the 5 clocks had different SW versions when delivered and upgrading proves fairly difficult. The water temperature gauge which is integrated in the DST 800 gauge is broken, no warranty and according to Navico NL “most of them are broken…”.
    We had loads of issues with the 3G B&G radar which was replaced under warranty after considerable pressure from our side by Navico in Norway when we were sailing back from Lofoten. Our Simrad NSS 12 would not recognise radar or lost communication with the 3G in at least 50 percent of the operating time. At that time we decided to replace by Simrad 4G. Performance of the 4G radar is much better and this radar never lost communication. We have a stand alone Furuno GPS and NAVTEX which are only connected by NMEA 0183. Our Raymarine S3G is connected via NMEA 0183 as well. VHF is Sailor 6222 class A DSC. AIS is Versper marine X8000 connected via N2K. We decided not to connect our engine information since our very basic BetaMarine does have the gauges and we want to keep things as simple and basic as possible. Other than the issues mentioned we are happy with navigation instruments performance and reliability.


  6. Rico Says:

    I came across this link and thought I would share it here as it ties into your black swan theory. http://rsmas.miami.edu/news-events/press-releases/2017/study-finds-massive-rogue-waves-arent-as-rare/
    Thanks for all your updates.