What the heck is trolling motor navigation?

A July press release from Johnson Outdoors Marine Electronics begins, “Continuing the evolution of GPS trolling-motor navigation, Minn Kota’s i-Pilot Link utilizes GPS technology and ethernet connectivity to achieve new levels of boat control.”

Having attended a webinar on this new system, I was already thinking about how much that opening sentence is going to mean to fishermen.

Trolling-motor navigation is a term relating to Minn Kota’s i-Pilot, an accessory that uses a Humminbird 50-channel GPS receiver and a handheld remote control to enable some Minn Kota motors to handle a list of features automatically.

The first generation of i-Pilots included the ability to record three GPS tracks (now called iTracks), each up to two miles long, and then pull your boat up or down them at your chosen speed. A Cruise Control feature let you set your speed down to a 10th of a mile per hour along an iTrack, while traveling in a compass direction set by AutoPilot or while following an arrow-straight string of GPS points laid out using Advanced AutoPilot.

A Spot Lock button put your present position in memory and controlled motor speed and steering to hold you on the spot like an electronic anchor.

A CoPilot feature also let you control motor speed and steering ‘manually’ just by pressing buttons on the remote.

The third-generation i-Pilot Link pulls together other new developments at Johnson Outdoors to expand on those original features and add some new ones.

First, higher-end Humminbird units now have ethernet capability that enables them to handle a larger volume of networked data — enough to handle real-time images from Humminbird’s new radar scanner, the new Humminbird 360 sonar accessory and now the i-Pilot Link that connects a Humminbird unit on your console to your trolling motor.

Linking the motor to the sonar/GPS unit gives it access to the combo unit’s much larger memory, all the mapping on it, all the tracks and waypoints stored in it, and everything the sonar side of the combo unit can see.

Let that sink in for a minute: Now the motor can use practically everything stored in the console unit and seen by its sonar system for automatic navigation. And, you can guide it with the press of a button on the i-Pilot’s handheld remote or on the console unit’s keypad.

So, how does having more memory help?

Instead of being limited to the first-generation i-Pilot’s three iTrack memory, you can now save 50, along with up to 2,500 waypoints and Spot Locks. A new Go-To feature can steer the boat to any of these locations or routes so you can fish them.

Johnson Outdoors recently acquired LakeMaster, a northern company producing lake maps prized by fishermen for their accuracy and detail. The company says these maps will only be available for use by Humminbird units from now on, and i-Pilot Link can use them to direct your boat with its new Follow the Contour feature.

You pick a depth contour, and i-Pilot moves your boat along it while you fish. An offset adjustment even lets you position your boat a cast away from the depth contour line you’ve chosen to fish; the offset adjustment can also be used to keep you a set distance from the shoreline.

Remember, you can press the Spot Lock button when you find fish at any time while using any feature, and the motor will hold you on that spot while you fish.

If you see fish or a brush pile, weed bed or other structure that might hide a fish on your Side Imaging or other sonar screen, you can move the screen cursor to it and mark it as a waypoint or Spot Lock location.

You can also set a trail of waypoints with the cursor on a sonar or mapping screen and tell the trolling motor to follow them like an iTrack.

The bottom line: The i-Pilot link ($799.99) is scheduled to be available in December of this year.

It will be compatible with Terrova, PowerDrive V2, Riptide ST and SP motors, and will only work with Humminbird combo models having ethernet capability.

It will also be available factory installed on new motors. The traditional i-Pilot accessory will continue to be available for fishermen using sonar/GPS combo models and brands not compatible with i-Pilot Link.

For more information visit minnkotamotors.com or call 800-227-6433.

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