OCC Forums

Forward Looking Sonar


By bbalme - 15 Nov 2018

I had never really thought about Forward Looking Sonar as being a particularly useful capability until a couple of friends mentioned that they have, love it, wouldn't leave home without it!

Our plan (ha!) is to end up heading down to Patagonia where the anchorages are particularly small and rocky - so perhaps FLS would be a smart option - especially since my experience with underwater rocks isn't stellar! It would certainly be nice to have a view of what's going on underneath and in front - though I understand that the output does take some interpretation.
Practical Sailor did a review of various systems and it appears that the EchoPilot Platinum would be the best fit for me - it would allow me to feed the output to my existing MFD and not have to find space for yet another display.


It's not cheap - £1400 for the kit plus a hole in the boat and some long cables to run.
It's somewhat vulnerable to be knocked off by a stray line under the boat - unless one is disciplined to pull the sensor all the time.
When actually anchoring in Patagonia, I'm thinking I'll be reversing into tight spots - should I install rearward facing sonar??!
It's yet another thing to go wrong and fret over

Do you have any experience with these things? What do you see as the pluses and minuses?
edited by bbalme on 11/15/2018
By simoncurrin - 15 Nov 2018


£1,400 is on the expensive side compared to the budget versions. I'm not sure if they still make the Bronze version but it used to be around £600 and is perfectly adequate.

I agree the transducer is vulnerable but we have never had any damage to it in normal cruising although we did remove it in ice infested waters. In Greenland the local boats with FLS have glassed in protectors lateral to the transducer to deflect ice. I have never seen that modification in temperate waters.

Never tried pointing it backwards but the turbulance off the prop would surely make it useless in reverse?

If it saved one nasty grounding in Patagonia then the cost would be easily justified.

By clive@live-icom.co.uk - 27 Nov 2018

We have used a variety of Echo Pilots over the years when cruising in the largely uncharted waters of Spitsbergen and Greenland. They are a great idea in theory, but in practice our experience is that they don't really live up to expectations.

Particular issues:

- the transducers are particularly fragile and a single strike from a floating log or small piece of ice is enough to destroy them. They don't snap off leaving a hole in the hull but they do stop working. We have been through numerous transducers over the years and our FLS has spent far more time u/s than it ever has working. Removing them whilst in transit might solve this problem - but the Echo Pilot transducers can't simply be drawn up into the hull , they have to be removed altogether and a blanking plug fitted - which is always a wet and tiresome business - particularly in colder climes with ice cold water.

- the waterproofing of the echo pilot displays is not great and we have had to replace a couple of those as well

- the usable detection range is such that they only really work if travelling at speeds of 3 knots or less - they are fine for slowly nosing your way into an anchorage and sniffing around, but don't expect them to stop you running into an offshore rock at 6 knots plus - when travelling at that sort of speed by the time you see the rock on the FLS you will have hit it before you can take avoiding action

After many years of persevering with the echo pilot and spending lots of money on trying to keep it working, we have given up and reverted to the practice of posting a lookout in the bow and entering uncharted anchorages extremely slowly!!

We did toy with fitting the B&G/SIMRAD FLS which would integrate with our plotter, but friends who have used one say that they once again don't really live up to expectations or the advertising hype.

Don't bother fitting a transducer pointing backwards - they would never see through the noise/interference of your prop - the answer is to enter an anchorage bows first and do a slow sweep around looking forward to the shore before you finally try backing into the anchorage.

Bottom line is they are not completely useless and if we could find one that was genuinely reliable we would fit one in a flash. However, our experience suggests that they cannot really be relied upon and in the "value for money" scale they don't score highly. If you can get a cheaper model as Simon suggests and get it to work then it might be worthwhile, but we would not spend £1,400 on one. In Patagonia we will be putting our faith in the "enter uncharted anchorages slowly" version!!!

Cosmic Dancer
By Dick - 27 Nov 2018

Hi Clive,
Field reports are always of interest, but I am sorry your report reflected disappointment for you. And, yes, a bow lookout can make a big difference and if you can get someone to the first spreaders, it is amazing, in decently clear water, all you can see.
I guess I would put in a plug for going slow into any new anchorage, even if considered well charted: it gives one to get a "feel" for the place and a chance to settle in and reconnoiter before settling in. By going slow, I mean a speed where there is nothing to worry about when you hit a rock.
My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy
By Bill.Jones - 30 Jan 2019

I am installing a Simrad FLS/Zeus3 this winter and will let you know how much "my mileage varies". We are in the Pamlico Sound of NC (USA) so murky water and little to no visibility into the water. We are gaining experience seeing the depth from the ripples on top though.

I have no plans to use the sonar underway, just under power when we are scouting shallows, looking for dive spots, or are motoring in the ICW (or other shallow channels). Under sail, we will have the standard DST-style depth sounder.