Display important engine data with an MFD interface

Mercury SmartCraft Connect, an MFDI example, enables data display on Garmin and Raymarine MFDs ($644, single engine; $1,463, multi-engine).
Courtesy of Mercury Marine

Modern boats are increasingly powered by computers on the engine and at the helm rather than fuel. The Mercury SmartCraft, Yamaha Helm Master EX and Volvo Penta Electronic Vessel Control systems, to name three examples, integrate steering control, an autopilot system, virtual anchor, automatic trim and more. A touchscreen multifunction display at the helm offers the ability to combine navigation, fish finding and touchscreen switching for many vessel functions. Often the MFD can also display motor data and control motor functions; however, this is not always possible as the engine computer may not be able to fully integrate with the MFD.

Each engine manufacturer offers an MFD designed to work with their engine computer system. It’s a lot more complicated than just plugging a new monitor into your desktop computer. Two software systems must integrate. So engine builders partner with one of the MFD manufacturers to create branded displays. Mercury VesselView displays are made by Navico (Simrad/Lowrance), Yamaha and Volvo Penta use Garmin, and Suzuki use Furuno.

An MFD not specifically designed to communicate with the engine may still display basic engine data over an NMEA 2000 connection, but graphs, fault codes and touch screen functions may not work. Boat builders typically align the MFD to the engine mark or leave room at the helm for a standalone proprietary display. However, if you are re-engining your boat, you may have to choose between installing a new MFD that works with the new engines, adding an engine-specific display, or looking for another option. For example, in our story about repowering a 1998 Cruisers Yachts 2870 Rogue (boatingmag.com/sterndrive-repower) with new MerCruiser SmartCraft-enabled sterndrives, the engines could not communicate VesselView data to the existing Garmin MFD, and there was no space on the bar for a separate VesselView display. The owner’s solution, installing VesselView Mobile to transmit the VesselView interface via Bluetooth to an iPad, is less than ideal.

To address this, Mercury recently released SmartCraft Connect, an MFD (MFDI) interface designed to allow VesselView to run on various Garmin and Raymarine MFDs. Mercury calls VesselView an “experiment”, saying it’s the operating system that’s important, not the hardware. The MFDI translates data, functions and graphics from Vessel-View to the Garmin operating system. At present, this experience is not complete; some touchscreen functions, such as cruise control and Active Trim, are not available on the Garmin screen. That will change in the coming year with upcoming software updates, according to Mercury.

Read more : We test marine multifunction displays

Yamaha MFDI unit
This Yamaha MFDI unit ($1,487) translates menus from Helm Master EX, Yamaha’s integrated boat control system, to Garmin displays.
Courtesy of Yamaha Marine

The Yamaha Helm Master EX system includes two MFDI units: one for Garmin displays ($1,487) and another for Raymarine units ($1,965) that require an HDMI connection. The Garmin MFDI enables all functions of the Helm Master EX touchscreen, but the Raymarine MFDI requires a small handheld controller for these functions.

Mercury and Yamaha MFDI devices should not be confused with gateway devices (Mercury VesselView Link and Yamaha Gateways) needed to connect the engine to the boat’s NMEA network and any type of display. These gateways act as a firewall between the MFD and the engine computers. Today’s boats may be powered by liquid fuel, but they increasingly run on software.