Furuno vs. Garmin

Though they're similar in functionality, Furuno's NavNet, with more options and better 10-inch screen, bests the new Garmin Marine Network.

Furuno vs. Garmin

We’re partial to the big screens, wide-ranging capabilities, and steadily declining prices evident in today’s networked marine electronics. In recent months, a war has erupted over market share among these products. With several companies, including Furuno and Garmin, battling for position, things are looking up for the marine consumer. All indications are that prices should keep dropping, with continual improvements in quality, capabilities, and options.

The most advanced networked systems are capable of displaying radar, sounder, chartplotter, weather, or video data on multiple screens using up to four windows per screen. And control of each component is available from any display location. That’s enough to get even the most seasoned navigator salivating.

What We Tested
Practical Sailor’s second head-to-head test of networked electronics pits a complete Furuno NavNet package against Garmin’s recently introduced network system. (Our first test—August 1, “Networked Systems: Furuno vs. Raymarine”—evaluated systems with 7-inch displays only.) Each system here consists of a 10-inch display, a 7-inch display, a network sounder, a GPS antenna, and associated hub and cables. The Furuno includes an 1833C radar, 1710C chartplotter, and BBFF1 sounder.

While Garmin does not currently have radar capability available for its network system (it’s expected in early 2005), we still wanted to review both a 10-inch and 7-inch screen. Garmin supplied a pair of chartplotters, the 3010C and the 3006C, and a GSD-20 black box sounder. The Garmin system also has weather display capabilities, which we will test along with the weather systems of other brands at a later date. (We also plan to test the networked systems from Raymarine, Northstar, and other makers.)

How We Tested
All the Furuno equipment, including the 10-inch and 7-inch displays, black box sounder, GPS antenna, and all associated cabling is permanently installed aboard our sister publication’s (Powerboat Reports) 25-foot test boat for long-term review. Garmin sent us its network package mounted on a pair of wood stands and we temporarily installed that system using the stands. To achieve comparable GPS satellite performance, we mounted the Garmin GPS antenna on the T-Top adjacent to the Furuno antenna.

As always, viewability played a major role in our ratings. Each display was rated under a variety of lighting conditions from bright sunlight to cloud-obscured daylight to nighttime conditions. Plus, we looked at each screen from various angles, with and without polarized sunglasses, using different background color palettes. After sunset, each unit was given a rating based on the display’s viewability during twilight as well as in total darkness.

Sounder testing was conducted on the test boat and evaluations were made over known bottom topography. We used the same transducer to test both units, an Airmar B44V thru-hull tri-ducer permanently flush-mounted. Special crossover cables supplied by Airmar allowed us to connect the transducer to each of the test units.

We rated both sounders in shallow water by making occasional stops in various depths during a 7-mile trip offshore to the deep-water area. Deep-water testing was done over a steel wreck in 105 feet of water. All depthsounder testing was done in 80° salt water. (We didn’t test these sounders at their rated maximum depth.) The plotter and sounder sections of each unit were rated for user interface based on the dials, buttons, cursor pads, and software. The easier and more intuitive, the higher the rating.

Furuno NavNet System
The Furuno network system we tested has an 1833C/NT radar, the 10-inch display, a GP-1710C/NT video plotter, the 7-inch screen, the BBFF1 black box sounder, and BBWGPS receiver/antenna. Additional options available (but not tested) are an infrared remote control, a more powerful black box sounder, and a weather fax system.

Both the 10-inch and 7-inch displays are flush-mounted in the instrument panel of the boat and the BBFF1 is bulkhead mounted inside the center console. Bracket-mounting of the display units is an option and each comes with a bracket.

Day viewability on both Furuno displays was rated Excellent, with the 10-inch display the brightest tested. The 7-inch screen is not as bright in daylight as the 10-inch, but is about equal in brightness to Garmin’s 7-inch screen. Using polarized sunglasses, we viewed each screen from head-on to a 45-degree angle, and noted no darkening of the screen. Both screens remain viewable to angles of 60 degrees. The best test results were obtained in plotter mode when depth shading was turned off, displaying water areas in white. Using white for water also proved to be the best way to view the sounder display in daylight conditions. We accomplished this by selecting Hue No. 5.

