So, what are the differences? The way we tend to boil it down for customers in our showroom is that Garmin is more "Apple"ish, and Simrad more "Android"ish. What do I mean by that? Basically, Garmin has figured out the 70% of features you are most likely to use, and they put those features at your fingertips. The other 30% of features are there but may be buried down in menus to create less clutter and steps for the features you will use. This makes their systems very easy to use. In fact, you'll never have to reference the manual if you don't want to. Simrad on the other hand gives you easier access to 100% of the features. By doing so there are often menus and buttons that you'll never use but will need to navigate around for regular tasks. So if you like to tinker and fully customize a system to your tastes then Simrad would fit the bill. If you just want to turn it on and have it do most of what you want easily, then Garmin is the answer. This is the question that so many ask. As the two leading manufacturers for marine electronics people always wonder which brand will be best for them. Well, before we even get into it, I can tell you that both are fabulous systems so don't stress too hard over this decision. They both get the job done elegantly.
Both of these brands are constantly leap frogging each other in terms of technology. One year Simrad launches Side Scan, the next year Garmin launches a better version of Side Scan. One year Garmin announces motion sensing on radars, the next year Simrad has a better version of it. If you are trying to figure out which brand is literally "better", you can't. At any given time one may have a better feature, but give it a year and that will change. As of today (6/5/20) for example, Garmin has the better version of Live Sonar called Livescope. Simrad offers Livesight which is awesome, but Garmin's Livescope is universally accepted as better. Simrad on the other hand, today, has the best solid state radar domes. Garmin's are still pretty incredible, but Simrad's current radar lineup is regarded by most to be better.
"I called the experts at BOE and they answered all of my questions. They knew just what to ask me, and helped me find the perfect solution for my boat"... John Wallace
What type of fishing will you be doing? Because technology keeps changing we recommend always calling us to review your needs and match it as closely as we can to the right brand. Some questions to consider when picking brands are:
- What kind of boat is it?
- Will you need networking?
- Do you want to make your own maps?
- Do you want a radar for navigation only, or for finding birds too?
- Do you want multiple displays?
- Do you want touchscreen or buttons, or both?
- Do you want autoguidance for routes?
- Do you want Live Sonar?
- Do you want video from cameras or other video sources?
- Do you want FLIR control?
- Do you want autopilot integration?
- Do you want stereo integration?
- Do you want trolling motor control?
I'll cover the basics for each of these questions below. If the Apple and Android anaolgy did not steer you in the right direction yet, then one of these questions may trigger you one way or another.
Q - What type of fishing will you be doing?
A - Are you inshore only? Offshore? Bottom fishing or trolling? Many people figure out what transducer they will need first, then build a system around it. Airmar offers many versions of CHIRP transducers that can be used on either Simrad or Garmin. But Simrad and Garmin have their own proprietary transducers too. Simrad offers a one-size-fits all transom mounted transducer to combine Side Imaging, Down Imaging and CHIRP, while Garmin offers some very specific version suited to different types of fishing. Both brands offer high power Black Box Sonar Modules to operate high power CHIRP transducers for offshore fishing. Figure out your fishing/transducer requirements, then that just may help you figure out which brand offers the most suitable options.
Q - What kind of boat is it?
A - The type of boat plays a critical role in what brand you might get. This goes back to choosing the sonar options you need. Some transducers only fit on trolling motors, some only comes as through hulls, some only as transom mount. So you might decide on the technology you want but find there isn't a transducer suitable for your boat to make that tech work. So take this into consideration.
Q - Will you need networking?
A - Networking comes in many varieties. We now have wireless networking, partial networking, and wired networking. If you are mounting two displays at one helm, like on an offshore Center Console, then you might not actually need networking. Do you really need to see your radar on both screens? If you have a bass boat with a display at the helm and one at the bow then you might want networking. However, maybe you want the units to operate as standalone units in which case you won't need networking. Have a flybridge offshore boat with a tower or a motoryacht with uper and lower stations? Then you will certainly want networking. It is becoming common for most units to include networking, but there are nuances. For example, you need to go to Garmin's flagship 8600 series to get video networking. Otherwise the video image only shows up on one display.
Q - Do you want to make your own maps?
A - Making maps is getting to be very popular. Maps now have community layers. You can add in your own soundings and bottom recordings. Can transfer them to PC's or Ipads and more. Both Simrad and garmin offer their own unique twists on this, so if making your own maps is one of your needs then look into the feature sets offered by both brands.
Q - Do you want a radar for navigation only, or for finding birds too?
A - Radars come a bunch of different ways. Magnetron vs Solid state, Doppler, Domes and Open Array. What are your needs? Do you want to find bird. Do you want or need low power usage. Why is radar choice important? Because adding a radar can severely impact the budget on an upgrade. So figure out your true radar needs and see which each brand offers. You might find a $1300 radar from Garmin does what a $2400 radar does from Simrad and vice versa making one brand more affordable than the other.
Q - Do you want multiple displays?
A - Do you want one big display at your helm, or multiple displays at your helm? Some screens only go up to 12" while others go to 16". Will you need full networking between screens? Will you want control for stereos and other things from each screen?
Q- Do you want touchscreen or buttons, or both?
A - This is a big one. Some options have touchscreen with partial button control. Some are all touchscreen. Some have only buttons. And some have both touchscreen and buttons. Generally on smaller boats you'll want buttons as touchscreens can be hard to control on a bouncing boat. On larger boats touchscreen is more popular. There are also wireless remotes and optional keypads to make most touchscreen units have buttons. Lots to conisder!
Q - Do you want autoguidance for routes?
A -There are lots of limitations for AutoGuidance. Some units won't even do it. Some require aftermarket charts. So research AutoGuidance to see if the unit you are considering offers it.
Q - Do you want Live Sonar?
A - Live Sonar is called LiveSight on Simrad, and LiveScope on Garmin. The transducers mount differently One may be more suited to your boat than the other. Some units require a secondary Black Box to add the ability to do Live Sonar. So if you are wanting Live Sonar one brand may suit your needs and budget over the other.
Q - Do you want video from cameras or other video sources?
A - Generally higher end units will do video. Some will even network that video across units. If you are needing video then check out the capabilities of the units you are considring.
Q - Do you want FLIR control?
A - FLIR control comes a variety of different ways. Some higher end units can control FLIR right from the touchscreen. Some have no control at all.
Q - Do you want autopilot integration?
A - In general we recommend using the same brand of autopilot as the GPS/Chartplotter. It will generally allow you to control the pilot from the Chartplotter to save some button pushing. In the case of Garmin you can actually follow a track which is a nice feature. Simrad and Garmin both make the best autopilots, so keep them the same brand as your chartplotter.
Q - Do you want stereo integration?
A - If a chartplotter has the ability to integrate with your stereo then it can act as a remote on your helm. This is cost saving and slick. Many units will integrate with Fusion Stereos via NMEA2000.
Q - Do you want trolling motor control?
A - Garmin and Simrad (Navico/Lowrance) have recently introduced awesome trolling motors. They offer seemless integration with their systems. Highly recommended by us for the best integration. The trolling motors are offered in various sizes so be sure to consider this when choosing a brand. You'll want the trolling motor best suited for your boat, whichever brand that may be, then buy a chartplotter to match.