Practical Boat Owner

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Best forward-looking sonar: 5 units tested

  • Ben Meakins
  • May 10, 2016

How effective is forward-looking sonar at flagging up shoals and obstacles on the seabed? David Pugh compares the findings from five devices

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Would you like to be able to spot an obstacle before your boat hits it? Of course you would, and so would every other sailor in the world. Looking ahead is the Achilles’ heel of the conventional echo sounder , which can only tell you the depth of the water in which you are already floating. If you wait until the sounder reads zero, it’s too late. That’s where forward-looking sonar comes in.

Admittedly, the conventional sounder can tell you a lot, and in recent years plotters have started to display not only current depth, but also history via their fishfinder screens. It’s a fair bet that if the depth is steadily decreasing, the time will soon come to change course. But this approach only works in gently shoaling water: abrupt changes in depth could spell disaster.

Looking ahead

The traditional approach to looking ahead has always been to do so before you take your boat anywhere near a potential hazard. We do it all the time, using the chart and calling it passage planning. A good survey and a precise position has been the key to keeping boats off the rocks for years, but there are times when this isn’t an option. Some places are still poorly charted, and even in our well-surveyed UK waters there are moving shoals which defy the efforts of hydrographers and harbour buoyage.

One option is to jump in the dinghy with a leadline or sounding pole and carry our your own mini-survey beforehand. But if you’re nosing up a river and simply want an early warning of a shoal, or are nervous of finding the right spot to anchor in a rocky loch, wouldn’t it be nice if your echo sounder gave the depth ahead of the boat?

Best forward-looking sonar: What’s available ?

For years, the undisputed king of the niche market of forward-looking sonar has been Ringwood-based Echopilot. Various iterations of their forward-looking technology have sold all over the world, and their only historical competitor disappeared some time ago.

Now, however, things have changed. Navico, the parent company to Simrad, B&G and Lowrance, recently announced a forward sonar transducer and updated software for their SonarHub module and plotters, while Garmin have developed a version of their high-definition Panoptix fishfinder designed to look ahead. While Echopilot and Navico are in direct competition, the Garmin product is a little different, aiming to find fish at a limited range ahead of the transducer – they provide a version of the transducer designed to fit a trolling motor shaft to facilitate scanning around the boat. However, it does provide imagery of topographical features too, and hence could be of use in spotting hazards.

We gathered together five contenders: three from Echopilot and one each from Garmin and B&G, fitted them to an old 3.6m (12ft) dinghy and put them through their paces in Poole Harbour. We tried looking at a range of features, including solid piling, bridge piers, gently shelving beaches and mooring chains, as well as using the units to find our way down a narrow channel of soft mud.

Echopilot FLS 2D

A channel buoy’s chain, picked up at around 12m

A channel buoy’s chain, picked up at around 12m

The only unit tested with a dedicated display, the FLS 2D comes with a choice of transducers. The standard transducer is sold as suitable for smaller boats, has plastic encapsulation and uses a 45mm through-hull fitting. The ‘Professional’ transducer is a much heavier unit of bronze, costing an extra £170 and using a 60mm through-hull. Installation is simple – fit the transducer, plug it and the power cable into the back of the display and you’re done.

To display the information, Echopilot uses a screen showing a cross-section of the water ahead of the boat. On this are plotted the echoes received by the transducer, using colours graded from blue to red to show the strength of the echo (red being the stronger). By default, the unit is set to choose a range automatically, but the user can override this.

The user interface is not immediately intuitive, but once the unit is set up the most you are likely to need is to change the range, achieved simply enough using the ‘Up’ and ‘Down’ softkeys. There is an auto setting, which changes the range based on the depth, but in difficult conditions the manual setting is helpful.

On the water, we initially struggled to make sense of the display, but with practice the manner in which the data is shown and colour-coded to indicate the strength of the echo allows a significant level of interpretation from the user. For example, a mooring chain or stake will give a vertical line of strong, red returns with some weaker echoes either side. The red shows that you should pay attention despite there being relatively few data points. Soft mud, on the other hand, gives a scattering of weaker echoes as the sounder struggles to find the bottom, so the truth is likely to be a middle value.

We tested the range of the sounder by looking at a solid concrete wall. The wall was clearly visible at ranges just over 100m, which was the width of the channel in which we were working. Smaller targets such as mooring chains were harder to acquire, with the range typically less than 10m before we could say with confidence that the object was there. At this kind of range the narrow width of the transducer beam becomes obvious, so the bow needs to be held steadily on the target.

The seabed slopes down to the right, ending at a solid wall at 75m

The seabed slopes down to the right, ending at a solid wall at 75m

In soft, shallow mud, the FLS 2D would become confused when in auto mode owing to some echoes being apparently very deep, requiring the range setting manually. This removed most of the spurious results and made the display useful once more, although the depths it recorded were clearly far too high.

Switching to the professional transducer resulted in a cleaner signal, but surprisingly a shorter range at just over 80m. The beam also appeared narrower, so on a small boat where the heading is not necessarily constant, the standard transducer is perhaps a better choice.

RRP: £1,179 / $1,569 (inc. standard transducer)

Buy it now on eBay (UK)

Buy it now on eBay (US)

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Echopilot fls platinum engine.

Solid piling, visible at 90m on our range test

Solid piling, visible at 90m on our range test

The FLS Platinum Engine comprises three components: the transducer, a sturdy bronze unit with a 60mm through-hull fitting, a transducer interface box and a video interface box. The video interface can output composite or S-video, suitable for viewing on a third-party plotter or external screen. Control is via an external keypad plugged into the video interface.

In operation, the Platinum engine is similar to the FLS 2D, with the data displayed in the same way. We used the composite video output, but it would pay to use S-video if possible to take advantage of its improved resolution.

Rocks at 32m. The scattering from the irregular shapes makes the return weaker, but there is clearly an obstacle

Rocks at 32m. The scattering from the irregular shapes makes the return weaker, but there is clearly an obstacle

The transducer is identical in appearance to the Professional transducer for the FLS 2D so, perhaps unsurprisingly, our results were similar. Our range test picked up the wall at about 90m and, like the FLS 2D, it tended to show spurious depths in soft, shallow channels. It was, however, quicker to get back to normal once the boat moved out of the difficult area. We found it harder to pick up mooring chains and narrow objects with the Platinum engine, perhaps due to a narrower beamwidth from the transducer and the tendency of a small boat to yaw. It detected the multi-faceted rocks of some sea defences, albeit with a fairly scattered plot.

RRP: £1,000 (inc. transducer)

Buy it now on echopilot.com

Echopilot FLS 3D

A channel mark’s chain, appearing 30m away as a peak in the midst of deeper water

A channel mark’s chain, appearing 30m away as a peak in the midst of deeper water

Echopilot’s flagship model, the FLS 3D, takes a different approach to the 2D products. By using two hefty 75mm through-hull units, each of which contains two angled transducers, the sounder can combine the data to display a 60° sector ahead of the boat.

The amount of data from four transducers would produce a confusing mess if displayed with no further processing, so Echopilot have included a computer in the system to render a surface which best fits the data, and output the video. As a result the system comprises three stages: the transducers, the transducer interface and the computer. From the computer, you can output VGA or DVI to a screen, or go through a converter for composite or S-video.

Like the 2D models, the picture is colour-coded to aid spotting the difference between shallow and deep water. This makes for a very intuitive picture, but a user needs to bear in mind that the surface displayed is similar to that which would be made if you were to drop a blanket over the seabed –spikes are smoothed into curved peaks and vertical walls become steep slopes.

On the water, the display is very easy to read, and we found it good for seeing continuous features such as channel edges. Our range test yielded a shorter range than the 2D sounders, with the wall ahead convincingly visible from about 35m. I suspect this may be due to there being insufficient data points for rendering until you are closer to the obstacle, while the 2D products show the data for the user to interpret.

Approaching a steep wall at about 15m. Water appears to exist beyond the wall

Approaching a steep wall at about 15m. Water appears to exist beyond the wall

Another oddity when approaching the wall was that the sounder showed a depth of water continuing beyond it – not a problem, but something that takes getting used to.

The FLS 3D is primarily sold to larger boats, so our test in a narrow, shallow channel was perhaps unfair. Nevertheless, variations in depth consistent with the channel edge were visible, and had a shorter range than 40m been available would have been clearer. Heading down the edge of a deepwater channel, the edge was clearly defined and navigation mark chains appeared as steep peaks, suggesting that this would be a valuable tool for nosing up a river.

RRP: £9,550 / $13,000 (inc. 2 transducers)

B&G ForwardScan sonar

 With simple structures like the wall, the danger is immediately obvious

With simple structures like the wall, the danger is immediately obvious

As might be expected from a plotter manufacturer, this unit is designed to work with B&G’s own displays, removing the video interface element common to the Echopilot black box products. However, you will still need an interface box (SonarHub) to connect the transducer to the plotter. Once done, and with your software updated to suit, a new option will appear on the menu: ForwardScan. By default, this shows a shaded area designed to represent the seabed ahead of the boat – brown in our pictures, but you can change the colour pallette. Essentially, this is a line of best fit – the data points can be overlaid if you wish, either both above and below the line, or just above. These points are colour-coded in a similar fashion to the Echopilot plots.

