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Live-mapping on Lowrance - the pros and cons

Live-mapping. A few years back the number one reason to use a particular brand of electronics, but readily available from all the major brands today. Here we look closer at what your options are for Live-mapping on Lowrance units.

Let us start by looking at what Live-mapping is as basic functionality. Bathymetric mapping means maps built from a combination of depth and position. The depth typically comes from your regular sonar (called 2D) and the position from your GPS-receiver. The software and processor in your unit then takes that data to calculate and draw a map showing depth and contours as you go. Right there and then on your chartplotter, no uploads, no downloads, no PC or what so ever needed. Just your unit, a transducer and a boat.

That sound like a great idea does it not? In this article we will look at both how great it is, and the limitations, as well as how to make the most out of it as an angler and boater.

Let us start with an example of how it looks. In the video below I`m using my Lowrance HDS Live (9) with one Navionics mapping-chip and one empty chip in, to use both versions of live-mapping available at once. I`m mirroring the HDS through the Link-app to my IPhone and then filming the screen on the IPhone in this video. The slight stuttering you can see in the video is from that screen filming, everything flows smoothly on the HDS itself. The film is played back slightly faster than reality to shorten it, playback speed is 1,75.

In the video, you see Genesis Live to the far left, Navionics Sonarcharts Live in the middle and my 2D (using Airmar TM185HW) to the far right. Can you spot the practical difference between Genesis Live and Navionics Sonarcharts Live?

In reality, the actual live-mapping is not that different with the two options. Both have a few settings you can tweak, like opacity (would you like to see the background map through the live-mapping? - that is opacity) and how much details you want (contours every foot, every three feet etc.) as well as palette (colors of the isobaths, the area between the contours). However, there are some points worth noting:
  1. Navionics Sonarcharts Live is a paid service. You need to purchase the Navionics mapping-chip and pay an early fee to have the live-functionality.
  2. Genesis Live hast tighter contours then Navionics Sonarchart Live.
  3. Genesis Live cannot be used with Navionics as background mapping.
  4. Genesis Live does not have the option of turning off the map-updating and only view your map, as long as Genesis Live is on (it has to be to see the map) it will update the map as well.
  5. None of them shares over ethernet, so live-mapping done at the console-unit is not visible on the bow-unit (unless you move the memorycard between the units.)
  6. The source for depth used when live-mapping is your 2D-transducer. SideScan is not used.
Take few seconds and read those points again, because these make up the most asked questions regarding live-mapping on Lowrance I get. Example: "I have mapped my lake using Genesis Live, but now the lake-level has dropped six feet and I mess up my whole map when turning on Genesis Live, how can I avoid that?" The answer is "You can`t". Another example; I have a map made with Genesis Live, but when I go on plane and still want to view the map my 2D-transducer tends to read incorrect depth which updates my map with the same error, how do I fix that?" Again the answer is "You can`t". 

Right now the two best reasons to use Navionics Sonarchart Live and not Genesis Live are that Sonarchart Live works with Navionics as background-mapping, and the "finished" live-map can be viewed without it being active, without updating it. Here are the options for Sonarcharts Live, turning it on and off as an active layer:

Navionics Sonarchart Live - can be active and passive.

Sonarchart Live (red arrow) means the layer is active and will be updated, while SCL History (green arrow) lets you view your live-map without updating it. The same options with Genesis Live:

Genesis Live - always active as long as it is visible.

Nevertheless, just as being able to live-map with Navionics as background is a big plus with Sonarcharts Live, being able to live-map with just about any other maps is a big plus with Genesis Live, and it is a free service as well. Mapping-products from C-Map (including the built in mapping in both US- and ROW-units), mapping from C-Map Genesis and your very own home-made mapping based on Reefmaster or satellite imagery, they can all be used with Genesis Live with no extra fee.

There are some minor differences in how the two live-mapping functions work as well. When watching the video above, you cans see that there are slight differences in how the interpolation is done, differences not related to the tighter contours created with Genesis Live but coming from the programming itself. Genesis Live has (in my eyes) a slight edge over Sonarcharts Live in this regard, and if we look at just the end-map alone, no other pros and cons weighing in, Genesis Live is the better of the two. But that difference is marginal when compared to the major differences mentioned above.

That covers the pros and cons of the two options for Live-mapping on Lowrance. So what about the cons they both have in common?

  • While creating a map can be fun, it tends to get boring after a while. Who really wants to spend hours and hours (live-)mapping if there is an alternative? We are there to catch fish right?
  • Mapping is not only boring, it also costs money. You are burning fuel, and adding hours to your outboard.
  • What about backup? You can make a backup of the mapping-files from the memorycard to your PC, but who actually does that after every trip? Memorycards and humidity do not mix, at some point that memorycard will go corrupt.
  • With Genesis Live always being active, what to use when you don`t want the Genesis Live layer to update?
The solution to all of those cons is quite simple, and you can even combine the solution with Live-mapping. The solution is to ensure your background-map is updated and improved on. 

With Navionics as your background map, the easiest way to get that map updated is to use the Boating app from Navionics. The app will use data from your WIFI-capable Lowrance and upload it to Navionics, which again uses that data to improve their maps. Since you are already paying for Sonarchart Live, the only extra cost is the price of the app. You don`t have to have an active subscription in the app for this to work, only on the Navionics chip in your Lowrance. As a bonus, your Live-map will also be in the app, for you to use when in a friends boat or while icefishing without your Lowrance etc. The app is available for both IOS (Apple) and Android (Samsung etc), you can read more about the app itself HERE. Most of the info in that link (leading you to Navionics own website) is related to having a paid subscription also for the app, but to share data and view your live-map in the app, no such subscription is needed.

With AT5-based mapping like C-Map as your background map, saving a sonarlog for later upload is your best option. AT5 is a fileformat used with C-Map, both their mapping-chips and C-Map Genesis, as well as maps made with Reefmaster and a whole bunch of other mapping-options. If your background mapping is C-Map, either a purchased chip or C-Map Genesis, uploading those sonarlogs to C-Map Genesis will lead to your background map being updated at some point. You can record and save a sonarlog while using Genesis Live, the sonarlog is saved to a memorycard just like the Genesis Live files, and can be deleted from the memorycard after uploading. The upload can be done in your boat from your unit, or by using a PC or Mac.  

Regardless of your preferred background map, I highly recommend uploading data. At this point someone always say "but I want my data private", and for those I recommend looking into Reefmaster. In all honesty, trying to keep your data private is really just wasting time. Eventually someone will upload data for "your" waters, and you will just have spent time and money on mapping soon to be publicly available. Reefmaster does however have a lot of other good options and let you tweak your mapping way more than Genesis does. So why not use both? Upload to Genesis, and use Reefmaster. Community based mapping is here to stay, and trying to fight by not sharing your data that is about as effective as stopping a freight train with your fist. It is fairly low cost, in some cases even free, and works well - a hard to beat deal.

Let us look at what you are missing when not sharing, by looking at the same area as in the video above, with mapping created with userdata.

This is the area you see mapped in the video from an aerial viewpoint:
The area from a birds view. (photo; norgeibilder.no)
The same area with C-Map Genesis (The C-Map navigational map does not cover this river):

The pool with C-Map Genesis

The same area with Navionics Sonarcharts (as seen in the video above as well), showing the Sonarchart-layer as the navigational chart does not cover this area:

The pool with Navionics Sonarchart.

The same area with my Reefmaster-map:

The pool seen with Reefmaster-mapping

They all look good don`t they? And a lot better than any Live-mapping.


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