Screen fogging due to high outside air temperature and humidity was occasionally evident on the lower third of the 10-inch display. However, that did not interfere with reading the screen and slowly dissipated. No fogging appeared in the 7-inch screen.

Night view testing began in twilight conditions and continued until full darkness had fallen. We left both screens in the daylight palette and used the eight levels of brightness control to dim the screen. As the light faded, we switched to the twilight palette and tinkered with the brightness. Later, we tried the night palette. Both the twilight and night palette use dark colors and appeared nearly identical in function. Control panel pushbutton backlighting is adjustable separately on both Furuno screens. We rated night viewing on the Furuno 7-inch display Good while rating the 10-inch display Excellent. It dims further than any of the other screens we have reviewed and would do well even on the darkest of nights.

The software in both the 10-inch radar display and the 7-inch plotter display is very similar and would be virtually identical if both units were the same type, i.e. both radar or both plotter only. Control key layout is the same on the two units with two exceptions. Only the 10-inch display has an alphanumeric keypad and the big screen’s trackball is replaced with a cursor pad on the 7-inch unit.

Commonly used functions are controllable on both the 10-inch and 7-inch displays by using dedicated pushbuttons or the five soft keys. This limits the need to enter multi-layered menus for most everyday uses. Here’s an example: To save a waypoint at the boat’s current position, simply press the Save/MOB key momentarily. This enters all the needed data into the waypoint list and creates a numbered waypoint. To edit any waypoint data, like changing the name from numbers to letters, just use the trackball or cursor pad to select the newly created waypoint. Whichever display is used to save the waypoint, that unit also stores the waypoint. It will not display on the other screen unless the waypoints are transferred via the network connection. This requires extra steps.

Holding the Save/MOB key in for three seconds will activate the MOB function. If you press the enter knob, the Furuno immediately draws a line to the MOB, automatically selects full-screen plotter mode, and displays MOB range and bearing. We like this sophisticated programming. On a dark, moonless night, it would come in handy to immediately return to the spot where you hit the MOB key.

All five soft keys normally operate at least two functions depending on the mode in use with one function selectable by the user. Nomenclature describing the current function of each soft key is displayed on screen, next to the key, in large easily readable type. Soft key labels display the currently assigned function, the second function, or can be hidden from view by pressing the Hide/Show key. Waypoint, route, and menu lists are also displayed in an easy-to-read format and font. Onscreen data box information is user selectable and the boxes can be moved, displayed, or hidden.

Manual data entry on the 10-inch display can be accomplished quickly and easily with the alphanumeric keypad. Entering data manually on the 7-inch unit, however, requires scrolling through number, letter, and symbol lists. On the bright side, the Enter knob on the Furuno 1710C does rotate, making number and letter selection somewhat faster. With a multi-unit network like our test setup, it’s best to input all manual data via the 10-inch display’s keypad and then transfer the data to the other unit as needed.

Furuno vs. Garmin

Two map modes are available, North-Up, and Course-Up. A third mode, Auto Course-Up, is available when optional heading sensor data is supplied. The 10-inch screen redraws are far faster than the 7-inch Furuno unit, but still not as fast as the Garmin units.

Basic display pages for both units include Radar, Plotter, Sounder, Nav Data, and Overlay. Additionally the 10-inch display has External Video and Weather Fax. Of course, to display information on all these pages the respective components must be part of the NavNet network. Pressing the Disp(display) key brings up a menu of pages for the user to select; pressing the key again displays several split screen options, or the user can create their own screen and designate it as a hot page making it easily selectable anytime. We’ve found this method of page selection to be fast and easy to use.

Furuno’s 10-inch unit can be split to display up to three separate windows while the 7-inch unit can show two. A soft key is designated to allow the user to switch control between windows. One feature we really like and always use with the Furuno system is the user-adjustable course predictor. It gives a graphical line display showing the boat’s present course: Match thatup with the line to a waypoint and you know you’re on course.

Furuno’s BBFF1 black box network sounder transfers data to either display screen via the NavNet network. It’s a full-featured sounder with dual-frequency capability (50/200 kHz), user-adjustable depth ranges, variable range marker, zoom, bottom lock, bottom discrimination, full-color A-scope, Shift, and water temperature display. Two levels of auto gain exist: cruising and fishing; both gain and depth ranging are automatically set in either of those modes.

