Pure Performance


SIMRAD marine electronics are most commonly associated with large yachts or multi-million dollar game boats. These Norwegian designed products rank right up there as high performance units. Because of that, many trailer boat fishos, myself included, have tended to steer away from the Simrad range, thinking this top-notch gear was out of our league.

And, to be honest, up until recently most of it probably was.

However, the launch of the NSE range in 2009 has meant that the Simrad experience is now available to keen sportfishermen operating from offshore trailerboats boats in the 5.5 to 8m class.

I’ve been testing an NSE8 on the Fisho project boat, a Bar Crusher 670C. This sort of boat – basically a hardcore offshore sportfisher – is exactly the market the NSE8 is aimed at. The unit is designed for serious deep-water use, and has the durability and powerful software required for what is sometimes pretty extreme fishing.

That said, these sort of premium units ain’t cheap. But if you factor the cost in with a big plate alloy or fibreglass hull, a new outboard, a braked tandem trailer and all the paraphernalia associated with offshore sport and game fishing, you tend to be able to justify it. After all, what’s the point of having a big flash boat and all the fancy game gear if your sounder goes haywire in 150 fathoms?

The NSE8, like its bigger sibling the NSE 12, is a “multifunction” unit. With the addition of various modules and connections, the NSE head unit can be used as a sounder, plotter, radar, autopilot control, engine performance display and much more.

Unlike most other units, the NSW comes preloaded with state-of-the-art Navionics Platinum navigation and mapping software so there’s no need to buy a separate mapping card.

Like the majority of trailerboat anglers, I have no need – yet  – of radar or autopilot on my boat so had I just had it rigged up with the Simrad BSM-1 broadband sounder module and a transom mounted 600 watt transducer. This gives me the ability to sound out to around 220 fathoms; a more powerful 1 kilowatt transducer would no doubt open up more ground. As a point of interest, a non-broadband sounder with a 600 watt transducer will struggle after 80-100 fathoms, which is just where most gamefishing starts. The NSE8 is also compatible with the Lowrance StructureScan transducer, meaning you can have down and side sonar functions as well.

The sounder has proven to be efficient and effective. It tracks the bottom at all speeds from dead slow to wide open throttle (which is just under 40 knots in the Crusher) and displays fish and bait clearly. A trip off Coffs mid last year revealed just how effective this sounder is. I was drift fishing a productive shoal with Fisho writer Sami Omari when we spotted a series of individual fish mid water. Dropping a plastic down resulted in a double hook up on 4kg reds. The fish were clearly visible on the screen, and we could also track the plastics wafting down to them. Pretty cool stuff.

The “gain”, or sensitivity, is easily controlled on the NSE8 by swivelling a large knob to the upper right hand side of the screen. More gain, more sensitivity – and more clutter. I’ve experimented with gain settings and have found that +6 seems to give the best readings in regards to finding fish while keeping the screen relatively clear.

The screen can be easily customised with whatever info you want – I like water depth big, with temp, speed, battery, fuel use, RPM and position also prominently displayed. I’ve stuck with the factory settings of hard structure being brown, weed/soft coral green and fish red, although you can customise the screen colours however you like. Zooming in and out is a simple matter of pressing the IN and OUT buttons just under the MENU button. I really like the seamless transition when zooming. Lesser units require you to press zoom buttons multiple times. With the Simrad you press the button down, hold it, and the map redraws in real time. It’s pretty awesome technology, made available via the unit’s powerful 1.6 GHz CPU and 80GB cartography hard drive.

The eight-inch colour TFT screen has a resolution of 800 x 600 pixels, which is super sharp and highly detailed. I had a 10-inch Lowrance HDS on my previous boat and was initially a bit concerned that going down to “only” eight inches (yeah, I wish!) would be a disadvantage. But the way I’ve got the unit mounted (on a bracket high up and just to the side of the main dash) means it’s easy to operate and view, even in sloppy conditions.

Although it looks dauntingly complex, the NSE8 is actually pretty easy to run. I have problems dealing with a TV remote so take it as read that I like my marine electronics to be simple and straightforward. Again, I was initially concerned that I’d struggle with the Simrad, especially after having used Lowrances for nearly 10 years, but I have had no problems whatsoever using the unit. If I can use it efficiently, I’d reckon that anyone can use it.

I tend to run the unit in split screen format with the Navionics map to the left and the sounder image on the right. A series of buttons below the screen allow you to choose various functions (Chart, Radar, Echo etc). You can customise pages so that pressing a button gives you exactly what you want – ie, full screen sounder or split screen sounder and engine info, for example.

Taking the time to set the unit up pays dividends out on the water. I can’t stand scrolling through screens or menus trying to find the page or info I want. A couple of hours in the shed at home fiddling with the NSE8 has meant that I’ve got a wealth of info right at my fingertips – if I need it. As mentioned above, I mainly stick with the split plotter/sounder screen, with occasional use of full screen when I’m either zeroing in on a waypoint or sounding out a likely reef. The engine info set up via NMEA 2000 allows me to easily access data about my E-TEC 175. I have this screen set up to look like traditional gauges. This is a good back up for the twin E-TEC iCommand gauges set up on the helm.

You can save and download screen snapshots, and install updates, via a USB connection on the front panel. I understand that you can also connect the unit to a DVD player and run movies through it.

At 285mm wide, 212mm in height and with a depth of 122.7 mm, the NSE8 is a fairly chunky unit. It was too big to thru-mount on the Crusher’s helm – hence the bracket mount system detailed above  – but many boat companies (Haines Signature and Haines Hunter are two that immediately spring to mind) are now deliberately building consoles designed to take big marine electronics. The unit draws 21.6 watts or 1.8 amps at 12v DC, meaning a boat set up with a decent twin battery system should have no problems running it. I have the Crusher set up with a 12v start battery and a big Exide deep cycle “house” battery running all the electrics.

The unit is designed to withstand water and salt ingress but I make sure I give it a good wash after use. The diecast aluminium outer casing ensures it’s durable and tough enough to handle the bangs and crashes associated with offshore fishing.

All up, solid six months of use in offshore and bay situations leads me to consider Simrad’s NSE8 to be a more than capable performer. Anyone looking at buying a new sounder/plotter for serious offshore use would be nuts not put the NSE8 on the shortlist.

For more info, and for the location of your nearest Simrad dealer, go to

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