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Onboard Omnibus

Onboard Omnibus
Onboard Omnibus
NMEA 2000 will smooth and speed communications within your wheelhouse network.

By Tim Clark — March 2001
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Remember the information superhighway? The expression seems so dated now, a relic of the first Clinton-Gore administration, used to bring the country up to speed on just-around-the-corner developments in something that today is as familiar as TV: the Internet. It comes to mind as I search in vain for an equally expressive term to describe another imminent information revolution now known nearly anonymously as NMEA 2000. Info supershippinglane? Digital ultraharborpilot? Gigabyte gulfstream? Oh well.

As most of you know, NMEA 2000 is a standard electronic interface protocol developed by the National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA) to streamline, enhance, and accelerate communications among the electronics on your boat. The concept is not new. In fact, it’s likely that most of the marine electronics you own were engineered to meet NMEA 0183 standards. But those protocols were written in 1983, back when the information superhighway was host to virtual De Sotos, a computer chip was about the size of a tortilla, and if you surfed Amazon you’d be devoured by schools of piranha.

While NMEA 0183 has remained the same, there have been enormous technological advances in marine electronics. The more sophisticated the capabilities of these devices, the more advantageous it is that they communicate quickly and accurately. But “0183 is a single-talker, multilistener system that operates at significantly slow speeds when compared to digital information transfers today,” says chairman of NMEA’s Standards Committee Larry Anderson. “Manufacturers have used technological advancements to design some very innovative products that have totally surpassed the standard available to them. In designing NMEA 2000 we’re catching up.”

The new system will allow your electronics to pool their resources, so to speak, in order to solve complex problems. “The NMEA 2000 standard is multitalker, multilistener and at dramatically increased speeds,” continues Anderson. “That means that we can have a lot of various communications going on at the same time and many devices interacting and calculations taking place, all on the same bus.”

The bus Anderson refers to is a single loop of cable that will be installed on your boat. “In the old days with 0183, every single product needed to be directly connected to every other product that it was going to work with,” he explains. “With NMEA 2000 you can just hook into the loop anywhere and begin to stream data into it and take data off. The data fed into the cable by every device on it is available to every other connected device.”

But there’s more. On a boat with a standard group of electronics without redundant components (two GPSs, for instance), this magic bus greatly simplifies adding new gadgets to your array. Anderson even uses the phrase plug and play, a term that should send chills down the spine of the electronics installer whose daughter you’ve been putting through prep school for the past few years.

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> NMEA 2000 continued > Page 1, 2

This article originally appeared in the January 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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