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TROLLING MOTOR AND FISHFINDER CONNECTION GUIDE

Want To Connect Your Trolling Motor To Your Fishfinder?  

Connecting trolling motors to fishfinders has become increasingly popular. Networking technologies on boats have taken big leap forward. You can network your fishfinder with your trolling motor, your shallow water anchors, downriggers, phones and even smartwatches. Minn Kota and Humminbird have dedicated a lot of resources to networking; they call it “The One Boat Network.” It’s all pretty slick stuff.  

More and more of our customers are asking, “How can I connect my fishfinder to my trolling motor?” However, there is a lot of confusion surrounding the technology and benefits of networking a compatible fishfinder with a trolling motor. 

I often hear customers say, “I have a Lowrance so I need a MotorGuide” or “I have a Humminbird so I’ll need to go with Minn Kota”

In this blog post we’re going to explore what features you gain connecting a trolling motor to your boat’s GPS Navigation and Sonar system (aka fishfinder). We also call this “networking”. We’ll also tell you why you may not need to connect your motor to a fishfinder to get the features you want. 

If installed correctly and provided you have the desire/patience to get up to speed, the technology available to you is quite exciting but it can be confusing. We’re here to shed some light! 

 

There Are Two Main Reasons to Connect Your Trolling Motor To Your Fishfinder:

Reason #1. View imaging from a trolling motor equipped with an integrated sonar transducer

Reason #2. Operate the motor directly from your screen, sync waypoints,  and gain additional GPS features 

 

Reason #1: View Imaging From a Trolling Motor Equipped With An Integrated Sonar Transducer:

Some trolling motors contain integrated sonar *transducers that can connect to compatible fishfinders.

*Transducer Definition: A transducer is a small module that is positioned underneath the waterline that sends and retrieves sound waves in order to detect fish or structure underwater. This sonar is then transmitted back to the head unit (fishfinder screen).

As opposed to mounting a transducer externally to the bottom of the motor, an integrated transducer is less vulnerable to damage, provides a cleaner installation and just looks better. These integrated transducers are typically located on the bottom of the motor’s prop housing. The wiring from the transducer is threaded up through the shaft, out of the motor and connects directly to the back of the fishfinder. They are available in Minn Kota, MotorGuide, Lowrance and Garmin trolling motors. Many of these integrated transducer cables require a small adapter cable depending on the brand or model of fishfinder you have.

 

  Integrated MEGA SI Transducer on a Minn Kota

A Minn Kota with an integrated transducer on the bottom of the prop housing

By and large, most freshwater motors with GPS technology are available with some form of integrated transducer. Curiously, saltwater motors are rarely available with integrated transducers although that may change in the near future.

There are two general types of integrated sonar in trolling motors:

“Universal” Sonar: provides basic 2D CHIRP sonar. Motors with integrated, universal sonar are compatible with most of the common fishfinder brands such as Lowrance, Garmin, Humminbird etc. Hence, the term “Universal” 

High Resolution Sonar: with side and down scan (e.g. Minn Kota with MEGA Imaging). Motors with high resolution sonar transducers are typically offered as an option and come at a heftier price. Some trolling motor brands with high resolution integrated sonar are only compatible with specific fishfinder brands or models. For instance, Minn Kota motors with Integrated MEGA Imaging are only compatible with Humminbird fishfinders.

A Word To The Wise – When connecting your fishfinder to a motor with an integrated sonar you will obviously lose functionality (depth, temp, structure etc.) when the trolling motor is stowed. If you are running off your main motor, you’ll need to get this critical information from another transducer installed on the transom or in the bottom of the hull.

Some folks simply purchase two fishfinders but that may be overkill for others. There are some splitter cables available that can connect your fishfinder to two transducers at once. Either way, you’ll need to account for this.

 

Reason #2: Operate The Motor Directly From Your Screen And Gain Additional GPS Features

Certain trolling motors come with the capability to network with fishfinders in order to provide enhanced mapping and GPS capabilities. These features can include operating the motor from the fishfinder, syncing up waypoints, creating custom routes, following depth contour lines and other enhanced GPS and navigation functions. 

The connection from motor to fishfinder is typically an ethernet cord; however, some motors such as the Garmin Force are able to network wirelessly. 

Minn Kota Motors equipped with The i-Pilot Link system provide these extra capabilities. Motors with i-Pilot Link are significantly more expensive than motors with standard i-Pilot and they are only compatible with certain Humminbird fishfinders. For those of you who may be “on the fence” about whether you need i-Pilot Link, I would take a look at the comparison below. There’s no reason to pay $400 more for i-Pilot Link if you’re not going to use the features.

Here’s a link to one of our posts that explains the difference between i-Pilot and i-Pilot Link 

i-Pilot v. i-Pilot Link

Motorguide TOUR Pro and Xi Series motors can also be configured to gain some of these extra features. However, you will need to purchase a PinPoint GPS Gateway Kit and an NMEA 2000 Network Starter Kit.

There is a bit of confusion as to MotorGuide’s networking capabilities as opposed to Minn Kota’s i-Pilot Link system: MotorGuide motors are NOT able to automatically follow depth contour lines. For many, this is a popular feature so you should be aware of this prior to investing in networking a MotorGuide with a fishfinder. The great thing about MotorGuide TOUR PRO and Xi series motors is that they are network compatible with a variety of popular fishfinder brands.

As we mentioned, the Garmin Force trolling motor can provide these enhanced GPS features wirelessly when connected to a compatible Garmin unit. This is a great feature that cuts down on rigging complexity and takes the networking game to a new level. 

The Lowrance Ghost also comes standard with fishfinder integration and enhanced GPS features but it is not wireless. 

 

When Is It NOT Necessary To Connect Your Trolling Motor To Your Fishfinder?

As discussed above, integrated sonar and enhanced GPS features are the only two reasons why you would…could…or should connect your motor to your fishfinder. Again, both of these features can be more expensive options on certain motors.

Here’s the important part to remember:

When equipped with GPS functionality such as Minn Kota’s “standard” i-Pilot system or MotorGuide’s PinPoint GPS, your trolling motor does NOT require a connection to your fishfinder. You can get all of the popular features like Spot Lock, Cruise control, Auto Pilot, i-Tracks etc. without connecting to a fishfinder. All of the GPS technology is fully integrated into the trolling motor and the remote. 

Bottom Line: If you have a trolling motor equipped with a GPS system like i-Pilot or PinPoint GPS, you DO NOT need to connect your motor to a fishfinder to get Spot Lock etc.

Now You Have The Tools To Make An Educated Decision

We hope that this has helped clear up some confusion and misconceptions about connecting your trolling motor to your fishfinder. Networking electronics in your boat can provide some amazing benefits. This technology allows you to control everything from your trolling motor to your shallow water anchors and your downriggers all from one screen and at the touch of a button.

But, before investing in this technology you should be aware of what you are getting and what you are not. Familiarize yourself with the various benefits and then make a decision as to whether it is worth the extra dough. Networking various electronics in fishing boats is certainly “the future” but perhaps, you’ll be just fine with the “present”!