ForwardScan in use

In its default state, just showing the line of best fit, the screen is easy and intuitive to read. On our range test, the sounder showed the steep wall at a maximum range of 65m. This is significantly shorter than the Echopilot, but turning on the data points showed evidence of the wall at around 80m – the software clearly needs more data points than the human eye to confidently predict the seabed.

Mooring chains are shown by the data, but ignored by the line

Mooring chains are shown by the data, but ignored by the line

In shallow, muddy water the best-fit line lost its lock on the bottom, but turning on the data points again made the display useful, with the distribution giving an indication of whether the water was getting deeper or shallower ahead of the boat.

Because ForwardScan is integrated into an existing navigation package, it already has reliable depth information from a separate transducer, so is more resilient to scaling problems based on false readings than the Echopilot units. It also proved useful to be able to display the data alongside the chart, especially when moving along a channel edge.

In soft mud, the line of best fit fails, but data points still show trends

In soft mud, the line of best fit fails, but data points still show trends

RRP: Transducer £540, SonarHub £470 / $1,079

Buy it now from eBay (UK)

Buy it now from eBay (US)

Garmin Panoptix Forward

RealVü scans from left to right to build a realistic image of the seabed. Here’s a wall at 14m

RealVü scans from left to right to build a realistic image of the seabed. Here’s a wall at 14m

A single transducer, which plugs directly into the back of a compatible Garmin plotter using Ethernet, Garmin’s Panoptix Forward sonar product is more intended as a fishfinder for looking around your boat than as a device for spotting obstacles while under way.

The transducer comes with two mounts – one for the transom, the other to fit it to the shaft of a trolling motor, allowing it to rotate. The transducer itself is large (approx 170mm x 90mm) and dips below the transom at an angle of around 45°, so it is unsuitable for sailing craft in its current incarnation owing to drag. It also loses picture at speed, presumably owing to disturbed water around the transducer, while the Echopilot and B&G products can be successfully used on the move.

The plotter offers two forward views: LiveVü and RealVü 3D. LiveVü will look familiar to fishfinder users, with the classic blue screen and smeared lines, coloured to show the strength of the echo. RealVü scans a 60° arc ahead of the boat to build a picture of the seabed ahead, similar to the Echopilot 3D. However, unlike the Echopilot, which shows a picture all the time, RealVü scans, building the image from left to right.

A piece of rail marking a channel edge, viewed at 8m

A piece of rail marking a channel edge, viewed at 8m

The Vü ahead

Using LiveVü, the range is limited compared with the other products, the best we achieved on the solid wall being just under 40m. At close range, however, the system offers significantly more detail than any of the other products, suggesting that it operates at a higher frequency, trading range for detail.

This conclusion was borne out by a test we tried in the shallow waters of Poole’s Holes Bay, looking at a channel mark made from a piece of old railway rail. Both the Echopilot and Navico products showed this as a collection of a few echoes, while the Garmin showed a clear vertical obstacle at about 8m.

Shoaling depths are clearly shown

Shoaling depths are clearly shown

In RealVü mode, the range is reduced compared with LiveVü by the rendering facility – as you move away from a feature, the image begins to fragment as the quality of the data reduces. It’s also a bit slow, taking several seconds to build each picture before starting again. However, the image produced is realistic and detailed. Data points not used in the rendering are overlaid to give an indication whether any features have been ignored.

If RealVü could work faster and under way, it would make a great tool for exploring narrow channels.

RRP: £1,299 / $1,499 (transducer only)

PBO Verdict

If you’re looking to avoid collision, rather than carry out a close-range survey of the seabed, we have to discount the Garmin from the running. Its limited range and intolerance to turbulence make it unsuitable for use at anything more than trolling speeds, but if Garmin can produce a through-hull transducer that deals with these problems, its impressive level of detail makes it a product to keep an eye on in the future.

The Echopilot FLS 3D is best suited to larger boats, not least because of its size and cost. We also found it worked best in deeper water, where the ability to see for a significant angle either side of the bow proved extremely beneficial, picking up the edge of the shipping channel in Poole with a high level of detail.

For smaller boats, however, any of the 2D products would prove a useful addition to your instrumentation. ForwardScan is the most intuitive thanks to its line of best fit and is the obvious choice if you already have B&G, Simrad or Lowrance gear on board, but with practice I found that I preferred to see the raw data and draw my own conclusions – the approach used by Echopilot. In this mode, the Echopilot pictures were cleaner, with fewer spurious echoes either side of the true data. As the long-standing market leader in forward sonar, it’s perhaps to be expected that their filtering of the data might be better, and this seems to be the case.

Which of the Echopilot products you choose depends on personal considerations. The FLS 2D offers best value for money, and we found the standard, cheaper transducer to be perfectly adequate. The Professional transducer adds detail but is bulkier and heavier, with a greater protrusion below the hull. For a little extra cost, if you already have a plotter the Platinum Engine offered best performance across a range of conditions.

Whatever you choose, it’s important to remember that they aren’t infallible, and are affected strongly by the surface at which they are looking. All of them worked well in shoaling water, the plots clearly indicating reducing depth from a shelving beach. Soft mud and shallow water confused them all to a greater or lesser extent, as is only to be expected when you fire a sonar beam obliquely into a soft medium. Broken rock (used as sea defences for a marina) scattered the beams, confusing attempts at 3D rendering by the Garmin RealVü or Echopilot 3D, but visible as scattered dots on the other products. Plane surfaces or protrusions from the seabed worked better.

When I set up the test, Mike Phillips of Echopilot warned ‘it’s a bit like using radar. You have to get used to it’. He’s right, and like radar, forward sonar needs interpretation. Software can help, but a practised operator will get more from it than a novice. It doesn’t replace a chart or a good position, but teamed up with other information might just keep you off the rocks or putty, or help avoid that uncharted underwater obstruction.

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  • Yachting World
  • Digital Edition

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Sonar and sounders: 4 new models that are good for more than just fishing

Yachting World

  • April 22, 2020

Developments in technology are now allowing us to see the shape and structure of the seabed, including vegetation, in increasingly clear detail. Rupert Holmes reports

sonar-echo-sounders-charal-bow-Credit-Vincent-Curutchet

Sonar has potential to help offshore racers like IMOCA 60s avoid submerged obstructions. Photo: Vincent Curutchet

Sonar and forward-looking depth sounders are often seen as the preserve of those whose primary interest is fishing. However, a huge amount of effort has been invested in these products over the past few years and the latest models can be powerful tools for both cruising and racing yachts . They offer sufficient clarity, for instance, to be able to pick out areas of seagrass and patches of sand in an anchorage.

Much of this improvement is thanks to the availability of CHIRP transducers that, unlike a traditional sonar, can distinguish between multiple targets through scanning using a signal of varying frequency. This enables them to show individual fish, rather than just indicate a shoal, to resolve vegetation growing on the seabed, and distinguish between a sandy/muddy shoreline and a rocky one.

For those of us who spend large periods of time in the Mediterranean during autumn months , when overcast skies or dark evenings can mean anchoring when it’s not possible to see the seabed, this could be a significant boon. As well as the obvious safety advantage, and convenience of being able to find sand at the first attempt, there’s also a benefit in avoiding damage to environmentally important seagrass beds.

Article continues below…

swan-78-yacht-forward-facing-sonar

Forward-facing sonar: Everything you need to know

Yachting is usually pretty fast to embrace useful new technology, particularly if it helps win a race or if it…

augmented-reality-sailing-raymarine-axiom-xl

Can augmented reality really give us a vision of the future of sailing?

Google’s mission statement is ‘to organise the world’s information.’ This almost impossibly ambitious declaration of intent underpins the technology giant’s…

On yachts, we’re most interested in what lies roughly ahead of the boat, unlike fishing where a good picture of what’s directly underneath or to the side is often more important. This means not all transducers developed for the fishing market will work well for our purposes, but we’ve listed a selection here that could be useful.

Even so it’s important to recognise that forward-looking sonar doesn’t replace existing data sources such as depth sounder, charts and visual references. Instead it provides additional data to help make more informed decisions. However, short ranges of typically 30m-90m mean this is a tool for use in confined waters in which the navigator is focussed on the task and not distracted at a critical moment.

As with radar, a degree of skill and knowledge is also required to set the system up and to correctly interpret the picture.

On the racecourse

Short tacking along a shoreline to gain relief from a foul tide is a key element of racing in many tidal areas. However, there’s an ever-present risk of grounding , which has been implicated in the subsequent loss of keels of several yachts, sometimes with devastating consequences. Anything that can help reduce that risk is therefore clearly advantageous.

sonar-echo-sounders-bg-forwardscan

A B&G ForwardScan image from Newtown Creek on the Isle of Wight

B&G ForwardScan

Professional navigator Mike Broughton specified B&G’s ForwardScan sonar for a new race-spec Swan 78 he sails as navigator. The system, which has a 180kHz transducer, scans the seabed over a 15° arc up to 90m ahead of the vessel, though gently shelving mud may bring the viable range in shallow water down to as little as 25m.

