I've sailed on a "kitchen sink" type 52' boat with fully integrated Raymarine
everything, three big LCD displays and 6 smaller displays and two autopilot control panels
spread throughout the boat, air conditioners, ice maker...
I hesitate to write this because I know some of you are really into the fancy electronics
and get quite defensive about contrary ideas... But...
I feel the user experience of a big integrated system is very fiddly. I am a 30-something software
nerd and so the non-nerd 60-something folks on board looked to me to teach them how to use it. They started out with a "Show me how to do everything" attitude and, as we got deeper and deeper into it, resorted to writing down lists of numbered steps in the log book to do basic things like "Turn on the radar" or "Fix AIS
overlay to put it back on the chart screen" and etc.
I felt like it was much harder to use than a system with separate components. That part of the passages felt a bit like I was fixing their printer, and telling them to click the equivalent of Apple-Settings-Printer-Advanced-Delete-Ok-Add-Ok all the time for basic things.
There were a lot of weird nuances in the order that things had to be turned on, you had to turn on one MFD before the other, which meant you couldn't just flip the breaker on, otherwise they wouldn't be seen by something else and not show up in the menus, so if the system was ever off you had to go below and turn on the NMEA
bus breaker and then the radar breaker and then the chart table MFD and then the cockpit
MFD and then.... And to do basic everyday things like turn on the radar involved going deep into menu trees and with non-obvious headings and names. And the UI had this concept
of "short press" "medium length press" and "long press", which I remember to turn the radar from transmit to standby involved the difference between "short" and "medium" and the "long" press would turn off the MFD completely. And there was a difference between "Turn on Radar" and "Display Radar on This Screen", which was hard for them to grasp all the different combinations of that and how to get to their desired state (Radar On and Displayed On This Screen) from any random state (Radar Off and Dsiplayed On This Screen, Radar On and Not Displayed On This Screen, and etc). And then of course none of that would work if someone had turned on the breakers in the wrong order, because the system was not 'booted' properly. Each MFD had a slightly different menu system, for some reason, which made it even harder for these folks to understand. And sometimes the downstairs display would mysteriously lose contact with the depth sounder
for a few moments, so to it the natural thing to do is scream like a smoke alarm
in the middle of the night until you find out which of the screens is beeping and then read a cryptic error message and press "OK". The chart table MFD had the chart cartridge in it, and for some reason this meant you couldn't do everything at the helm
So I don't know. I am a nerd and thought it was a bit awkward to use, but I was not able to really teach two baby boomers over two or three thousand miles how to be comfortable with the system. In the end they were still nervous about clicking around into uncharted territories in the soft menus, thinking they might change something that would make something else stop working. Which is probably true. And I saw how when they used the system they'd put on their glasses and carefully read everything on the screen and try to figure it out why the AIS
overlay disappeared, or if it really disappeared but the problem was that the AIS receiver was turned off for some reason, or whatever. What we settled on was me "Setting it up", and them trying not to break the setup with every day use, then written sheets
of numbered steps to get it back to that setup.
I know that "Super Premium Electronics Installation" right now tends to be defined as a three or more huge LCD screens and numerous small displays and autopilot control panels
spread around the boat that all talk to each other... And it does certainly look cool, all lit up and glowing at night. But I also feel like... Maybe you don't need six copies of every piece of information replicated everywhere in the boat. I mean, it is cool to open one eye in the aft berth and see a glowing screen that tells you EVERYTHING, but.. come on. Maybe it's easier to have one AIS, one radar, and one chartplotter
display in one place. What you gain is that to turn the radar on there is one button, and one dedicated button to bring it from transmit to standby. And the AIS never mysteriously disappears because someone fiddled with a soft key menu, because it has it's own display.
I also feel for those who are a bit more nerdy and do not have an unlimited budget
... That the most reliable system, long term, may be something more like an NMEA
bus connected to WiFi
with a bunch of iPads, Android Tablets, and Netbooks serving as displays. A Kindle Fire is $200, or a Netbook is $400, and it's very easy to buy a new one practically anywhere in the world. Or better yet, dedicated devices with their own displays that output to a common NMEA bus that is then connected to WiFi
. So you have a Furuno depth sounder
and display that also outputs depth. And etc.