While offshore, we used both auto and manual gain settings, and both worked well. Optimal performance, though, is obtained by manually setting both gain and depth.

We found the Furuno sounder had better color definition than the Garmin unit. Each color displayed by the sounder should indicate a different density in the material from which the sound waves are reflected. This appears to be the case with the Furuno sounder. The deep-water wreck holds schools of baitfish, and the Furuno sounder was able to distinguish between the hull of the wreck and the fish above it by using different colors to show the density variance. This is an important advantage with the Furuno sounder. We rated the BBFF1 Excellent in both shallow- and deep-water testing.

The test package from Furuno includes a 10-inch display configured as an 1833C radar. We found this unit priced at $4,690 and is shipped with a 24″ radome and cable. For a fair price comparison between the Garmin 3010C and the 10-inch Furuno, we’d need to buy the Furuno configured as a chartplotter only. This would be the GP-1900C, which is roughly $3,480. Subtract $800 with the Furuno 10-inch NavNet rebate, and you’ve got a price of about $2,700— comparable to the Garmin 3010C.

The GP-1710C/NT is priced on the web for $1,921, including the BBWGPS antenna. Again, that’s within a couple of hundred dollars of the Garmin 3006C. Adding the BBFF1 sounder is an additional $549. Transducer options top out at $220 for a bronze thru-hull unit. The total cost of a Furuno 10-inch display, 7-inch display, network sounder, GPS antenna, and transducer configured like the Garmin test system would be approximately $5,380. Furuno backs the products for 2 years on parts and 1 year on labor.

Bottom Line: This system is still the reigning champion. Furuno offers more options, a better large screen, better sounder, and a better price.

Garmin Marine Network
This is PS’s first look at the recently released Garmin Marine Network. The setup we tested had all the available options, including chartplotting, sounder, and weather display. Our test system included a 3010C chartplotter with its 10-inch-display screen, a 3006C chartplotter and 7-inch display, GSD-20 black box sounder, GPS 17 receiver, and the GMS Network Port Expander and associated cables. Options available for the Garmin network that we did not test include an infrared remote control and the weather display system.

Garmin shipped the components to us already installed on a pair of wooden stands, so all we had to do was install the gear on our test boat and connect some wires and network cables. An actual boat installation of either of the systems we tested would require large holes to be cut for flush-mounting the displays and numerous wires and cables to be run from components to network hubs and power sources. We think most of these network systems will be professionally installed, but owners with some mechanical and electrical experience could do the job. Bracket-mounting rather than flush-mounting the displays is an option, and both come with brackets.

We rated day viewability on the Garmin 3010C display Excellent, while the smaller 3006C was Good. Both Garmin screens were bright and sharp when viewed straight-on without polarized sunglasses. However, as you move to the side, both screens begin to darken somewhat, the smaller screen more than the larger. It was noticeable at 45 degrees and increased at wider angles. Using polarized sunglasses to view the screens resulted in further darkening.

The best test results were obtained by selecting the sunny color palette for daytime testing. The 3006C was far more susceptible to the darkening effect of polarized sunglasses than the larger display, forcing us to lower the rating to Good. Screen fogging was evident in both displays, most likely caused by the high outside air temperature and humidity of our south Florida test environment. This did not interfere with reading the screens, and slowly dissipated.

In the night-view testing, we followed the same procedure used with the Furuno units. We left both screens in the best daylight color palette, in this case “sunny,” and then used brightness controls to do the initial screen dimming. As the light level dropped, we switched to the shade palette and adjusted the brightness as needed. Two characteristics were common in the Garmin units. First, they will not dim as far as the 10-inch Furuno screen and neither has controllable panel lighting. These two small items are enough to rate the pair Good rather than Excellent for night viewability.

Just as both Garmin units appear identical (size is the only difference), so is their software identical, even the instruction manual is shared. Numerous dedicated function keys are available to control and implement commonly used operations like marking a waypoint, changing the displayed page, turning data windows on or off, or getting to the main menu.

