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Garmin’s Surround View Eases Docking Stress

Garmin's Surround View gives skippers 360-degree visibility and a bird's-eye view in close quarters.

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Garmin Surround View
Garmin’s Surround View system enhances situational awareness for tight maneuvering. Courtesy Garmin

The first time I rode in a car with 360-degree cameras was also the first time I experienced an acceleration curve that pinned me to my seat. My friend enthusiastically showed off the self-driving capabilities of his Tesla Model S. Mad Max mode was memorable, but I was most fascinated by the car’s external cameras. It was fun to snoop on unwitting drivers, even if the car’s autopilot and self-parking modes were using these external eyes for more-purposeful reasons.

I can imagine that Garmin’s engineers are familiar with go-park-yourself buttons because the company’s Surround View brings 360-degree camera views to select new-build helms. For these boat owners, docking and attaining better situational awareness just got easier.

History poorly recorded the first time a recreational yachtsman docked his steed, but stress and shouting were likely involved. After all, there was no auxiliary power or technology to simplify a task that, even today, ends marriages. While Garmin’s Surround View system won’t automatically dock a yacht (yet), the system employs a six-camera array, a black-box processor, advanced image-stitching capabilities and a Garmin multifunction display to give the helmsman a 360-degree video view around the yacht. Surround View can be used with third-party docking technologies, and in time, Garmin plans to upgrade the system’s capabilities.

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“Even entry-level cars have bird’s-eye, 360-degree parking systems that let you see all around the car,” says Dave Dunn, Garmin’s senior director of marine sales. Surround View “gives you that full 360-degree image around the vessel to help you dock, or when you’re going out of the harbor or through a lock or channel. You can see your blind spots.”

Surround View consists of six Garmin-built, color 1080p daylight video cameras that are daisy-chained together and connected to the processor, which is networked to a Garmin multifunction display running the company’s Surround View app. The camera array consists of a single forward-looking camera, dual cameras on each board (port and starboard) and a single aft-facing camera. The forward-looking camera is bow-mounted, the four side-mounted cameras are through-hull secured, and the 180-degree stern-facing camera is placed up high.

Garmin Surround View
Surround View’s ability to provide a 360-degree look of the environment alleviates docking anxiety. Courtesy Garmin

Surround View is currently only an OEM option (see sidebar), but it can work aboard any kind of yacht up to 80 feet length overall. In all cases, boatbuilders work closely with Garmin to ensure that the cameras are properly installed with minimal blind spots.

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The system captures the feeds from each of its six cameras and stitches them together before sending this composite imagery to the MFD, where it’s shown as a real-time, 360-degree video view. Users can also view single-camera feeds, and can pan and zoom within the system’s single-camera feeds.

Surround View also has Garmin’s Visual Bumpers and distance-marker features. Operators can define the Visual Bumper widths, and the system provides a graphical reference—overlaid atop the video feed—depicting water and nonwater objects. Distance markers act like camera lines in automotive-style backup cameras and give operators a precise graphical reference for how far their yachts are from a dock or nonwater object. Visual Bumpers and distance markers can be viewed separately or concurrently.

“There is some color differentiation—that’s a big part of it—but there’s also some [artificial intelligence] and augmented reality built into it,” Dunn says.

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This differentiation is important when docking, but Dunn says the system can also differentiate swimmers, paddleboarders and kayakers from brine. Distances, he says, are calculated based on camera imagery, but laser-based technology such as lidar could potentially be used in the future. Surround View is currently a visual-only system; updates could include other types of alarms.

Surround View is already being used with Volvo Penta’s Assisted Docking system (see Yachting, July 2021), a hybrid manual/automated system with a GPS-based dynamic positioning system antenna. “If you pair Surround View with Volvo’s Assisted Docking, that’s a pretty powerful one-two punch,” Dunn says. “It’s safe to assume that we’re going to work with other engine manufacturers to do something similar.”

It’s also safe to assume that other innovations will follow. For example, Tesla’s Sentry mode uses the car’s cameras to record possible suspicious activity. Given that many of Garmin’s multifunction displays have HDMI video outputs, the company could potentially do something similar. “There’s great demand for a DVR-type function,” Dunn says.

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While this type of recording feature could help bolster onboard security, there’s also fun to be had. Catch-and-release fishing tournaments commonly require competing teams to video-document their adventures to ensure rules compliance. Anglers commonly  employ GoPro or similar cameras; Surround View could be smoother.

Given that Garmin acquired Navionics in 2017 and, in 2020, released a multiband GPS 24xd sensor that provides position accuracy to about 3.3 feet, it’s fair to assume that Garmin will eventually leverage these and other assets to further enhance Surround View’s capabilities.

While Surround View is highly innovative, it’s not without a few drawbacks. The OEM-only system currently can’t trigger audible alarms or make autonomous adjustments. Also, every boat is different. “The biggest challenge we see right now is on an outboard boat,” Dunn says. “You have to get that camera high enough to be able to minimize that blind spot.”

Depending on the design, radar arches and tuna towers can be great camera-mounting locations.

Drawbacks aside, Surround View presents itself as extremely interesting technology for increasing situational awareness when it matters most. There’s no Mad Max mode—that’s probably a good thing—but odds are solid that the system will help more than a few marriages stay afloat. And the system should only improve as over-the-horizon capabilities hove into reality.  

Attaining Awareness

Garmin’s Surround View is one of the coolest advances in situational awareness, but it’s only available as an OEM option. As of this writing, Surround View is available on new builds from Absolute Yachts, Azimut Yachts, Groupe Beneteau and Solace Boats. This list is expected to grow quickly and substantially.

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