We have found that having a forward scan sonar has made exploring in the high latitudes safer and more feasible. Instead of feeling our way along at 2 knots when off the charts, we can now travel confidently at 6 knots, since the forward scan reaches out up to 200 meters ahead. Also, the sounder makes it possible to feel our way into tight anchorages, even when the water is not clear enough to see the bottom.
This is first generation technology: the interface is clunky and non-intuitive; the buttons are difficult to use especially with cold hands; and it takes practice to interpret the readout. There are several other issues that are important to know: the transducer is vulnerable to damage from ice, so we carry a spare; and the sensitivity is variable between units. We went through 2 units and 2 transducers before we got a combination that reached specification. However, the British manufacturer and the American distributor have been very responsive to our problems and their newer models fix many of our complaints about the FLSII, albeit with a shorter range.
The EchoPilot has made a huge difference to our ability to cruise safely in the high latitudes. It isn’t necessary, however, to go to the high latitudes to get good use from a forward scan sonar: We use it all the time, even in well-charted waters, to guard against the consequences of a navigation mistake and when anchoring it allows us to survey for anchor placement with much greater accuracy and less hesitancy about getting too close to shore.