by Doug Thompson
Pinch, swipe and zoom are familiar terms to anyone with an iPhone, iPad or other smartphone, and that technology has moved firmly onto boat dashboards over the past year. Multifunction displays (MFDs) are now the centerpiece of the dash that gather all the information from the boat’s systems and display it in a variety of customizable layouts. Even if you already have an MFD (or two or three) in place on your dash, new technology from leading manufacturers may tempt you to upgrade.
The big four MFD manufacturers are Furuno, Garmin, Raymarine, and Simrad (under Navico with additional brands Lowrance and B&G for sailing). Choosing which brand to go with is an important decision—like getting married, sticking with one brand can make current and future integration easier. The competition among MFD manufacturers is to “own the glass,” meaning that your chartplotter, depth sounder and radar are all from the same brand. Data from other components—such as cameras, VHF radio and entertainment—can be viewed and controlled on the MFD via NMEA 2000 protocols and/or through the use of a convertor.
How data is controlled and distributed is accomplished via a marine processing unit (MPU) either contained inside the display or behind the scenes in a “black box”. A black box configuration can provide faster processing and the ability to send the data to larger displays and/or multiple screens. In addition, apps are available so you can view information on your iPad.