As well as showing a graph of the depth ahead of the boat, the ForwardScan data can also be superimposed on a chart, with shading to indicate safe, warning and critical depths. ForwardScan uses a removable slimline transducer that extends 31mm below the hull.

Writing in Yachting World , Broughton said: “I have used ForwardScan to great effect short tacking against a strong tidal stream in the Solent, gaining the confidence to tack back to the shore before our competitors helped make significant gains. Confidence that you are clear for just another boat length as you approach the shore can be gold dust information and allow your boat to achieve a clear lane of clean wind.”

sonar-echo-sounders-bg-black-box-hub-600px-square

The company therefore also offers a wider range of products, including a StructureScan transducer, which are geared towards fishing markets and show more detail of the seabed.

Price guide

ForwardScan transducer: £731 ForwardScan fairing block: £41 B&G Sonar Hub or StructureScan 3D Module: £628 StructureScan through-hull transducer: £649

sonar-echo-sounders-EchoPilot-long-range-FLS-3D

EchoPilot’s long range FLS 3D system updates the seabed image every second

Long-established British brand Echopilot was one of the forerunners in this market and has been owned by the Danish Daniamant group since 2017. Echopilot’s range is optimised to show as much seabed detail as possible, rather than focussing primarily on displaying fish. It updates with very low latency and can be used at speeds of up to 20 knots.

The FLS 2D system has 30° beam width and maximum forward range of 200m, or ten times the depth in shallower water. The 7in screen uses different colours to represent different types of seabed structure, with hard materials such as rock showing as red and softer echoes from sand and mud showing as blue.

A more powerful FLS 3D model has twin retractable 200kHz transducers that give a 60° beam width. The range extends to 20 times the water depth, so around 200m in a 10m depth. Echopilot claims it can detect rocks at up to a distance of 500m.

Both models are also available in a black box format that will connect to any display with HDMI or VGA video input. In this case settings are controlled by a separate keypad that can be positioned next to the display.

FLS 2D with standard transducer and 7in display: £1,000 Echopilot FLS 3D with Dual Pro Transducers: £9,000

sonar-echo-sounders-Garmin-Panoptix-LiveScope

Garmin’s Panoptix LiveScope can differentiate between fish, seagrass and patches of sand

Garmin Panoptix

Many fishfinders show only the area below the boat or at the sides, but Garmin’s Panoptix products offer features that can be of use on cruising yachts. This range is available with through-hull transducers intended for fitting to yachts and has forward-looking functionality.

The FrontVü mode displays the seabed ahead of the boat at a range of up to 90m although, in common with other models, this reduces to eight to ten times the depth of water in very shallow water. The scanner has a 20° beam width and provides a clear picture at boat speeds of up to 8 knots.

The LiveVü Forward function allows you to see fish and the structure of the seabed at a reduced range of up to 30m. Both options are offered with the PS51-TH transducer at a cost of £1,360. This unit is a similar size to that of the B&G ForwardScan transducer.

Garmin’s top of the line Panoptix model, which has received rave reviews in the fishing community, is the LiveScope. This gives real-time scanning both forward and around the boat, with enough detail to see the difference between seagrass and patches of sand at a maximum range of 60m from the boat. On the downside, the LVS32 transducer is much larger and heavier.

PS51-TH transducer £1,360 Panoptix LiveScope with through-hull mounted transducer £1,870

While the ranges of recreational sonar units are clearly limited, they are a whole lot better than conventional depth sounders that have no ability to look ahead. Larger and more powerful transducers can provide more range at a frequency that allows a great deal of detail to be shown, but these may not be convenient to mount on a yacht and costs are significantly higher.

sonar-echo-sounders-Far-Sounder-Argos-350

Race teams are interested in Far Sounder Argos 350 development

Far Sounder

Rhode Island-based Far Sounder produces a range of forward-looking sonar for large vessels with ranges of up to 1,000m at operational speeds of up to 25 knots. The company’s latest model has a smaller transducer with a 350m detection range that’s suitable for craft of 18-40m length.

The sonar map can be overlaid on CMAP professional S56/63 series charts in a similar fashion to the way we’re accustomed to overlaying radar on a chart. The downside, however, is that the transducer is still large for a sailing yacht – it measures 160mm x 200mm (6.4in x 8in) and needs to be at least 1m below the surface.

Could this system be used by racing yachts such as IMOCA 60s to give advanced warning of a potential collision with whales or shipping containers ? CEO Cheryl Zimmerman says the standard product could certainly do this for targets that are a couple of metres below the water.

She told me Far Sounder has been approached by race teams to “discuss some of the issues they are experiencing” and is “very excited” about the prospect of developing custom products with alarms to alert solo sailors.

Argos 350: US$55,000

Sonar performance

With sonar there’s always a conflict between range and detail. A low-frequency sonar of around 80kHz will be able to reach greater depths, but without a great deal of detail. Conversely, a higher frequency unit, operating at around 200kHz, will reveal more detail, but at the expense of range. Larger and more powerful transducers can provide more range at a higher frequency, but these may not be easy to mount on a yacht and become expensive.

Accuracy can be affected by factors including location of the transducer and water conditions. The strongest echoes are from hard seabeds such as rock and coral, whereas gently shelving sand or mud will only be seen at closer ranges and even then may not be as distinct.

sonar-echo-sounders-bg-chartplotter

Black box hubs can generate data for use on compatible chartplotter screens

Compatibility

We’ve come to expect much of the basic functionality of instrument systems and sensors to be compatible across displays offered by different manufacturers. However, this is by no means automatically the case for sonar, where there can even be gaps in compatibility even within a single manufacturer’s product range. In addition, many MFDs lack the software needed to process sonar data, so an intermediate sonar hub may be needed.

Before buying sonar equipment it’s important to understand exactly what the chosen technology will do and the equipment it will interface with. The technology is certainly not for everyone and, with a few notable exceptions such as short tacking along a shoreline, units for the recreational market are next to useless at typical passagemaking speeds due to the short range.

However, there are plenty of use cases in close-quarters slow-speed scenarios, including exploring poorly charted anchorages. This is just as relevant for cruising Greenland or Patagonia as for finding the deepest water over the bars of rivers such as the Rio Dulce in Guatemala or Senegal’s Sine Saloum. In these situations sonar could prove a powerful additional tool, particularly if time is spent on learning how to get the best from the system.

First published in the March 2020 edition of Yachting World.

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Forward-Looking Sonar: How to keep your boat safe using technology

Forward-Looking Sonar: How to keep your boat safe using technology

What lies ahead: how forward-looking sonar increases safety, farsounder’s 3d forward-looking sonar detects obstacles in real-time..

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Staying Current

Advanced technology.

A screenshot of a different view of Farsounder's forward-looking sonar

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Maine Cat 41 Used Boat Review

CS 30 stern. (Photo/ Bert Vermeer)

CS 30 Used Boat Review

The Hinckley 49 comes in four different cabin layouts, but all feature mahogany or ash, with no bare fiberglass visible. Photo courtesy of Yacht World.

Hinckley 49 Used Boat Review

The Island Packet 31's wide beam adds to her stability and interior space, while rugged construction offers many decades of cruising adventures.

Island Packet 31 Used Boat Review

Irwin Vise-Grip Wire Stripper. (Photo/ Adam Morris)

Best Crimpers and Strippers for Fixing Marine Electrical Connectors

600-watt solar panel system on Summer Twins 28 sailing catamaran Caribbean Soul 2. (Photo/ Clifford Burgess)

Thinking Through a Solar Power Installation

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How Does the Gulf Stream Influence our Weather?

A lithium conversion requires a willing owner and a capable craft. Enter the Privilege 435 catamaran Confianza.

Can You Run a Marine Air-Conditioner on Battery Power?

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Master the Sailing Basics: Never Stop Learning the Little Things

1. Winch handle camera mount. It can’t fall of, is quick to place or remove in any conditions, and you can rotate it to change angles. (Photo/ Drew Frye)

How to Mount Your Camera on Deck: Record Your Adventures with…

The crew at Hop-O-Nose Marina in Catskill, NY helped us remove our mast. They also helped us build cradles on the deck so that we could carry our mast and rigging on deck as we traveled the Erie Canal. (Photo/ Alison Major)

Un-Stepping the Mast for America’s Great Loop

Das Boot's symmetric spinnaker is flying while the boat races downwind at the Fran Byrne Regatta, Aug. 2007. (Photo/ Nick Van Antwerp)

Headsails and Spinnakers: How to Explain Their Functions to a Beginner

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Sinking? Check Your Stuffing Box

Instead of dreading a squall, think about it as a way to fill up your water tanks. PS tested ways to make sure the rainwater you catch is clean, tasty and safe to drink.

