What Sonar Do I Need for BioBase Mapping? – Updated

What kind of sonar hardware should I buy for BioBase Mapping is the most common question we are asked. Admittedly, continual change in technology, products, and features can be intimidating and sometimes confusing. With this blog, we focus on what you need to know to get started with BioBase

What Sonar is compatible with BioBase?

BioBase is part of the Navico Group who also own the major marine brands Lowrance, Simrad and C-MAP. BioBase processes the proprietary raw sonar format (.slg, .sl2, and .sl3) from ONLY these brands.

Lowrance or Simrad?

Lowrance is the most popular brand (Elite and HDS product lines) used for BioBase because BioBase has historically been used in inland waters and Lowrance is the major brand in this market. Its design to be mounted externally on smaller inland vessels also has some advantages over its sister brand Simrad. Alternatively, for coastal users looking for a sleek in dash mount and other sonar or charting features more common for sea-going vessels, Simrad (Evo NSS product line) might be preferred over Lowrance. Most transducers, sensors and accessories are compatible and interchangeable between both brands.

Lowrance and Simrad Sonar Depth Finders for BioBase
Lowrance is the most commonly used Navico brand for BioBase and is recommended for inland waters. Simrad might be a better solution for mapping with larger coastal vessels.

The number behind the model name is the screen size in inches

Within each product line, the difference in price is largely due to the screen size. Seven inch screens are the most affordable, compact and consume the least amount of power for portable applications. But you will find yourself squinting to see detail if you have your screen split multiple ways to see a chart, sonar, and other important digital readouts (e.g., depth, water temp, speed, etc). The real-estate on a 12 or 16 inch screen is great for seeing detail, but they come with a modestly higher cost as well. A 9-inch screen represents the Goldilocks for most applications.

Lowrance HDS product line is best, Elite product line is good

Lowrance HDS (or Evo in Simrad) is the premium product line and typically has the best screen resolution/clarity, processors, and other features for users who put lots of hours on the water and demand the most rugged, highest quality product. Much like evolution in the mobile phone industry, HDS product lines have changed names through the years, each bringing new features/upgrades (Gen2-Gen3-Carbon-Live-Pro).

The Elite product line (now called Elite FS) is the best seller and has most features in common with HDS. Elite FS a solid performer and meets most budgets. Hook Reveal is the entry level unit and will work ok, but avoid bundling with the split-shot or triple-shot transducers as they have a very wide beam 44 degrees (twice as wide as the HDI transducer). Beam angles wider than 22 degrees will result in imprecisions in bottom mapping over steep slopes or deep depths. You can calculate the exact beam angle by recalling a mnemonic from high school trigonometry that you thought you’d never use in real life: SOH CAH TOA. In this case, we are interested in TOA. Tangent = Opposite/Adjacent. Divide your beam angle in half and take the Tangent. Multiply that quantity by your depth. That will give you the cone radius. Multiply that value by two and you have your beam width at a specific depth. So the beam spread of a 44 degree beam angle transducer at 10 ft = approx. 8 ft. A 22 degree beam angle would give you a 4 ft cone footprint in 10 ft of water. Maybe not a big deal in shallow ponds. It’s a bigger deal when you are mapping deep, highly variable bottoms.

Lowrance HDS10 Pro and Elite9 FS

A broad range of transducers are compatible with BioBase. 200 kHz is mandatory, but down- and side-scan are “nice to haves”

Transducer installation is about the most important part of the entire process of creating a good map. Please read this post before you install your transducer. For most applications, 3 in 1 transducers (traditional 83/200 khz, 455/800 down- and side-scan) come bundled with Lowrance displays and are recommended. At the minimum, you will need a transducer capable of logging 200 kHz. For deep water mapping (consistently greater than 100 ft or 30 m), consider a higher powered Airmar transducer. The Airmar SS260 with a 6-deg cone is recommended for thru-hull installations and the equivalent TM260 for transom mounts.

3 in 1 transducer
Lowrance Active Imaging HD 3 in 1 transducer with compatible with HDS Pro. This transducer is an upgrade from Active Imaging 3 in 1 available for HDS Carbon, Live, or Elite FS.

For the best side-scan imagery possible, run HDS Pro with Active Imaging HD

Active Imaging HD 3in1 Transducer compatible with HDS Pro (and HDS Live with the S3100 external module) is the latest and greatest in sonar imaging technology. For practitioners wanting to produce the best side-scan images possible, go with HDS Pro and Active Imaging HD.

For console-steer boats, get an external GPS antenna and NMEA network kit.

Aligning your GPS with your transducer is one of the most important, yet overlooked installation requirements for creating quality BioBase maps. For a tiller-steered boat, the GPS in the display is already lined up with a transom mounted transducer, so an external antenna might not be necessary. However, if the display will be mounted more than a couple of feet or a meter away from the transducer, get an external GPS antenna (Lowrance Point-1, Simrad GS25 or Simrad HS75). Further, external GPS antenna have heading compasses that give users better positional awareness and will help with navigating. For 95% of lake and pond applications, the accuracy and precision of the Point-1 is more than sufficient. For application that require differential correction, you can network any third party NMEA-compatible DGNSS device. Also, if you purchase an external GPS antenna, you will need to install a NMEA 2000 network on your boat. The minimum you need to get started is a NMEA 2000 starter kit.

GPS units from Lowrance and Simrad
Mount a Point-1 GPS directly over your transducer in order to align your X,Y, and Z positions. A Simrad HS75 is a higher end GNSS antenna with more precise heading, heave, pitch and roll correction.
Sonar cables needed for biobase
If you acquire an external GPS antenna, you will need to network it to a NMEA 2000 backbone (e.g., you can’t just plug the antenna into the back of your Lowrance or Simrad). A NMEA 2000 network on your boat allows you to connect all kinds of useful accessories to your Lowrance or Simrad Display, including outboard performance and fuel consumption, autopilot trolling motors, radar, etc). A NMEA 2000 Starter Kit (shown here) is all you need to get to network just a GPS antenna. YouTube is your friend to learn what gets connected to what.

Where can I buy?

Navico has discounted pricing for BioBase customers in the US and Canada to order direct, email sales.biobase@navico.com to learn more. For those outside of the US, you can use the dealer locator here https://dealers.lowrance.com/ to find a reseller near you.

What’s next?

After you acquire your hardware and get it installed (for the novice, we recommend a certified Lowrance or Simrad Installer), then you are ready to map! Please visit our support resources page and getting started blog before you embark. The power of BioBase is that we automate all the hard work of generating aquatic habitat maps once you get your hardware installed. If you haven’t yet, register for free at biobasemaps.com and we’ll get you started with a free trial.

Author: biobasemaps

BioBase is a cloud platform for the automated mapping of aquatic habitats (lakes, rivers, ponds, coasts). Standard algorithms process sonar datafiles (EcoSound) and high resolution satellite imagery (EcoSat). Depth and vegetation maps and data reports are rapidly created and stored in a private cloud account for analysis, and sharing. This blog highlights a range of internal and external research, frequently asked questions, feature descriptions and highlights, tips and tricks, and photo galleries.

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