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Humminbird HELIX 12 CHIRP DI GPS

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helix 12 di gps
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DualBeam Plus,
600' standard,
350' DI

The HELIX 12 units are the top of the HELIX series, the best units released by Humminbird for 2016. They’re all CHIRP capable, and the DI unit doesn’t make an exception. The HELIX 12 CHIRP DI GPS has quite a lot to offer in terms of sonar and navigation features and functions. In this post we’ll try to offer as much information as possible regarding each one of them.

But before we proceed with this review, there are two aspects that we would like to clarify. First of all, the name of the product, may be a bit misleading. The unit does have CHIRP sonar built-in, but it only uses CHIRP for the 2D sonar, and not for the Down Imaging sonar. And second of all, the unit is supplied with a transducer and you won’t have to purchase one separately, unless you want a superior one.

Technical Details and Specifications

  • Display: 12.1 diagonal, 65,000 color TFT, 1024H x 600V pixel resolution, 16:9 aspect ratio, glass bonded, with LED backlight
  • Wireless control
  • Sonar: Broadband CHIRP, Down Imaging, DualBeam Plus
  • Depth Capability:
    • 350 feet (106 m) for Down Imaging
    • 600 feet (183 m) on DualBeam Plus
  • Frequency and Coverage:
    • DualBeam Plus: 200 kHz / 28° and 455 kHz / 16°
    • Down Imaging: 455 kHz / 75° and 800 kHz / 45°
  • Transducer: Transom XNT 9 DI T
  • Power Output: 500 Watts (RMS)
  • Power Input: 10-20 VDC
  • Power Draw: 1.75 Amps
  • GPS: Internal, Precision
  • Maps: ContourXD (built-in), AutoChart Live
  • Routes, Waypoints, Tracks: 47; 2,500; 50 (20,000 points each)

Sonar and fish finding functions

To begin with, the transducer supplied with this Humminbird HELIX model is the XNT 9 DI T, the one that also comes with the smaller units, such as HELIX 10 DI GPS and HELIX 9 DI GPS. Now, in case you’re wondering, the unit can scan in CHIRP mode with this particular transducer. But with this transducer you only benefit from two CHIRP ranges: between 185-225 kHz and 440-490 kHz. In other words, the sonar pulse will be modulated over this range of frequencies, in order to provide a better bottom lock, and a superior target separation and target definition. These CHIRP ranges can also be customized. The lower endpoints of the intervals can be increased, while the higher endpoints can be decreased.

On the other hand, the unit is capable of a higher CHIRP modulation interval than the aforementioned ones. With an optional CHIRP dedicated transducer, it can scan between 28-490 kHz, and reach depths of up to 3,500 ft. With the supplied transducer, its maximum depth capabilities are limited though. It can only reach 600 ft. (183 m) for 2D and 350 ft (106 m) in DI mode.

The XNT 9 DI T transducer comes with a transom mount. It also has 20′ of cable and integrates a temperature sensor.

The unit also features DualBeam Plus sonar, meaning that it can use the flat 200/455 kHz frequencies for 2D, without modulating the pulse. For these frequencies the transducer uses conical beams with a coverage of 28°/16°. In CHIRP mode, angles are also similar.

As we’ve mentioned above, for Down Imaging this unit does not use CHIRP. It’s the same Down Imaging as in the other units. This particular sonar technology does supply pretty clear imaging without CHIRP though. It’s great especially for observing the bottom contour and structure shapes, and looking for places where fish are hiding. Fish and bait clouds evidently appear on the DI too, but they’re displayed as dots not arches, the bigger and brighter the dots, the bigger the fish.

DI View

DI View

For DI, the transducer uses thin beams, shaped like a fan, with angles of 45° for 800 kHz, and 75° for 455 kHz.

The HELIX 12 DI CHIRP GPS unit makes available several other fish finding functions, such as: Fish ID+, Sonar Recording, RTS, Bottom Lock, Split Zoom, Temperature Graph and others. Here’s a short presentation of each one of these functions.

Fish ID+ is a function present in most Humminbird fish finders; it uses advanced signal processing to interpret sonar returns, and assign fish icons to the ones that are considered fish. This feature also has a set of alarms which you can setup to notify you if the sonar detects a fish of a certain size.

The RTS (Real Time Sonar) is a vertical flasher mode which indicates the depth and intensity of the most recent sonar return. Differently put, it shows the bottom, structure and fish that are currently in the transducer beam.

SwitchFire is actually a quick noise filter. It gives you the possibility to select between a Clear and a Max mode. Clear Mode removes all the clutter from the screen, and only the strongest targets will remain on screen, while Max Mode brings all the sonar information on the screen, allowing you to see more targets. However, when scanning in CHIRP mode, SwitchFire isn’t necessary, as the CHIRP imaging is pretty clear, and targets are much better defined.

Bottom Lock gives you the possibility to setup a specific range from the bottom, and enable the sonar to “look” only in that specific range. Evidently, this function great to use if you are looking for bottom feeding fish.

As the term suggests, Sonar Recording gives you the possibility to record the sonar feed, and also rewind it in order to review sonar history. There is also a Split Zoom view that allows you to Zoom In / Out on a certain point, for a better look to a specific return. It’s also possible to take Screen Snapshots, and save them on your SD card.

The temperature graph indicates the temperature changes over the recent sonar history, great function to have if you’re looking for certain water currents, as the transducer’s sensor can pick up immediately the temperature differences.