The Rain Catcher’s Guide

The engine mounts on my Perkins M20 diesel needed to be changed. Luckily, they are accessible so I was able to change them myself with a few basic tools and new parts. If your engine is less accessible, you'll need to ask a professional to change the mounts. (Photo/ Marc Robic)

How to Change Your Engine Mounts

The stable residual and low aluminum corrosion rates make Clean Tabs Puriclean (far right) the PS Best Choice among tank sanitizing chemicals. Our Best Choice among tank freshening and disinfection chemicals are the Mega Tabs (far left).

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With a few inexpensive materials and a bit of patience, you can redo the vinyl lettering on your boat yourself. (Photo/ Marc Robic)

Vinyl Boat Lettering DIY Application and Repair

Little things that are hardly necessary but nice to have start in the galley.

Those Extras you Don’t Need But Love to Have

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Three-Model BBQ Test

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Alcohol Stoves— Swan Song or Rebirth?

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Womens Foul-Weather Gear

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Preparing Yourself for Solo Sailing

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How to Select Crew for a Passage or Delivery

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Preparing A Boat to Sail Solo

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Chafe Protection for Dock Lines

Waxing and Polishing Your Boat

Waxing and Polishing Your Boat

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Reducing Engine Room Noise

forward looking sonar sailboat

Tricks and Tips to Forming Do-it-yourself Rigging Terminals

marine toilet test

Marine Toilet Maintenance Tips

  • Marine Electronics

Sonar that Sees Whats Ahead

Simrads forwardscan sonar changes the way we see the bottom..

forward looking sonar sailboat

Most depthfinders are historical instruments. They collect and display information from the recent past-not the best arrangement for the sailor. By the time the sounder indicates a shoal, its already beneath you. But this is changing rapidly.

Technology that lets us see the water depth in front of us is now becoming both more user-friendly and more affordable. PS testers recently had the opportunity to test two new forward-looking sonar (FLS) technologies: the Simrad ForwardScan (discussed here) and the recently introduced Garmin Panoptix system, which uses Mill Cross arrays that can electronically steer the sonar beam to sweep the forward area and can even create 3D images.

In the field of forward-looking sonar, Simrad and Garmin are the most familiar names to sailors, but there are other contenders. One of the oldest builders of these systems, Echopilot, offers a twin-transducer, 3D, forward-looking system along with smaller, free-standing units. Farsounder, founded in 2001, also has a high-performance, forward-looking sonar suitable for larger yachts and commercial vessels.

B&G Zeus2 glass helm

Photos by Bill Bishop and courtesy of Navico

Almost all new sonar systems will let you record and save your sonar data for later playback and analysis. This includes the ability to mark a spot of interest and save the waypoint information. A sophisticated user can take advantage of this feature to create high-resolution bathymetry charts with contour line resolutions as small as one foot. Navionics has an app that does this. The app is compatible with a range of depthsounders made by Humminbird, Lowrance, B&G, Simrad, Garmin, and Raymarine. Garmin released its own multifunction display-based version called Quick Draw in January. Maxsea and other navigation programs offer similar software for PC users.

FLS technology is not new, but earlier versions such as the Interphase system  displayed bottom images that were often challenging to interpret. It took practice to discern what the myriad scattered dots on the display were truly representing-fish, rocks, something else? The Simrad system cleverly removes this ambiguity. Although users still have the option of seeing the raw data-the dots, so to speak-we can also view a computer-generated rendering of the raw data that presents an easy-to-interpret profile of the sea bottom in front of the boat.

What We Tested

The Simrad ForwardScan is compatible with Simrads NSS evo2, NSO evo2, or B&Gs Zeus Touch2 multifunction displays (MFDs) and plugs into their integrated Sonar Hub module. The transducer, which also includes a temperature sensor, operates at the 180-kilohertz frequency, which eliminates cross-talk with most other transducers. This means we can use it simultaneously with an existing depthsounder without worrying about interference. A complete Simrad system starts at about $2,000, with the following breakdown: $1,100 for display (7-inch evo2), $600 for Sonar Hub, and $800 for the transducer.

The forward-looking range is variable, but due to the physics of the technology, its at best eight times the water depth. As an example, in 20 feet of water in optimum conditions, the system can see 160 feet. In 8 feet of water, it sees forward only 64 feet-about two boat lengths, or less, depending on the boat. The maximum forward view range is around 300 feet. Simrads specifications indicate that in nominal conditions, the forward range is four to five times the depth.

The system uses a vertical array of transducer elements that looks down and forward with a port-to-starboard beam width of 15 degrees. In our 20-foot depth example, the beam width is 42 feet at the theoretical forward distance of 160 feet. At the maximum range of 300 feet, the beam width is nearly 80 feet.

Given the limited forward range of this technology, we would operate at much slower speeds when using forward sonar to find our way up a difficult channel or through coral heads into a secluded cove. This is not such a big deal for a sailboat, which already operates at relatively slow speed. To put it in perspective, at 10 knots, you will travel the maximum range of 300 feet in just 18 seconds. Eighteen seconds doesn’t give the skipper a lot of time to react, much less come to a full stop. At 3 knots, you would have a minute, enough time to stop the boat.

Simrad ForwardScan transducer

How We Tested

We evaluated a ForwardScan transducer that was mounted on a Beneteau 55 and connected to a B&G Zeus2 glass helm, 12-inch (nominal) multifunction display located at the helm. Testing took place in the Florida Keys. We used the sonar for pass approaches, near shoaled areas, and in confined channels at speeds varying from near idle to 9 knots.

Installation

The Simrad ForwardScan transducer uses a 2-inch, stainless-steel Airmar housing and is installed like most transducers. It has a fairing block that will accommodate dead-rise angles up to 20 degrees. However, a fairing block is unnecessary if the hull is relatively level in the area forward of the keel. It can also be installed on the hull sides forward of amidships, so long as the sonar has a clear view forward. Simrads software can make a transducer correction of up to +/-15 degrees out of vertical plane, easing installation requirements.

Like other Airmar transducers that use the same housing, the Simrad transducer insert has O-ring gaskets, and the housing has a valve to facilitate removing the transducer and inserting a blanking plug while in the water. The transducer has a 30-foot cable that will need to be routed to the multifunction-function display.

The MFD setup procedure requires the user to enter several values. The first pair of values are critical: forward range and minimum water depth. The second pair is the forward range and depth warning parameters. These values are dependent on your anticipated travel speeds and transducer location when using the system. It is during this phase of the setup procedure that you can adjust the vertical alignment of the transducer, if required.

Using ForwardScan

The Simrad ForwardScan system has several page configurations controlled by menu options. Users can view the bottom solely as it is interpreted by the sonar software or can display the interpreted view with the raw data (the dots) overlayed on it. The latter view is the one testers preferred.

There are a few other ways to adjust what and how data is displayed. Users can select the amount of previous sonar history that remains visible (to track bottom trends or anomalies). Users can also determine whether they want the warning zones to appear on the screen, or want to show a birds eye view of the chart, with an image of the vessel showing its position. Ahead of the boat is a colored cone indicating depths by color-green for safe, yellow for caution, and red for danger (see photos). Ideally, the boat should be upright when scanning forward, otherwise the bottom image will be skewed.

You can adjust the depth range automatically or manually. Testers found that the automatic functions worked so well, there was no need to set the depth manually. There are no classic gain-adjustments that you typically find on sonars, but there is a menu-driven interference filter to help remove screen noise if required.

Throughout the duration of our test, the system was very responsive, and the display had no problem keeping up with vessel movement. Water conditions were close to optimal for using this type of equipment. The water was both clear and relativity calm, so the system was running near or at its maximum 300-foot range. We did not get the chance to see how the system would operate in rougher conditions, but we plan to do so in further testing in the future.

No matter the conditions, users should be careful to match the boats speed to the sonars range and the water conditions. If the forward-looking sonar is to be of any use, the skipper should be capable of coming to a full stop before the end of the preset warning zone. During most of the test, we were maneuvering at around 3 or 4 knots. Testers could clearly see a shoal on the sounder, and by turning from port to starboard, the channel center through the shoal area was clearly visible. The system also picked up a large, shallow, rocky spot to the port side of the channel and accurately visualized a seawall as we turned past it into a canal.

Bottom line: PS testers liked this technology. What makes Simrads system so much more practical than previous forward-looking systems is the way the engineers were able to translate sensor data into images that sailors can actually use to avoid obstacles ahead. When used properly, it can be a powerful aid to navigation. We can see it being particularly helpful in poorly charted areas, allowing the off-the-beaten-track sailor to creep into anchorages that see very few visitors. Even in well-charted areas, the forward-looking sonar can alert the navigator of new hazards, or when he has strayed out of the center of thoroughfares like the Intracoastal Waterway. This technology certainly isn’t something that every sailor needs, but for those who are already equipped with a Simrad multifunction display and like the idea of exploring new territory, it is definitely worth considering.

