By Ben Ellison
|Part 2: The big rush, though, is in the “medium data and control” family.|
Megayacht-system designer Palladium Technologies has even devised a way to dump 0183 messages into Ethernet and pull them out again on the ship’s computers. Ethernet is quickly becoming the standard for what I call “big data”: display-to-display radar and chart sharing, for instance. It underlies Furuno’s NavNet, Northstar’s i2, and Garmin’s MarineNet; rumor has it that other big players will soon follow. Ethernet is a fast and able pipeline, but do not make presumptions based on its roots in the computer world. While PC-centric companies like Palladium, VEI, and Nobeltec are using Ethernet to build flexible and redundant computer nav systems, none of the dedicated hardware using Ethernet supports a PC connection—until now. That’s why Furuno’s just-announced relationship with charting software MaxSea is noteworthy, promising PC access to NavNet’s big data stream. Also deserving future coverage are the new Ethernet-based radar scanners being adopted by Nobeltec, Garmin, Maptech, and even Lowrance.
The big rush, though, is in the “medium data and control” family. These are networks like Brunswick’s SmartCraft, NMEA 2000, and many more that are all based on an industrial standard called CANbus. Call it “medium” because it will handle many more small talkers and listeners than the 0183 family but certainly not radar or charting. Add “control” because, unlike the other two families, CAN (Control Area Network) has built-in prioritization and error-handling good enough for mission-critical work like digital shift and throttle. All electronic engines seem to use some form of CANbus, usually J1939, and (as you can see in “New Products”) it’s being adopted for systems as diverse as charger/inverters and remote monitoring. CANbus is everywhere.
The good news: It’s fairly easy to make any flavor of CANbus communicate with any other flavor, though it may require a translator box called a gateway. The bad news: It’s not clear which companies will do this, or when. For instance, those electronic engine displays that are becoming common at big boat helms are very informative, but wouldn’t it be neat if a single plug could send all that data into your integrated nav system for a more flexible and stylish display, plus added calculations like combining fuel flow with boat speed to give you miles per gallon? On a smaller-boat scale, that’s just what’s illustrated by the Navman/SmartCraft screens shown at the beginning of the article. Yes, these two companies both belong to Brunswick, but SmartCraft networking can purportedly be licensed by anyone, even another engine manufacturer, and relationships have been announced with Onan (gensets), Faria (instruments), and DNA (digital switching).
And what about the big daddy of nautical CANbus, the industry-standard NMEA 2000? Numerous engine manufacturers, like Yamaha (with the just announced Command Link), Suzuki, and Volvo Penta, say they will support it eventually, but none does yet. I did watch as a Maretron 2000 compass was plugged into Simrad’s version of 2000, SimNet, where it was automatically recognized and made available as a backup-heading source if the first one failed. That’s solid gold in terms of easy installation, redundancy, and the opportunity to mix manufacturers. However, the connection had to be made with a special patch cable because Simrad is using its own 2000 plug and cable design instead of the NMEA standard. And Raymarine has its own SeaTalk2 (2000) cable design, and so now does Lowrance with LowranceNet (also NMEA 2000). I’m hoping the different plugs make more sense than all the different names being applied to the same basic network, but it will take more “panning” to figure out and another column to explain.
This article originally appeared in the December 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.