First Look: Using Raymarine’s Wi-Fish Sonar with a Smartphone

Using a Smart Device and Wi-Fi to Display Depth, Temperature, and Fish Location

WIFISH_Facing_Left-WithPhone
Photo courtesy Raymarine

Raymarine recently introduced Wi-Fish, a WiFi-enabled CHIRP DownVision Sonar for use with smartphones and tablets, in its Dragonfly series. Wired to a transducer, this is a sonar box that wirelessly connects to a mobile device equipped with a Raymarine app. The app displays depth, temperature, and fish location on a smartphone or tablet that can be located anywhere on a boat, making for convenient and portable use.

The MSRP at release is $199.99.

Raymarine provided me with a unit to try and while I could not see it superseding the permanently mounted sonar/GPS device on my main boat, I was excited to try it on my jonboat, which is taken to many smaller lakes, ponds, rivers, and creeks. I used the Wi-Fish with an iPhone 6 and first had to consider practical installation and setup issues.

Getting It Together

My first consideration was where to put the phone so I could see it while fishing, and how to mount the black box. I settled on a ¾x3x14-inch board and mounted the easily adjusted ball-and-socket black box base to it. Then I found an adjustable old cell phone car holder and drilled two holes in the base to connect that to the board. The photo accompanying this article shows both in use while fishing. The board rests on the boat seat and is not permanently mounted, although it could be more firmly attached if necessary by putting a hook-and-loop fastener to the bottom of the board and the surface of the seat.

I mounted the transducer onto a pre-manufactured bracket, as described in another article. Because the bracket is long and the transom is angled forward, the transducer angle had to be adjusted so that it is level with the water surface when the bracket is in place. The depth offset feature is used on the app to adjust for the distance that the transducer sits below the waterline (usually 6 to 8 inches).

The electrical connection to a 12-volt battery is simple and straightforward, but the packaging does not contain a necessary 5 amp fuse holder or battery terminal connectors. The latter is to be expected, but the former should be supplied. I had a 3 amp fuse and holder among my electrical supplies and used that, which has worked fine so far, and I’ve had no signal interference despite the fact that the box wires are connected to the same terminals as my electric motor. Raymarine’s website displays an aftermarket battery pack that may be an option to consider.

Working the Wi-Fish

The Wi-Fish (pronounced “why fish”) mobile app is free and available for iOS7 or Android 4.0 devices (or newer) through the appropriate app store. It provides DownVision CHIRP sonar only and no navigational data. However, there is a Navionics app for sonar logs that turns a smartphone or a tablet into a chart plotter.

The Wi-Fish manual is available for downloading at raymarine.com. Unless you print out the manual or relevant pages or download it to a separate device, you can’t read it and use the app at the same time, which is mostly a non-issue as long as you don’t have problems, which I didn’t. There is a simulator feature on the app, incidentally, which helps to familiarize you with the operation, which is relatively simple anyway.

You have to hold the power button for 3 seconds to get the unit to come on or shut off. I would prefer an instant response, but this prevents accidental use/shutoff.  With any new sonar, I like to test the depth and temperature functions for reliability and I found both of these to be spot-on.

The settings and options are minimal and intuitive. You can adjust sensitivity, contrast, and noise filters, and set auto or manual bottom depths, with or without depth lines. I’ve basically used this unit in shallow water, and on the small smartphone screen (I only used it horizontally), depth lines clutter it up, especially since fish marks are sometimes faint. I’d like optional fish symbols, but that’s not available.​

There are four color palettes to choose from, and they are typical of a unit with CHIRP DownVision.

I’ve been using the copper palette and the inverted slate palette, but can’t say I love them or that fish marks and other screen info is easy to read in bright sunlight. In low light, the screen looks okay. However, when you’re standing, and the phone is low on a seat or deck, it can be hard to see even under good conditions. An optional larger numerical depth display would be nice, but not provided.

You can pause, zoom, and rewind the screen, but zooming on the small screen of a smartphone isn’t helpful. It’s easy to do, however, by pinching your fingers together vertically on the screen. If you pinch or spread them together horizontally you change the scroll rate. 

Raymarine touts the fact that you can instantly share screen info with others. The capturing part is fine, done by simply pushing the always-available camera icon. Of course, you can also have a more conventional sonar unit and use your smartphone to take and share a photo of that screen.

About Water and Power

As to the phone itself - I didn’t use a tablet since my wife wouldn’t let me take her iPad on the water - the moment I caught my first fish while using Raymarine’s Wi-Fish, I saw how splashing and dripping got water on the non-waterproof iPhone screen. It made me think about how I’d adapt if it was raining. I now have a flexible, resealable, transparent, waterproof ​​LOKSAK, which I also use while kayaking, and keep handy for covering the phone in my boat. There are other waterproof cover options that you can find from many sources.

If your smartphone is waterproof on its own, it doesn’t need such consideration.

Another phone-related issue is power consumption. For decades in constant-on mode, to see what’s happening at any given moment. When you’re using a 12-volt battery, power consumption by sonar is minimal. If you use alkaline batteries in those few portable devices that require them, in my experience, they last for three to five long outings and maybe more before needing to be replaced. 

I had my smartphone at or near full charge before every use of Wi-Fish. Nevertheless, in 3 ½ to 4 hours of continuous use, the phone battery lost 80 to 90 percent of its charge. You can bring a backup power source, but now we’re talking more gear and more complications. I don’t know if this power consumption issue is the fault of the black box, the app, the phone, or all of these, but it prohibits long day-use.

In all, I’m a fan of the use-your-phone-with-sonar concept, and like using the Wi-Fish. I’ll be a bigger fan when its screen becomes more readable under all conditions, and when the battery lasts all day while using the Wi-Fish app.

Pros: Affordable unit; highly portable; accurate info; easy setup; easy-to-use options and settings; good for half-day trips on a fully charged smartphone battery.

Cons: Have to buy a printed manual; need to supply your own 5 amp fuse and holder; transducer is long and may not fit certain installations; phone screen is hard to see under certain light conditions or with certain palettes; unable to enlarge depth/temp window/numbers; may need a waterproof cover for your phone; can’t see battery state on sonar screen; no fish symbols.

Also, power consumption is significant and you may need backup power or charging capability for the phone. You must start an outing with a fully charged battery.