Sonar that Sees Whats Ahead

When Interphase Marine launched its forward-scan technology with the SE-200, PS contributor and high-latitude voyager Andy O’Grady was one of the first onboard. O’Grady reported that the SE-200 helped him navigate some tricky channels (see PS April 2008 online), but as the screen grabs from the SE-200 above illustrate (photos 2 and 4), the images were sometimes hard to interpret. By comparison, the new Simrad ForwardScan technology (photos 1 and 3) simplifies interpretation with more user-friendly views of the bottom ahead. The raw data also can be viewed, as can processed images.

1. A split-screen view from the ForwardScan shows the bottom contours ahead (left side) and a bird’s eye view of hazards based on pre-set alarms—red for danger, yellow for caution, green for safe (right side).

2. A split-screen view of the SE-200 offers similar views, but the pixelated presentation is not as definitive or easy to interpret.

3.This split-screen view is similar to the one in Photo 1, but this time, the bird’s eye view is overlayed with a satellite image and is zoomed out.

4. A relatively flat bottom delivers a somewhat scattered return in the overhead view (right) on the SE-200.

RELATED ARTICLES MORE FROM AUTHOR

Are you going to review Garman’s Panoptix?

My experience with an older generation of forward scanning sonar that sequentially sweeps down to forward is that it could be of use, but only for anchoring. Otherwise, while underway it was useless, owing to the narrow window of time to react to a submerged obstacle as noted in this PS article. It is interesting however to know that the newer forward scanners do have features that some might find useful. Of particular use for avoiding submerged obstacles, if at a low enough speed, would be a menu option to select for continuous lateral sweep in full-time forward, thus w/o the down-to-forward sweeping function. Also, I am wondering if the scanners marketed as fish finders for high speed deep sea sport fishing would be of practical use for cruising sailors to identify partially submerged objects such as fish nets w/o beacon lights or partially submerged shipping containers. In this regard an audible alarm would be indispensable.

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Forward Facing Sonar – The Experts’ Guide

  • July 20, 2023

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As in most other sports, the equipment that an angler chooses is often most likely due to brand loyalty and personal preferences rather than comparing the features and benefits of that equipment. In this article, we will learn why several pros and avid fishermen use the brands of forward-facing sonar they select. All of these anglers depend on their forward-facing sonar to fish better and catch more and bigger fish, no matter which species. 

Targeting Bass With Forward-Facing Sonar

Trolling motor forward facing sonar, forward facing sonar for catfish, forward facing sonar for crappie.

Larry Nixon from Bee Branch, Arkansas, has fished competitively in the Bassmaster, Major League Fishing (MLF) and Forrest L. Wood (FLW) circuits for 46 years, winning many tournaments. He’s also won the 1983 Bassmaster Classic and the coveted title of Angler of the Year for two years.  

“Forward-facing sonar is what all the tournament fishermen are talking about right now. I’ve seen and used all the different depth finders from flashers to down-scanning to side-scanning and the other GPS and mapping features that have evolved in the electronics industry for bass fishing,” Nixon said. “However, forward-facing sonar has been the biggest change and made the biggest impact in the way we fish.” 

“In 1976, when I was guiding bass anglers, I started fishing with Lowrance depth finders because that equipment never broke down, and I never had to send a unit in for repair. I told myself then, ‘Larry, you should never buy any other depth finder than Lowrance,’ and I’ve held to that belief ever since. 

Lowrance HDS Live 12 With Transducer

Lowrance HDS Live 12

“The Lowrance depth finder I use has mapping, down-sonar, side-scanning, GPS and a water-temperature gauge, all on the dash of my boat. On my boat’s front, I have two Lowrance HDS Live 12s , one for my forward-facing sonar and one for split-screen with mapping, down-imaging and the ability to keep up with the day and the time. The HDS Live 12 comes: preloaded with C-Map Contour; plus mapping and integrated support for high-resolution ActiveTarget Live Sonar that lets you know what fish are doing in real time and tracking them in every direction; Active Imaging 3-in-1 with Lowrance CHIRP that’s sonar for fish targets;  SideScan/DownScan Imaging and Fish Reveal. That covers everything I need from sonar when I’m fishing and I know I can depend on Lowrance.”

Brandon Lester, a professional basser for 10 years from Blaine, Tennessee, says he uses his Lowrance ActiveTarget to pinpoint brush piles.

“Since most reservoirs we fish were built in 1940 – 1960, and most of the natural underwater cover is gone. The manmade brush shelters are on underwater stumps, points and bottom structures. You must have a quality depth finder to pinpoint these brush piles,” Lester noted.

forward facing sonar

Lester uses his side-imaging feature on his Lowrance ActiveTarget to mark the brush he sees underwater as waypoints and takes advantage of its forward-scanning feature.

 “That new development in sonar has changed the way I fish dramatically. That feature allows me to stay 60-80 feet away from an underwater brush pile but still make accurate casts,” Lester said. “I can see how-many bass are on an underwater brush pile, identify any bluegills and watch my lure go down and fall right into the brush pile. I can see that same lure go over the top of that brush pile and determine if the bass are chasing my bait.”

Lester uses the ActiveTarget to tell the difference between bass, crappie, bluegills or other fish that may be holding on structure like stumps, logs, rocks, points with no cover, underwater humps and/or bottom breaks. 

“The more you use forward-facing sonar, the easier you can determine the species of fish holding on that structure by the way the fish act or don’t react to your lures. When you pull a bait in front of a catfish or a carp, they won’t even look at your bait but the bass will,” he said.

Hank Cherry of Lincolnton, North Carolina, the winner of two Bassmaster Classics is a huge fan of the Garmin Panoptix LiveScope that’s on the end of his trolling motor . With the LiveScope and his Garmin ECHOMAP Ultra 126sv , Cherry can:

Panoptix PS22-TR

Panoptix PS22-TR

* spot suspended bait fish and bass; 

* determine the lures to use, the depths to fish and the places to fish;

* use the mapping screen to pinpoint the subtle drops off on the bottom; and 

* know the depths where bass are holding and learn how they’re positioned.

Cherry said that he’s often asked why he runs four depth finders on his boat. 

Garmin ECHOMAP Ultra 126sv

Garmin ECHOMAP Ultra 126sv

“I have two on my console and two on my casting deck. I use the two on the console for side scanning. I want my depth finders to be full screen. On my right side, I want the depth finder to scan the right side of the boat, and the depth finder on the left console to scan the boat’s left side. Of the two depth finders on my boat’s front, of my boat, I have one that’s a full-screen map, and the other that’s my LiveScope,” Cherry explained.

forward facing sonar

“On tournament days, I always have the two depth finders on the front of my boat running the entire time I’m on the water. I’ll have the mapping function up on the back depth finder,” he said.  “Depending on how windy the day is and the clarity of the water, I like to pan out with my LiveScope from 70-100 feet in front of me, around me and on the bottom. I don’t need total clarity; I just need to see the markings of the fish I’m trying to fish for and learn how they’re reacting to my lure moving past them.” 

A longtime, avid catfisherman from Corinth, Mississippi, King has won many regional, national, and even international tournaments fishing for catfish . He uses a Humminbird depth finder and recently fished with a friend who had a Humminbird Mega 360 Imaging that:

Humminbird Mega 360

Humminbird Mega 360 forward facing sonar

* swept up to 125 feet;

* provided very-clear images in every direction of structure, the bottom and the fish, even when sitting still;

* gave a 360-degree view under the water that was constantly updating;

* offered maps and other sonar views to see the big picture;

* zoomed up to 10X to show fish, structure and vegetation; and 

* had Range Rings to show the distance from an angler’s boat to the target.

The picture that King’s friend showed him on his Mega 360 was so accurate and precise, that King reported, “I even could see the fins on the catfish swimming nearby.”

These two brothers from Eufaula, Oklahoma, have fished crappie tournaments the past 20+ years, winning state, regional and national tournaments. 

Garmin LiveScope System

Garmin LiveScope System forward facing sonar

“We couldn’t have won many of these tournaments the past three years without our Garmin Panoptix LiveScope ,” Ryan Young explained. “We’ll move into trees out in a lake and start looking for crappie on our LiveScope. Often we’ll locate crappie holding in-between trees, perhaps in 13-15 foot deep water. Darin and I have the advantage of the knowledge we’ve learned from the crappie trips we’ve guided and the 400+ hours we’ve spent studying and learning how to use the LiveScope more effectively to catch bigger crappie.” 

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FORWARD LOOKING SONARS

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Forward Looking Sonar (FLS) is a vital tool for safe navigation for any skipper. With seabeds constantly changing the nautical charts are not able to update at the same rate. This is where FLS is a vital tool for safe navigation.

FLS gives you a live image of the seabed up to 200 meters ahead of your vessel. This allows you to see dangerous obstacles that does not appear on the nautical charts. This is an added inssurance to your vessel and FLS will help you avoid taking damages to your hull.

EchoPilot are experts in FLS and have been developing Forward Looking Sonar technology since the 1940’s.

