The Electronic Angler - Beam Steering Sonar: Inside Lowrance's All New LiveSight

By TJ Maglio

Although there had been rudimentary research into the way sound travels through water as early as the 19th century, it wasn’t until the onset of World War I that these concepts were utilized for more than just novel experiments. The sinking of the RMS Lusitania in 1915 by a German U-Boat didn’t just trigger American involvement in the Great War, it also demonstrated to the world how effective submarine warfare could be – and left other nations scrambling to find any way to counter their effectiveness. By late 1916, the British Navy fielded an “active sound detection” project using piezoelectric crystals to create the world’s first practical underwater sound detection network.

By the 1930’s, American naval engineers had expanded on this technology, developing something they called SONAR – which is an acronym for “SOund NAvigation and Ranging.” This at the time rapidly improving technology was critical to Allied successes in WWII and it was further honed in subsequent conflicts throughout the cold war.

Despite the rapid advance of sonar technology throughout the forties and early fifties, it was still only a military technology until 1959; when Tulsa engineer Darrell Lowrance built and marketed the original “FISH-LO-K-TOR,” giving recreational boaters and anglers their first look at the effectiveness of sonar technology.

Initially slow going, once anglers realized the effectiveness of having sonar in their boats their demand skyrocketed; and Lowrance produced over 1 million “Little Green Boxes” between 1959 and 1984 - unofficially starting an electronic arms race in the fishing industry.

The next major breakthrough in sonar technology didn’t occur until the mid – 2000’s, when side-scanning sonar was adapted from the military to allow anglers unprecedented clarity and range out to several hundred feet on either side of the boat.

Fast forward to just the last couple years and we’re about to take the next leap in sonar technology, something called “Beam Steering Sonar.”

Traditional Sonar

Despite having various bells and whistles, traditional 2D, down, and side scanning sonar works very simply. It uses a single transmitting element (to produce the “click”), and a receiving element, which listens to the return. That information is then processed, and the image is produced on the screen.

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Although it’s incredibly effective at showing bottom contours, structure, and even fish at times, traditional 2D sonar is limited in several ways; the first of which is that in order to get an image, the boat needs to be moving. It’s also limited in its ability to detect objects quickly moving through the water column.

Beam Steering  Sonar

A totally new technology, beam steering sonar like Lowrance’ s all-new LiveSight offers anglers the unprecedented ability to track movement through the water column in real time. The way Lowrance does this is by building a network of 24 receiving elements into a single transducer, and using a processor powerful enough to stitch the returns together in a real time view of what’s happening under or in front of the boat.

What it does for the Angler?

You’ll often hear skilled anglers say that one of the keys to success is to visualize the bottom, where your bait is in the water column, and how it might appear to the fish. Beam steering sonar like LiveSight does this FOR anglers, showing a real time view of the bait during the retrieve, any fish in its viewing cone, and how they are reacting, as it’s happening.

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Although it’s still in its infancy, early returns on beam steering sonar are incredible. YouTube is rapidly filling with videos showing cast-to-catch sonar imagery that just a couple years ago would have been science fiction. Imagine watching bass cruising around the bottom in front of you, see your crankbait dive down towards them, and know precisely when one rockets up off the bottom to eat it – all on your screen in real time!

Applications

1.       Finding actual fish – beam steering sonar is great for covering water to determine what general depth fish are at, and determining their activity level. By “seeing” what’s ahead of you – it will allow anglers to quickly determine the presence of fish and gauge their activity level.

2.       Vertical fishing – when set up looking down, the LiveSight takes “video game fishing” to the next level. The refresh rate and clarity of view will give anglers fishing vertically unprecedented ability to see fish below the boat, and watch their reaction to specific vertical presentations.

3.       Being stealthy – because beam steering sonar looks forward, anglers can be less worried about fish being spooked by their presence. This is particularly important in places that receive heavy fishing pressure, as well as fish in 8-12 feet of water, which is generally too shallow to get on top of.

Connectivity

The LiveSight technology took 4+ years to develop, and Lowrance engineers spent literally thousands of hours on the water perfecting and patenting their proprietary technology, which is based entirely on Lowrance intellectual property.

The nice thing about LiveSight is that it is completely plug and play with the new HDS Live units, meaning no additional processing module is required to run it. From a setup perspective, the transducer comes with two different mounting options; forward looking, or vertical, and retails for $999. LiveSight is available now, and can also work with existing HDS Carbon units with an adapter module.


Bonus Material