One last aspect to be mentioned here regards the unit’s performance in relation to your speed boat. This particular HELIX unit should be able to keep a good bottom lock at speeds up to 25 MPH. However, the maximum of sonar returns, details and image clarity are achieved when you’re sailing at speeds up to 6-7 MPH.

GPS and navigation functions

As the name of the unit specifies, it integrates a GPS receiver, which offers fast and accurate fixes, within a span of up to 2.5 meters. The unit comes with the Humminbird ContourXD charts built in, which offer pretty decent detail and contours for over 3,000 U.S. inland lakes and certain coastal waters. They also include markers, interstates and major roads. Various navigation related functions are available with this unit, such as Drift Alarm, Man Over Board, 3D Chart View and others.

ContourXD Combo View

ContourXD Combo View

However, since the unit also features AutoChart Live, you can actually map any body of water that’s not charted, and reveal its contours, based on the sonar returns. The unit actually has a memory of 8 hours of map recording.

This HELIX unit can store up to 2,500 waypoints within its internal memory, and up to 47 routes (50 waypoints per route). It can also record tracks, being able to hold up to 50 trails (20,000 points per trail). Trails can be converted to routes though, and you also get the possibility to add waypoints to them if necessary.

Control unit features and functions

All HELIX units beginning with the HELIX 9 series feature a processor 25% faster than the previous 1100 series units. This particular model doesn’t make an exception, thus offering faster scrolling through maps and sonar.

The unit is quite large, offering a wider screen than the ONIX 10 units. It’s display has a diagonal of 12.1″, with a pixel matrix of 1280H x 800V. This means it offers sharp images, also featuring excellent readability due to its glass-bonded display, and LED backlight.

The control unit is IPX7 waterproof. This rating indicates the fact that it can endure rain or water splashes without any trouble. It can also survive complete immersions, up to 1 m.

In terms of connectivity, the HELIX 12 CHIRP DI GPS features NMEA 0183 and NMEA 2000 outputs, but also has Ethernet and a dual microSD card reader. Just like the HELIX 9, and 10 units, it offers a nice cable management system, giving you the possibility to connect all cables at once, and secure them with an advanced clamp system.

The unit comes with a Gimbal mount, and the unit cover is included.

Upgrade Possibilities

The unit’s internal software is upgradable, via SD card or via Ethernet.

In case you’re not satisfied with the ContourXD charts, you can always upgrade with a LakeMaster or Navionics chip, or you can use a ZeroLine SD card, which has a database of over 2,000,000 lakes at zero line contour, ready to be mapped, also extending the record time by a lot.

Of course, the unit can use i-Pilot Link, to communicate with MinnKota motors, obtaining automatic boat control. And with an AutoChart or LakeMaster map, you can follow a certain depth contour on autopilot, great feature for trolling. The unit is also HD Radar ready, and AIS compatible.

As we’ve mentioned above, this unit can be paired with a more powerful, 50/200 kHz transducer, or with a CHIRP transducer that will allow it to cover the full 28-490 kHz spectrum. It can also use 360 Imaging.

Maybe the best feature of this unit is its wireless control. A small Bluetooth remote control and its receiver are options for this HELIX unit, remote that can control various sonar and navigation functions. For example, you can mark waypoints with it, adjust zoom or sonar sensitivity, create i-Pilot Link Spot-Locks, power the unit on and off etc. This particular feature can be extremely helpful on the water, as you won’t need to change your location on the boat to adjust the settings on your unit if you must. And since the unit’s display is pretty large, you should be able to see pretty clearly what are the sonar readings, or your position.

Finally, an in-dash mounting kit option is available.

The Pros

  • Broadband CHIRP sonar;
  • DualBeam Plus sonar with SwitchFire;
  • Down Imaging;
  • Powerful transducer (XNT 9 DI T), temperature capable and with transom mount, included;
  • Depth capabilities of 3,500 ft. with an optional CHIRP transducer;
  • Decent depth capability for fresh water;
  • Multiple sonar functions available, such as RTS, Bottom Lock, Fish ID+ etc;
  • Sonar recording and screen snapshot;
  • Precision GPS with a wide array of channels;
  • ContourXD charts as base for the GPS;
  • AutoChart Live which gives you the possibility to map or re-map any body of water;
  • Trackplotting, routes and waypoints functions;
  • Wide 12.1″ display, with 16:9 format, and backlight;
  • IPX7 waterproof;
  • Glass bonded screen, glare proof;
  • Fast processor;
  • NMEA 0183 and NMEA 2000 ports;
  • Ethernet output;
  • Wireless control;
  • Dual microSD card reader;
  • Upgradable internal software;
  • Gimbal mount and unit cover included;
  • HD Radar, i-Pilot Link and AIS capable;
  • 360 Imaging capable;
  • Fairly easy to install.

The Cons

  • Unit with a ton of functions, which may take quite a bit to fully master;
  • Does not use CHIRP for Down Imaging. In case you’re looking for a unit that can use CHIRP for its down view sonar, the Striker 7dv from Garmin is one to go with.


The Humminbird HELIX 12 CHIRP DI GPS is definitely a professional unit, designed for medium to large vessels. It uses CHIRP sonar technology, and with the supplied transducer it’s great for fresh water fishing, and the off-shore shallows. However, if you opt for a more powerful transducer, you can successfully use this unit for deep, blue water fishing, at depths up to 3,500 ft. Along with its powerful sonar, this unit also offers an extensive array of navigation features and capabilities, including AutoChart Live. All in all, it offers excellent value for its price.

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