Below is the three differet FLS systems that EchoPilot offers.

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FLS Platinum Engine

FORWARD LOOKING SONAR

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2D FORWARD LOOKING SONAR

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3D FORWARD LOOKING SONAR

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Ocean Sailor Equipment

Forward-looking sonars.

  • March 1, 2021

Case History

By Dick Beaumont

Fifteen years ago, on passage from Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia to Phuket Thailand, in Moonshadow , my Tayana 58, I motored, at dusk, into an anchorage called Port Klang, in northern Malaysia, it was very aptly named as we later found out. The anchorage there was clearly marked on my Navionics chart, as you can see below ( see Fig.1 ).

I selected my anchoring position in 6m over a flat mud seabed and then continued to box the anchor, scanning the bottom to ensure there were no bommies, rock outcrops or seaweed beds in the 40m swinging circumference (anchor chain length plus the boat length) surrounding my selected position.

All was good for 3/4 of the circle when suddenly crash, or perhaps klang, we hit something very hard and unforgiving. I backed up along my track and ran below to see if we were taking in water. To my relief it seemed that the 20mm thick hull of Moonshadow had withstood the collision and I found no water in the bilge, my pulse rate started to return to normal. I checked the chart again, we were clearly in the area marked as an anchorage and surrounded by dozens of small coasters and large fishing boats ( see Fig.1 ). 

Two of my crew went up on the bow with big diving torches to scan the water where we had crashed. Nothing. With my confidence at a low ebb, I very slowly turned Moonshadow round and followed my track back 100mts or so, selected another area of flat mud, still at 6m, and again proceeded to very gingerly box the anchor, with my crew peering in the torchlight into the turbid waters. This time all was completely clear and I dropped my anchor in the circle of certainty I had created. When dawn came I donned my diving gear, took a torch, because the water visibility was less than a metre, and jumped in to inspect the damage. To my horror, I discovered a gouge in the hull three feet (1m) long. The gouge was the depth of my thumbnail. We could only have ⅛” (2-3mm) of GRP left between us and disaster. I used a two-part epoxy putty which sets underwater, which I always carry onboard, to temporarily fill the gouge, and got back on board ready to head on to Phuket. There was no chance to be hauled out until Phuket. Before leaving I was determined to find out what we’d hit, so took the dingy over to the collision area, and slipped over the side with my mask and snorkel. There, sitting with its bridge section just three feet below the surface, was the wreck of a small steel coaster. The paint was still on her, she had clearly been down only a few months or so.

I sailed on up to Phuket, hauled out at Boat Lagoon to repair the damage and had an Interphase forward-sonar fitted. The penny had dropped for me; just because there’s 6m beneath the boat does not mean there’s 6m depth in front of the boat. That piece of equipment improved my confidence no end when going in to anchor anywhere new and after dark. I’ve lost count of how many times I have arrived at an anchorage later than expected and been obliged to sail on through the night rather than risk going in after dark. The forward sonar changed that completely, allowing forward vision underwater as well as above the surface day or night.

Another significant benefit is being able to get in closer to land and sit in calm, sheltered water while other yachts further out spend the night rolling around in a swell for fear of going in to close and grounding.

The forward-sonar also allows you to get close in to a coral reef to drop scuba divers off, without the hassle of anchoring, launching the dingy and loading all the dive gear into it, or the fear of wrecking the yacht.  

In this manner, I spent three months sailing and diving uncharted coral atolls in Papua New Guinea, something you couldn’t consider without the forward sonar.

forward looking sonar sailboat

Forward-looking Sonars on Review

By Trystan Grace

To paraphrase Star Trek’s Captain Kirk, yachtsmen can now ‘boldly go where no man has gone before’ thanks to the forward-sonar. By installing a forward sonar it completes the advantages of GPS plotter systems loaded with electronic chart chips that can pinpoint your position above the water within a few inches and lets you see what’s below the water in front of your yacht as well.

Whilst GPS can tell you exactly where you are, it can’t however tell you what’s in front of you underwater. There are still plenty of remote uncharted parts of the world which reward the more adventurous sailors that get to them, with pristine untouched coral reefs and fascinating and sometimes primitive cultures, that remain largely unvisited by foreigners.  Poorly or uncharted seas represent a different challenge for the voyaging yacht as there is no certainty of the underwater terrain. A grounding or collision hundreds, or sometimes thousands, of miles from assistance could be catastrophic.

The earlier systems were expensive and required the insight of a Jedi Knight. Today as more of the mainstream electronic manufacturers are producing them the price has dropped considerably.

Many will think of fish finders when sonar is mentioned, but technology has moved on with CHIRP transducers that operate over a wide range of frequencies. The ability to scan past objects and differentiate between bottom structures and topography with high definition imagery has dramatically improved safety. 

There are a few things to consider when buying a sonar and transducer. Higher frequencies produce far more detail than lower frequency transducers but do so at the cost of range. Smaller, less complex transducers are cheaper, but larger higher power transducers can provide clearer images with extended ranges in 3D.

Many of the sonar units will require a certain brand of chart plotter, so if you are installing a new system or thinking of upgrading, this must be taken into consideration. 

We have reviewed the three main market leaders as a starter guide.

B&G ForwardScan

Designed to directly integrate with their own plotters, the B&G ForwardScan has a 31mm,180kHz transducer which scans the seabed at a 15° horizontal arc and up to 90m in front of the yacht. This range does decrease quite significantly as you move into shallower water, providing a range of about 4x the depth. It has difficulty at times registering the seabed in shallow muddy waters but as it is paired with the depth information already captured from the chart plotter’s depth transducer, false readings are not common.

If you use a Vulcan or Zeus³ chart plotter, it allows direct connection between the transducer and plotter. If you have an older model plotter or if your cable length is more than 12m, you will need to buy the Sonarhub processor unit to pair up with the transducer. 

The depth data is presented onto a 2D graph which shows the area ahead of the yacht and can also be superimposed onto the chart. The ability to split the screen and show this arc in front of the yacht on the chart is a useful feature, however, the visuals overall are a little basic when compared to other models on the market. The price reflects this.

forward looking sonar sailboat

Price & Conclusion

ForwardScan Transducer with Sleeve and Plug £731 / €720 / $699

Sonarhub £628 / €617 / $699

The slimline 31mm transducer is a low impact appendage for the hull and overall the ForwardScan is easy to use, and comparatively easy to install. The visuals are a little basic but plus features include the ability to display a cone in front of the yacht on the chart mode. The range, depth and arc area are smaller than other brands and the range certainly drops off significantly in shallower water. However, if you are running a B&G system or are set on upgrading to their system, it is a good buy.

This British-based company has been leading the market for a number of years and offers three models that focus on seabed scanning over fish finding: the FLS Platinum Edition, FLS 2D and FLS 3D. Each varies in complexity and price. 

FLS Platinum Engine This option comes with a 45mm transducer, black box and video interface which allows it to display on third party chart plotters via VGA or HDMI. With a 30° horizontal arc, a 90° arc forward and down, it scans at 100m depth and 200m range forward. The graphics shown are similar to the B&G ForwardScan, a 2D cross-section of the waters ahead, however different colours denote how solid the scanned surface is, hard materials like rock in red or soft materials like sand or mud in blue.

FLS 2D – The FLS 2D is very similar to the Platinum, featuring the same arc, ranges and graphics, but it comes with its own 7” LCD display and with a choice of transducers. The standard transducer is the same as the FLS Platinum however the slightly larger professional bronze through-hull transducer (60mm) provides more details. The user interface is a little clunky compared to other brands.

FLS 3D – The FLS 3D is the flagship model and is quite a step up from the other two. It uses two 75mm units, each with two 200kHz transducers which allows it to show a 60° horizontal ahead of the yacht. The range shows at about 20 times the water depth. 

Like the Platinum model, it also plugs into third party chart plotters through the video aux mode and again through VGA or HDMI ports. We tested this model on a Raymarine unit and were unable to achieve a full-screen image, however, we cannot confirm how it is displayed on plotters from other brands. It does feature an HD full graphical cone in front of the yacht which makes mapping the seabed very easy.

The package includes the two transducer units, a black box processor, transducer interface and a helm mounted keypad.

forward looking sonar sailboat

FLS Platinum Engine £1,000 / €1125 / $1,362

FLS 2D £1,179 / €1,325 / $1,569

FLS 3D £9,550 / €11,235 / $13,000

These units are quite cost-effective, especially for the sailor who does not wish to upgrade his navigation system to a certain brand. Although still a 2D display, the data is displayed with more detail than the B&G ForwardScan. The user interface is not as user friendly as the other models on the list but these units certainly offer higher detail and more range than the ForwardScan.

The FLS 3D is certainly the best model on the list however it comes with a high price tag. This model is certainly not for everyone but it will appeal to the ocean sailor who is planning on serious remote ‘off the grid’ blue water exploration where safety is the highest priority. The display shows an accurate 3D profile of the seabed which is easy to understand and, due to its dual transducers, it has an excellent range and depth. As it is not specifically designed for a certain chart plotter, it may not display perfectly on some models like the Raymarine plotter we tried. You will also need space to install the keypad which might be a problem if your helm console is tight on space. 