Garmin also uses easily accessible menus to allow the user to customize display pages. For example, pressing and holding the Enter/Mark pushbutton will save a waypoint at the present position and open a waypoint review page allowing the user to either accept or edit the waypoint symbol, name, comment, coordinates in lat/lon, and a few other tidbits of waypoint information.

Another Garmin software feature we really like is the ability to turn off the whole network by turning off one unit (a prompt asks if you want to turn off everything). This feature will become important when Garmin introduces radar to the network in early 2005. You’ll be able to easily upgrade all the software in the system. Simply prompt the display to read the software version of all components, and write them to a Garmin data card. Then, upload this data via a PC to the Garmin website, where the newest software versions are downloaded to the data card. The entire system is automatically updated once the card is re-inserted.

Five soft keys located at the bottom of the screen change function based on the page currently displayed. A label listing each soft key function is located directly above the pushbutton. We found waypoint, route, and menus displayed in easy-to-read and easy-to-use formats. Use the Data/Cnfg key to turn the data boxes on and off. Holding the key for two seconds brings up a data box configuration menu that allows the user to select data box info and size. One or two data box columns containing between four and seven data boxes each can be selected.

Manual data entry on either Garmin display can be easily accomplished by using the alphanumeric keypad on each display. In our opinion, having an alphanumeric keypad is a huge advantage over any other manual data entry method. We like the fact that even the smaller unit has its own keypad. Any waypoint, route, or track list can be transferred from one unit on the network to another by using the communications submenu.

Three map modes are available on Garmin’s units: North-up, Track-up, and Course-up. Screen redraws on both the 3010C and the 3006C are lightning fast, even with long ranges containing high map detail. Garmin redraws are noticeably quicker than Furuno’s.

Garmin uses five display pages in the 3010C: Map, Sounder, Compass, Highway, and Video. The smaller 3006C uses the same display pages. Toggling the Page button moves from one main page to the next. Each main page can be modified to include the display of other information in a split screen. For example, on the map page you could add a window containing a data box list, another displaying the sounder, and another showing video; up to four windows can be displayed simultaneously.

To control the displayed information in each window, press the Fctn (Function) key. This will highlight the selected window with a yellow box and configure the soft keys for that function.

Furuno vs. Garmin

]The Garmin GSD-20 sounder has 500 watts of output power, operates at both 50 and 200 kHz, has automatic depth ranging and gain control as well as 16 manually adjustable depth ranges. Though it lacks some of the more advanced features found in the Furuno sounder, it still has 2X and 4X zoom, bottom lock, monochrome A-scope (called flasher by Garmin), and is capable of displaying water temperature and speed. We rated the sounder Good in both shallow and deep water. It produces sharp images of bottom structure and fish, but lacks the Furuno’s color definition.

The combined price of the components in our test package is approximately $5,390—within $150 of a comparable Furuno system. Garmin warranties its products for 1 year from the date of purchase.

Bottom Line: An excellent system, lacking the radar and improved sounder options offered by Furuno.

When you’re spending $5,000 or more on electronics, you expect to get top-quality gear that more than just gets the job done. Either the Furuno or the Garmin systems will give you exceptional performance, but there are imimportant differences to consider.

The first network system to hit the market, Furuno NavNet, remains our top pick. It simply offers more choices in function, and has a variety of radar options to choose from while Garmin has none. Next, the viewability ratings of the Furuno 10-inch display, both day and night, bested both Garmin displays. And either Furuno sounder (two models available) offers more advanced features and capabilities than the Garmin sounder. That is not to say the Garmin is not a capable system. Its internal hardware and software are certainly more advanced than the older Furuno system, as evidenced by its extremely fast chart redraws, large waypoint capacity, longer waypoint names and comments, huge list of waypoint symbols, excellent and easy-to-use menus, and superior graphical presentations of celestial and tide data.

No doubt, Garmin is coming on strong in the network system wars.


Also With This Article
“Value Guide: Furuno vs. Garmin”

• Furuno, www.furuno.com, 360/834-9300
• Garmin, www.garmin.com, 913/397-8200

Darrell Nicholson
Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 50 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida. You can reach him by email at practicalsailor@belvoir.com.