Choosing a Multi-Functional Display (MFD)? Introducing the Icom Marine Commander!

Choosing a Multi-Functional Display (MFD)? Introducing the Icom Marine Commander!

One of the major developments in marine electronics over recent years has been the integration of multiple equipment such as radar, chart plotters, fish-finders to create Multi-Functional Displays (MFDs). Popular in both the leisure and commercial maritime sectors, MFDs provide an effective navigational solution utilizing some really sophisticated technology. Currently there are a huge range of MFDs on the market from various manufactures including now, Icom. With this amount of choice available, how do you choose? Here I will give an overview of the capabilities of MFD’s which might help in your choice.

A MFD is a highly sophisticated display unit that provides integration and control of other marine electronic equipment including Chartplotters, Radars, GPSs, AISs and Fish Finders much like the Icom Marine Commander shown in this picture. A MFD can also integrate with other instrumentation such as engine control, real time video and other sensors and devices. If the connections are not made directly to the MFD itself, you will find a processor module or "black box" that takes the information from the relevant devices and then passes this to the MFD in a data format that the MFD will understand.

Probably the most commonly mentioned concern is that you would be putting all your vessel's navigational equipment in one basket. However, the reliability of marine electronic equipment has improved immensely over the years and a sudden failure of equipment is extremely rare. Traditionally on a commercial vessel you will have a stand alone radar as well as a fish-finder and a stand alone chart plotter. By using a networked MFD, the radar & charting information can be shown on a display in a number of different layouts.

A common issue expressed by some skippers is screen size, especially if you are utilizing too many of the functions at the same time. Obviously the larger the screen, the easier it will be to read and use. Multi-function displays are best suited to display up to four main functions simultaneously, with "pages" used to scroll through the different user-defined display options that are available. This ability to customize the display highlights another benefit to using MFDs. A good example would be a skipper who wants a particular layout to navigate estuaries and another to navigate offshore passages. Through the use of the MFD's numerous page layouts, displaying the data can be fully customized and adjusted to suite the end user, as opposed to the end user adjusting to suit the display.

Another important factor in choosing an MFD, is the space you will need on your vessel's helm. MFDs can save you a great deal of space because you are avoiding the need of having individual instruments cluttering the helm position. However, MFDs might not be for everyone and there are still users out there who want dedicated electronics — individual radars, plotters and fish finders.

It would also be helpful to obtain a bit of knowledge in the area of interface standards before making your decision on which MFD to buy. You should check to ensure that if you are using legacy equipment that it is compatible with the interface of the MFD. NMEA 0183 has been around for a long time and still has a future, however, NMEA 2000 is the latest data protocol that offers high speed data transference. You should also make sure there are enough input & output ports for connecting the equipment i.e. autopilots, engine management systems etc. We recommend you consult a BMEA waterside dealer to help avoid any potential compatibility issues.

One factor in your choice may be how simple you want your MFD to be. A skipper is there for one purpose, to helm the boat, not to spend unnecessary time operating an overcomplicated range of electronics. Icom’s Marine Commander is one of the clearest and simplest systems to operate connecting radars, depth sounder/fish finder module, GPS modules, AIS modules. That’s it…that’s all the skipper requires…a simple system that is reliable and is there to do the job it’s there to do.

Another consideration is whether you should be using the latest touch screen technology. If you are a commercial user, there tends to be little demand for touch screens. They can be difficult to use on a vessel in rough sea conditions. Very often, you have to go through 3 or 4 different menus to get to the function you want. With a system like the Icom Marine Commander you have a lot of traditional soft keys and it only takes a couple of button presses to be where you want to be. A 12 inch full colour screen, daylight viewable with soft keys works allowing you to operate your instruments quickly and easily...even when your hands are wet and cold.

The Icom Marine Commander is one of the simplest systems on the market to install. The units are all full plug and play. The GPS, depth sounders, and radars plug in, the screens plug in to the main processor and that’s it. There is no rewiring; making new ends, plugs, systems or cables. Everything just connects into the main marine commander MPU or main processor unit and it all runs from there.

Whether you are fitting out a new boat or upgrading your own boats older instrumentation, MFD systems offer a simple way to make your navigation safer. You can find more about Icom’s Marine Navigation System at .

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