With all that said, it is an excellent unit and certainly, the best on our shortlist if money and consol space is no issue.

Garmin Panoplix™ PS51-TH – WINNER

Like B&G, Garmin has also designed and produced sonar equipment for their range of plotters. Their sonar range has received excellent reviews which are due in part to Garmin acquiring Interphase™, the leader in Marine Phased Array Scanning Technology in 2012.

Many of the Panoplix options are designed for fish finding, however, the Panoplix™ PS51-TH is a 50.88 mm through-hull transducer that provides a horizontal arc of 20° and 90° arc downward. The sonar data is displayed on a 2D cross-section like other models however it is a lot clearer and with more detail. The information is also displayed near-instantly, much faster than the other models tested.

In FrontVü mode, the range is about 90m range in-front of the yacht or about 8-10 times the depth of the water as it gets shallower. It will show a clear picture with boat speeds up to about eight knots.

The LiveVü Forward mode displays at a higher detail and it should be noted that with its 417 kHz transducer, has a higher level of detail than the other brands however this does come at a cost of range, bringing it back to about 30m in this mode. 

There is an extensive list of Garmin chart potters that this transducer plugs directly into so no black box is required.

forward looking sonar sailboat

Ps51-TH £1,359.99 / €1,530 / $1,499

Although not a 3D display, the Panoplix™ provides the highest detail of the units on test. Its ease of connectivity to many Garmin chart plotters is a huge bonus for those sailors who are using or upgrading to a Garmin system. In FrontVü mode, the range in shallow water is impressive and if the detail is more important than the range, LiveVü provides great versatility.

All the forward sonars we reviewed offer a considerable advantage to sailors heading into unfamiliar waters, however, the B&G system has a much reduced forward range than the other systems. It may seem fine that in 50m of water you can see 200m in front of the vessel but a forward sonar is most useful in shallow waters, and in just 4m of water you can only see 16m in front of the transducers so only 14m off the bow, a boat length which isn’t enough to stop in unless you’re going very slow. 

The Echopilot FLS 3D definitely provides the best visuals but at a price that is above most cruisers budget.

After taking into account price, usability and detail, we think the Panoplix™ offers the best overall package on the market. It’s ability to see forward 8 x the depth is a big bonus and it will certainly improve the level of safety for your yacht and your crew.

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3D Forward Looking Sonar

The 3D Forward Looking Sonar is one of the best proven Forward Looking Sonars. The FLS 3D displays a 3-dimensional representation of the underwater scene ahead of the boat. The seabed terrain and potential hazards are shown, for the first time, with unparalleled realism.

The FLS 3D has direct integration to Raymarine Axiom Displays and is easily connected to the raynet via an RJ45 to Raynet cable . Once connected, the EchoPilot app will appear on the Axiom Display allowing users to see forward looking sonar on their display in real-time. Offering dual viewing of sea charts and forward looking sonar at the same time, the display can also be used in split screen for the ultimate in convenience. In full, three-dimensional, coloured display, when the FLS 3D is connected to the Axiom display, users will benefit from full 360 degree rotation of the 3D image via touch, as well as the zoom function. This will give a closer view of how the seabed terrain looks ahead and potential hazards are shown in real-time.

The FLS 3D comes with twin retractable transducers to ensure complete forward coverage whatever the hull form. The view ahead is 60 degrees in the horizontal plane and over 90 degrees in the vertical plane. The forward range is up to 200 m and 100 meters depth.

The Transducers comes in two sizes: 5” and 10” depending on the size of the hull. The transducers come with three different types of skin fittings to ensure they will fit any type of hull. You can choose between Bronze, steel or aluminum depending on your hull.

The importance of Forward Looking Sonar Technology is the depth to range ratio. The FLS 3D has a staggering 20 x depth ratio! This means that you will see 100 meters ahead with only 5 meters of water underneath your boat. This is the highest ratio in Forward Looking Sonar Technology!

The FLS 3D Forward Looking Sonar has the ground breaking technology of Real-Time Forward Looking Sonar. The display updates every one second so the captain will always be updated on the seabed terrain and potential hazards ahead. The FLS 3D is also designed as a black box to work with any existing display that has a video input.

                                                                                                                                       FLS 3D GEN 4 Overview (Raymarine Integration)

                                                                                                                                                             fls 3d overview.

forward looking sonar sailboat

  • Major Benefits
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02-09-2014, 13:50  
Boat: Warwick- 14mtr Sloop- Alice Bee
GPS/Chartplotter..
02-09-2014, 13:53  
Boat: Lagoon 400
cameras. Just glue it to the and tell her an will go off... Little white lie...
Sorry I can't be if any real assistance...sounds lime a good idea though.
02-09-2014, 13:56  
Boat: Cal 40 (sold). Still have a Hobie 20
02-09-2014, 14:23  
Boat: 48 Wauquiez Pilot Saloon
cameras. Just glue it to the and tell her an will go off... Little white lie...
Sorry I can't be if any real assistance...sounds lime a good idea though.
02-09-2014, 14:39  
around heads, and steeply shelving bottoms structure.

For spotting containers at sea it would be pretty much useless, unless it was EXTREMELY calm. Flat calm. Like glass.

But then the problem would be the near certainty that out in deep you simply wouldn't be looking at the FLS.

In fact I only switch ours on when we're getting into shallower waters.
02-09-2014, 14:58  
Boat: Beneteau 393 "Sea Life"



02-09-2014, 17:37  
Boat: SeaWind 850
around heads, and steeply shelving bottoms structure.

For spotting containers at sea it would be pretty much useless, unless it was EXTREMELY calm. Flat calm. Like glass.

But then the problem would be the near certainty that out in deep you simply wouldn't be looking at the FLS.

Echopilot FSL does scan in range from vertical down to horizontal forward. It does "look forward" about Two to four times the of the water (when range is set to 6m it will show 24m forward). I'm on pole and wooden before me is detected and shown as group of dots near the surface of water. Metal container will give better results.
02-09-2014, 17:42  
Boat: csy 37
02-09-2014, 17:46  
Boat: Pearson 422
pitching up and down and wave peaks and troughs the odds of detecting a container are slim to none. If one did show on the sonar it would be about 2 seconds before you hit it.

The question has been covered in great depth in a few previous discussions on this forum. Do a quick search if you want to read more, including reports from several owners with significant experience with various brands and models.
02-09-2014, 18:00  
is accessible, you can lay in extra layers of high-strength reinforcement. Followed by integral tankage, a sealed water tank or other tank that again reinforces the force and provides a watertight compartment.

There's also been serious talk, especially in circles, about mandating a forward watertight bulkhead on the boat, typically where the bulkhead for your forepeak already is.

But unless you want to kidnap a sharp-eyed teenager and lash them where the figurehead normally goes...there's nothing that competes with a Mark I Eyeball for that job yet.
02-09-2014, 18:35  
Boat: Farr Phase 4, 12.8m
.
The Probe is no longer available. Interphase was bought (by I think?) and the product discontinued. They now do a fancier one, about 5 x the price!

In all my sailing life (nearly 50 years, and a lot of miles) I've only ever seen one container floating. WAY WAY more other stuff - trees, , FADs etc....

Good Luck, don't let it put you off. Heaps more Yachts sink because of hitting charted rocks than floating objects
02-09-2014, 23:42  
and wooden boat before me is detected and shown as group of dots near the surface of water. Metal container will give better results.
03-09-2014, 01:22  
Boat: Sayer 46' Solent rig sloop
every year, few cruisers have been sunk by same. It must be that some of them sink, and many of them are not on sailboat routes. It can be a conscious choice how much you let it bother you....whether it's really your wife, or you who is worried.

FWIW, where I am at is that this particular one is a rare risk, so I don't worry about it.
Could sink us, despite watertight bulkheads, but on the injury worry scale, incapacitating risk is higher.

Ann
03-09-2014, 02:08  
Boat: 45ft Ketch
26-09-2014, 09:55  
 
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IMAGES

  1. How to Avoid Obstacles with Your Boat

    forward looking sonar sailboat

  2. B&G ForwardScan sonar

    forward looking sonar sailboat

  3. SeaBat® F30 High Resolution Forward-looking Multibeam Sonar Demo

    forward looking sonar sailboat

  4. Forward-looking sonar: 5 units tested

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  5. SuperyachtNews.com

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  6. Experience 3D Forward Looking Sonar at Southampton International

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  1. Forward Facing Sonar is PERMANENTLY Changing our Lakes!!

