The Mercury/Simrad Glass Dash is designed to create ease of use and integration of all ships systems into one or more hi-definition touchscreen displays. It is designed to be intuitive allowing for the end user to be able to operate all systems without referring back to an owner’s manual every time something needs to be accessed or changed, or anytime for that matter. It’s also designed to be weather resistant. Now, it seems, the prayers of many boaters have been answered.
Hi-Definition Screens. Available in three sizes to fit most boats. Hi-definition display screens are 16”, 19”, and 24” (.41 m, .48 m, and .61 m). Simrad NSO sizes - 16”, 19”, and 24” Simrad NSS displays (also capable of screen sharing) sizes – 7”, 9”, 12”, 16”.
NMEA 2000 Compliant. Many devices that have NMEA 2000 connectivity, which is just about everything in marine electronics nowadays, can be connected to this system. Multi-Function Displays (MFDs), GPS, stereos, CZONE, temperature sensors… etc. Just to name a few.
Easily-Selectable Menu Items. Everything is quite intuitive and requires no fiddling to determine what it is that you want to do.
Weatherproof. Not every boat is fully enclosed. This system is perfectly adaptable to open boats. We even poured water over it with no harm done.
Easy Installation. The entire system is plug-and-play. Once a unit is plugged in the system recognizes it immediately.
Due to the partnership between Mercury Marine and Simrad Electronics there is a close integration with Mercury’s VesselView functionality. And that’s pretty much at the forefront of this system’s features so let’s start there.
When looking at the VesselView screen, it’s best to think of it divided into two halves, left and right. The right is the fixed portion showing, in this case, a pair of rpm scales, the speed at the top, a rudder angle indicator above that, and the level of fuel to the right. The operator decides what information is to be displayed, so what we’re seeing here is what the system is told to display. We can change it to show whatever we want, but this is pretty indicative of what a good information flow can present.
The left half of the screen is more dynamic, which is to say that it changes based on current conditions changing. If we press the engine trim button, the display changes to reflect the level of trim for all engines. If an alarm goes off, this is where it’s displayed. The new information stays on the screen for a user-specified amount of time, with the exception of alarms, which need to be manually cleared.
Additionally, these alarms will pop up on every screen, not just on the Vessel View. For example, if one of the engines starts to overheat, the notification will pop up on the radar screen, the fish finder screen, or whatever screen is being displayed at the time. With multiple displays, it pops up on all of the screens at once. Also, when you clear an alarm or warning on one screen it clears it on all screens. This makes it impossible to miss such an alarm and it’s a huge feature that speaks of the involvement taking place, along with the integration, with other systems. Far more than stand-alone units are ever able to accomplish.
At the lower right of the screen there’s an arrow that brings up the familiar VesselView menu and it takes the forms of icons that can be swiped left and right to pick and choose which one to select, just like on the regular VesselView displays of old.
Whatever information is brought up is considered temporary and an “X” in the lower right corner of the new information window closes that out and the old information returns.
But there’s much more than just displaying information. This system can also let an operator know the best conditions for peak economy, both for rpm and engine trim. Go to the VesselView menu, touch the icon that looks like a dolphin and up comes the Eco display. The right half of the screen now shows yellow lines for where the best rpm setting will be for the given weight and fuel flow.
To the left half, a touch of the trim button will show yellow arrows indicating the best trim angle of the outboards. Adjust trim and throttle to these yellow points and they turn green indicating best settings have been reached.
When new information is brought to the left half its icon resides at the top of the display for easy retrieval without having to go through the whole menu selection process. And each item has associated information to go along with it that can be brought up with a swipe, just like on a smartphone. For example, the fuel flow will allow a swipe to bring up the fuel rate, and fuel remaining.
White indicators at the bottom of the display show at a glance what “page” you’re on and ease the transition from one to another. And of course there’s a “scroll” button right next to this that allows the display to automatically cycle through each page of information.
Another example of this is engine temperature. Touch the engine temperature icon and a display of all four (in this case) engines comes up with their temperatures. Swipe and we see one engine at a time. Swipe back through the engines and you’re back to all four at once. Touch the “scroll” button and it cycles through all displays automatically. How long does each screen stay up? As long as you’ve programmed it to.
By going to the settings menu, every parameter of what is displayed can be tweaked to the user's desires. From information on the right half, how long pop up displays are shown, screen contrast… you can even add new wallpaper so that a picture of your kids, or that huge catch are on the back of the displays (only on the Simrad homepage not on the VV). Anyone with a smartphone can use this system with a minimal learning curve.
Now it’s important to note that the information that the display is receiving is coming from the VesselView modules just below. But in this case the displays are VesselView 4. However, the larger screen shows the information as if it were the next Gen VesselView 7, so there’s so much more functionality.
