The trend in boating these days is to equip boats with the largest multifunction displays (MFD) that will fit on the dash. Unfortunately, this leaves little room for anything else. And not everyone can afford $11,000 for a Raymarine Axiom XL 22 or a pair of slightly smaller MFD. A more affordable option is to go with a smaller main display and augment it with one of the new secondary touchscreen displays like Yamaha’s CL7. But despite its utility when used as part of their Helm Master control system, it still costs $2,163. Another, more budget-friendly approach is to use traditional gauges to display vital engine information.
Above: Gauges on a 2021 Windy W29 Coho GT boat. Photo by Nautical Ventures in Tampa Bay.
Advantages Of Traditional Gauges Over Modern Touchscreen Electronics
While some might consider gauges old-school they do enjoy several benefits. For boaters who like to go fast or frequently drive in rough seas, trying to do anything on a touchscreen is difficult. And when ripping along at 65 mph or pounding through six-footers, a driver wants to spend as little time as possible looking at a display as possible and these are situations where gauges shine. You don’t have to fumble with your fingers to get a quick read out of a vital performance number from your system.
Gauges also offer many customization possibilities with bold bezel and face color options. When these options are matched with the hull and interior color, it makes for an eye-catching combination.
Gauges that use needles give near-instant feedback to the driver with just a glance. With digital readouts for items other than speed or rpm, your brain has to perform a mathematic function to process the info, which takes time. Another plus is round gauges can be mounted so the preferred range of operation can orient the needle to 12 o’clock. This makes it easy and fast for the driver to scan an array for water temperature, speed, rpm, oil pressure, and battery state in about one second.
Airplane pilots who are used to quickly scanning more than a dozen instruments are especially fond of analog gauges. And despite looking like past-generation analog gauges, most modern instruments get digital information directly from an engine’s computer. And multifunction gauges are great for dashes with limited space because they can deliver a wide range of information by scrolling through a menu.
Yamaha: Helm Master Control Systems
In the last couple of years, Yamaha has gone all-in on its Helm Master and Helm Master EX control systems that can include joystick docking even if you only have one outboard for newer model F150 and larger engines. To take full advantage of all its features that help control a boat in a variety of ways for fishing and docking, owners will need either the CL5 ($883) or CL7 ($2,163) touchscreen displays. But Helm Master is also compatible with its two round 6Y5 gauges, providing you add the Analog Gauge Interface ($266).
Yamaha’s 6Y5 Multi-function Tachometer gives the driver information about engine rpm in digital form, engine trim, oil pressure, water temperature, and engine hours for $287.30.
The 6Y5 Speedometer ($353.35) displays speed, trip information, time of day, fuel level, low fuel warning, and battery state.
Yamaha also has a full array of analog gauges for legacy upgrades or replacements.
Suzuki Multi-Function Gauges
For 2021, Suzuki unveils a new 4-inch square, color, multi-function gauge that’s available on all of its engines from DF9.8 to its dual-prop DF350A flagship. For optimal readability in all conditions, the SMG4 allows the driver to select daytime mode that displays a white on black background palette or change to nighttime mode for a red-on-black scheme designed to preserve night vision. For speed and engine rpm, operators can select either digital or analog readouts. Unlike many gauge setups, rpm and speed-over-ground (or water) can be displayed simultaneously. The SMG4 gauge allows the driver to control the Troll Mode feature for Suzuki outboards 2019 and newer that are adapted to offer this feature. This gives the ability to fine-tune engine speed in 50 rpm increments for perfect bait presentation.
The SMG4 gauge yields a wealth of information, including speed, engine rpm, time of day, shift position, mileage, water temperature and fuel state. Some info is only available with a GPS or speed sensor.
Suzuki also offers a full array of white or black analog single-purpose gauges along with a tachometer ($174) that includes warning lights that include check engine, high water temperature, low oil pressure and over-rev.
Mercury Engine Monitoring
As you would expect for a company with such a racing heritage, gauges are alive and well at Mercury as part of the SmartCraft family. The SC1000 series offers numerous capabilities for engine monitoring and functionality based on the model engine and available sensors. The SC1000 Tachometer ($420) alerts the driver up to 21 different faults. In addition to the usual suspects, it includes items like a water-in-fuel alert, scheduled maintenance alerts and faults with the data bus, ignition, injector, oil pump and even the warning horn. It also includes rpm and speed-based Smart Tow cruise control for precision watersports towing.
The SC1000 Speedometer ($480) alerts the driver when fuel or oil is low and the latest software update (9.0) adds support for Active Trim, Active Exhaust and Oil Level Status. It also includes all fuel calculations such as fuel used, fuel remaining, estimated range, mpg. It can interface with the GPS to provide heading, distance to waypoint and the fuel required to reach it. For anglers, Troll Control allows the driver to adjust engine speed in increments of 10 rpm. To activate Active Trim, a $500 module is needed. Although not NMEA 2000 compatible, they can utilize a VesselView Link to interface with MercMonitor gauges, VesselView displays and Simrad and Lowrance MFD.
The MercMonitor series of gauges is Mercury’s series of tri-colored LED gauges that allow owners to buy in at different levels, based on need and all packages include the necessary rigging to install them. All include the ability to control Active Trim and Active Exhaust. Although owners can get into the family with a non-NMEA 20000-compatible gauge ($492), Data Levels 1 through 4 are fully compatible. Data Level 1 ($691) includes a host of engine monitoring features. Data Level 2 ($778) adds rpm-based Smart Tow cruise and launch control. Data Level 3 Gateway Premier Kit ($1,058) adds features like the ability to monitor gear oil pressure and temperature to alert the driver if there’s a problem. Data Level 4 ($1,279) adds the Smart Tow Pro Kit, which includes a GPS antenna to allow the driver to control launch and cruise accurately by GPS speed instead of rpm only.
Honda’s Boat Speedometers And Tachometers
Honda’s NMEA 2000 Speedometer and Tachometer (offers a wide array of faults and engine monitoring information. To help squeeze the most mileage out a gallon of gas, there’s a green ECO light that lets the driver know when the engine is operating in Lean Burn Mode, which reduces the fuel to air ratio when the load is reduced. Both the tachometer and speedometer have white faces with fluorescent red analog needles for easy viewing but the information comes directly from the engine’s ECU.
The soft user interface buttons make it easy to scroll through the menu. The Tachometer monitors fuel burn, water temperature, engine hours and allows the user to set engine trim levels to avoid damage with trimming up at the end of the day. The Speedometer monitors 10 items and offers redundancy for items like engine coolant temp, fuel levels, ECO Mode and fuel burn rate. Audible alerts sound for check engine, water temperature, oil pressure, water in gas and charge indicator.