  2. Backwards Facing w/ Forward Facing Sonar while Trolling. Brown Trout

  3. LIVE Sailing in Cuba!

  4. Repairing our autopilot linear drive underway

  5. Let's Celebrate!!! (With a $300 bottle of champagne!)

  6. WASSP S3 "Wireless Remote Mapping Multibeam Sonar"

COMMENTS

  1. Best forward-looking sonar: 5 units tested

    The plotter offers two forward views: LiveVü and RealVü 3D. LiveVü will look familiar to fishfinder users, with the classic blue screen and smeared lines, coloured to show the strength of the echo. RealVü scans a 60° arc ahead of the boat to build a picture of the seabed ahead, similar to the Echopilot 3D.

  2. Forward-facing sonar: Everything you need to know

    A forward-looking sonar maps the seabed ahead, usually over a cone of transmission of about 15° either side of the bow. When integrated with other navigation devices such as a chart plotter, they ...

  3. FLS 3D

    The 3D Forward Looking Sonar is one of the best proven Forward Looking Sonars. The FLS 3D displays a 3-dimensional representation of the underwater scene ahead of the boat. The seabed terrain and potential hazards are shown, for the first time, in real-time view and with unparalleled realism. The FLS 3D has direct integration to Raymarine Axiom ...

  4. B&G ForwardScan sonar

    The ForwardScan ® transducer operates at 180 kHz to reduce interference from traditional 200 kHz echosounders, and provides: Maximum forward view of 8X your current depth e.g. at 3 m (10 ft) depth, see up to 24 m (80 ft) ahead. Nominal forward view of 4-5X your current depth e.g. At 3 m (10 ft) depth, see 12-15 m (40-50 ft) ahead.

  5. Garmin Panoptix™ PS51-TH

    Software. Support Center. $999.99 USD. The Panoptix™ PS51-TH is a premium FrontVü Forward-looking sonar that displays the bottom and up to 300 feet ahead of your boat in real time.

  6. Forward Looking Sonars Systems at Teledyne Marine

    The SeaBat F30 is a High-Resolution Forward-Looking Sonar System designed specifically for 12 ¾ inch (approx. 324mm) AUVs/UUVs. The SeaBat F30 operates at 200 kHz or 635 kHz illuminating a wide, 120° horizontal sector ahead of the Sonar Head Assembly. The high frequency 635 kHz provides high-resolution classification functionality, whereas ...

  7. SIMRAD ForwardScan® Thru-Hull Forward-Looking Sonar Transducer and

    Confidently navigate in shallow or poorly charted waters with ForwardScan ® Sonar.. ForwardScan ® provides forward-looking, two-dimensional sonar views of the bottom ahead of your boat. ForwardScan ® is a powerful defense against running aground, and an invaluable tool for locating secure sites to drop anchor.. The ForwardScan transducer operates at 180kHz to reduce interference from ...

  8. ForwardScan® Sonar

    This forward-looking sonar provides a clear two-dimensional image of the bottom in front of your vessel, allowing you to navigate shallow or poorly-charted waters with a greater degree of safety. Stay Aware ForwardScan output can be viewed as a solid 2D rendering of the bottom ahead of your vessel in sonar view, or integrated with the heading ...

  9. Practical Sailor Takes Interphases New Forward-Looking Sonar for a Spin

    Photos by Andy O'Grady. What We Tested. Interphase offers various configurations of forward-looking sonar, ranging in price from about $1,700 to $2,500 without display. Each system comprises a transducer, a controller-the "sonar engine"-and a video display. We tested the SE-200B with through-hull transducer ($1,200 without display).

  10. Sonar and sounders: 4 new models that are good for more than just fishing

    Far Sounder. Rhode Island-based Far Sounder produces a range of forward-looking sonar for large vessels with ranges of up to 1,000m at operational speeds of up to 25 knots. The company's latest ...

  11. ActiveTarget 2

    ActiveTarget 2 Transducer Only. Get the clearest live action underwater views of fish and structure ahead, below or to the sides of your boat with Lowrance's new, higher-resolution ActiveTarget® 2 Live Sonar. $1,099. Find a Dealer. Get the clearest live action underwater views of fish and structure ahead, below or to the sides of your boat ...

  12. Forward-Looking Sonar: How to keep your boat safe using technology

    Advanced Technology. FarSounder's 3D forward-looking sonar reliably detects in-water obstacles and shallow areas in front of a boat. The system creates a true three-dimensional image ahead of a vessel in real time. The largest of its Argos Series can see out over a half-nautical mile in front of the boat at speeds up to 25 knots.

  13. Sonar that Sees Whats Ahead

    A complete Simrad system starts at about $2,000, with the following breakdown: $1,100 for display (7-inch evo2), $600 for Sonar Hub, and $800 for the transducer. The forward-looking range is variable, but due to the physics of the technology, its at best eight times the water depth.

  14. Forward Facing Sonar

    "The Lowrance depth finder I use has mapping, down-sonar, side-scanning, GPS and a water-temperature gauge, all on the dash of my boat. On my boat's front, I have two Lowrance HDS Live 12s, one for my forward-facing sonar and one for split-screen with mapping, down-imaging and the ability to keep up with the day and the time.The HDS Live 12 comes: preloaded with C-Map Contour; plus mapping ...

  15. FarSounder 3D Forward Looking Sonar for Navigation

    FarSounder is the leading manufacturer in forward facing sonar technologies. Argos navigation sonars are the only products on the market that creates a true 3D image ahead of vessels up to 1000 meters (over ½ a nautical mile) in real time. ... We paint a clear picture by displaying forward looking sonar data on top of a nautical chart. Fixed ...

  16. EchoPilot

    EchoPilot is proud to be featured in the annual SuperYacht Technology Summer Blueprint. The annual Blueprint is selected for only the best technologies for the SuperYacht Market and is featured worldwide. EchoPilot has specialized in Forward Looking Sonar since the 1940's and offers a variety of Forward Looking Sonar systems.

  17. Interphase Forward-Looking Sonar

    Posts: 10. Re: Interphase Forward-Looking Sonar. If one is forced to travel at night in smaller boats, radar is essential. A forward looking sonar can not be depended upon to detect floating objects. A 200 kHz transducer will detect the bottom in depths well over 300 ft. 25-10-2011, 20:56. # 11.

  18. Forward Looking Sonar

    FORWARD LOOKING SONARS. Forward Looking Sonar (FLS) is a vital tool for safe navigation for any skipper. With seabeds constantly changing the nautical charts are not able to update at the same rate. This is where FLS is a vital tool for safe navigation. FLS gives you a live image of the seabed up to 200 meters ahead of your vessel.

  19. Forward-looking sonars

    Sonarhub £628 / €617 / $699. The slimline 31mm transducer is a low impact appendage for the hull and overall the ForwardScan is easy to use, and comparatively easy to install. The visuals are a little basic but plus features include the ability to display a cone in front of the yacht on the chart mode.

  20. 3D Forward Looking Sonar

    The 3D Forward Looking Sonar is one of the best proven Forward Looking Sonars. The FLS 3D displays a 3D representation of the seabed ahead of the boat. WARNING - There is an increased level of "spoof" e-mails circulating at the moment stating that Daniamant has changed its bank details. Please be aware that these e-mails are a SCAM and ...

  21. Forward Looking Sonar

    Hi, I have a Catalina 42MK2 yacht which I keep in North Queensland near Cairns. I sail a lot around the reefs and am often single handed. For some years I have been looking for a good quality cost effective forward looking sonar to help me navigate when motoring close to reefs and coral cays. The Echo Pilot FLS3D provides a useful 3D image but is expensive at over $15,000 fitted.

  22. Forward Looking Sonar

    It does "look forward" about Two to four times the depth of the water (when depth range is set to 6m it will show 24m forward). I'm on pole mooring and wooden boat before me is detected and shown as group of dots near the surface of water. Metal container will give better results. 02-09-2014, 17:42.

  23. Forward looking sonar?

    I've got an old sailboat with sonar from 2001. It works fine and talks to my e127 MFD via a Seatalk converter. I would like to upgrade my old sonar to a new, forward looking sonar. ... In the past, customers of forward looking sonar systems (ex. Interphase SE200, etc.) would interface the composite video output of such sonar system to the video ...

  24. New Navigation & Obstacle Avoidance Sonar Begins Shipments

    New Navigation & Obstacle Avoidance Sonar Begins Shipments Created for surface, subsurface, and crewed or uncrewed platforms, the new navigation and obstacle avoidance forward-looking sonar from Wavefront has made its first batch shipment By Abi Wylie / 19 Jul 2024

  25. CCW-YOLOv5: A forward-looking sonar target method based on coordinate

    Multi beam forward looking sonar plays an important role in underwater detection. However, due to the complex underwater environment, unclear features, and susceptibility to noise interference, most forward looking sonar systems have poor recognition performance. The research on MFLS for underwater target detection faces some challenges. Therefore, this study proposes innovative improvements ...

  26. A Lightweight Underwater Target Detection Network for Forward-looking

    With the increasing demand for automatic underwater object detection, different deep learning (DL) methods have been performed on forward-looking sonar (FLS) images in recent years. However, DL-based approaches face challenges of overfitting due to excessive parameters and limited generalization ability. This study aims to develop a lightweight FLS detection network (FLSD-Net) that improves ...