Camera Work. For example, if we touch the joystick, a rearview camera pops up in the left half of the display (remember that’s the half that is dynamic). When we touch the throttles to come out of docking mode, the camera reverts automatically to the previous display.
Beyond displaying information pertaining to the Mercury side of things, this system is quite adept at displaying information from electronic arrays. To get out of the VesselView, just tap the icon in the upper left of the display. VesselView is replaced by the last Simrad screen accessed.
Now instead of engine displays, fuel flow, and RPM data, we’re looking at navigation aids. Now the advantages of having more than one screen become self-evident.
Customize the Navigation Screen
This Simrad display is also easily customizable. We can show a single display, such as GPS, or multiple displays. The multiple displays can be chosen from a variety of display choices, again all easily customizable. And we can even create a menu of selections based on what the mission of the day is. Underway we can create a split-screen with GPS and radar. At the fishing grounds we can switch to GPS and fishfinder. Or not even go with a shared display. We can just as easily focus on one.
Of course, it’s not just the display that is subject to customization. Each piece of electronics is also fully adjustable on its own. Take the radar for example. Change the range, brightness, sensitivity, anti-rain clutter, anti-sea clutter… all with the touchscreen functions.
Here’s a Cool One. The fishfinder allows for scrolling back in time and if there’s a rock that you like, touch it and select it as a waypoint. Then touch STEER TO and the boat automatically drives to that exact spot, assuming auto-steer is fitted, which on our boat it was.
The system isn’t just for the usual navigation electronics. It can display and control anything that has a NMEA 2000 plug, which is nearly everything in the marine industry. Let’s take a look…
Touching the home button on the upper left returns us to the main navigation page where we see a few additional features. One of them is CZone. Touching that brings up the electrical controls for all lighting on the boat.
Control Monitor Page
At the bottom center of the CZone control page is a control monitor button. This takes us to a page that could be likened to a site map on a web page. All of the systems are here in drop down list form and all functions are controllable from here as well. One look at this page tells us that the engineers are pushing the envelope of what can be done with this Glass Dash system. We can even start the engines from this page. That would be a handy feature to have in a control station just off a yacht’s engine room.
This installation also had SonicHub attached to it so we also had complete control of our audio system. And by complete control we mean that we could select the source (SiriusXM, iPod, AM, FM, USB ….) and then control each function of these individual sources. For example, going to iPod allowed us to select from the various playlists, shuffle, repeat, skip, replay, and fast forward, and of course select the volume. All with the touchscreen controls.
And one cool aspect of this is that when we selected the control screen for the SonicHub, by touching the current song at the bottom of our display screen, all other functions become disabled. So scrolling through the playlists on your iPod won’t cause you to accidently create a waypoint on the map screen.
Addressing our Concerns
As with any system, be it joystick maneuvering, dynamic position keeping, or this Glass Dash, concerns need to be addressed and we had a few with this system. Let’s take a look at some of them and see how/if they were addressed.
Steady Hand on a Choppy Sea?
Long offshore experience with touchscreen displays has shown that when pushing 30+ knots through chop, the boat can get a bit bouncy. This leads to touching a screen with any sort of precision being problematic. We like having buttons… plain and simple.
Buttons to Push? While this concern could be solved by using the Simrad NSS displays which are both touch and have buttons/knob or the separate touchpad), this system also offers another solution to a bouncing boat. A separate keypad is available that allows for pushing buttons, directional pads, and a control wheel to access all of the functions of the touchscreens. It connects via a wire so there’s no concern about loss of signal between the touchpad and the display. And it can be mounted anywhere. Concern #1 solved.
I could easily picture being in my stateroom on a long overnight passage to the canyons where I would want control and access to the screen functions. Sure, a whole other display screen would solve that problem, but not the concern about portability. And how about a display at the rigging station? All addressed with the GoFree Wi-Fi hub and an iPad app. And just like that, we have full control of the functions and displays with the same touch gestures as on the main screen. Concern #2 solved.
We looked at this installation under the protection of a T-top in a center console. A pilothouse would also offer its share of protection, but if this is to be a truly versatile system, it needs to be fully weatherproof. And it is. We took a bottle of water and poured the entire contents over the displays and it shook it off and kept right on working. Rain, wind, snow, sleet, hail, gloom of night… no problems. Concern #3 solved.
With endless capability for integration and customization that can dial-in the displays to suit any users personal tastes, this system seems to be the perfect solution to a fully assimilated Glass Dash. It offers ease of installation, total control, remote connectivity, works and plays well with NMEA 2000 compliant systems, and it’s fully weatherproof. More importantly, all our concerns were addressed. But what we’ve seen with this system is just the beginning. As with any system based on electronics, it’s still being tweaked and evolved.
If this is just the start, who knows where this will lead? In any case, what is available right now in the Mercury Marine/Simrad Glass Dash will keep us happy for the foreseeable future.