Standards Are Our Friends Page 2

Electronics - November 2002 - Part 2
Electronics November 2002
By Ben Ellison

Standards are our Friends
Part 2: The Installation Standard

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• Part 1: Standards
• Part 2: Standards
• Electronics Q&A

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This unusual situation seems to be working out quite nicely. When I ask if he applies his pastoral counseling skills to the standards building process, he laughs and says that it might actually work the other way around. However it works, it clearly works. Among the group of industry experts--largely electronics dealers--who put together the Installation Standard, there was some understandable reluctance to share hard-earned technical knowledge with each other and especially with the so-called "dock runners" who often undercut their prices. Anderson apparently made the positive case that detailing the significant system analysis, testing, and documentation needed for a truly proper installation would give consumers (and manufacturers) a way to judge what's actually right and wrong. In other words, corner-cutting installers are going to have a harder time getting by, and manufacturers are going to have an easier time troubleshooting product performance issues. Anderson is hopeful that some may even offer an extended warranty for gear installed to the Standard.

So what the heck is in the Standard? Oh, it's dry stuff, but it represents thousands of man-years of real-time experience, going well beyond simple wiring and mounting usually described in any device's manual and well into the subtle territory of peak performance and electronics relationships. For instance, the meaty section on antenna installation includes the myriad varieties of coax cable and connectors, how to test for signal loss and permissible maximums, and suggested horizontal spacing of nine types of antennas that may be fighting for an effective spot on your cabin top or arch these days.

The Standard contains thorough sections about compass and RF interference, data interfacing, transducer and autopilot mounting, and much more. Throughout are step-by-step procedures, dockside and underway, for figuring out whether any new device affects existing electronics, or vice versa. The process is time-consuming but can eliminate aggravation for boaters and even subsequent technicians. Say you have an SSB installed one winter, an autopilot controller rebuilt the next summer, and then at some point realize that in certain conditions the one can mess up the other. Who figures out which is the chicken and which is the egg?

The Standard also lays out excellent documentation requirements. For example, a technician installing one or many data interfaces should leave the following aboard the boat: a diagram showing the location of each device, interface module, terminal block, etc.; lists of input and output setups, wire colors used, and intended functions; and verification of interface testing. The value of such material to a skipper learning his system, or a tech trying to troubleshoot it, is immeasurable.

Then there are small, smart ideas like cable-tying the blank insert for a removable transducer right where you need it. I've seen this done and appreciated it; I've also searched drawers in delivery vessels looking for the darn thing so I could clean the speedo. I very much like the notion that such fairly obvious, but not always executed, details become standard.

Similarly, I've heard some of the tips in this Standard before, and I'm sure that many installers already know them thoroughly and are doing fine work. But I've also been the recipient of conflicting advice from different "experts." The Standard rises to a new level of veracity because we know that a large, highly qualified group deliberated over it at length and then committed to putting it out under the banner of their industry organization. NMEA is also committed to updating these guidelines on a regular basis. Altogether, I think the Standard will succeed with its worthy aim, which, in Anderson's words, is "to give installers a level playing field and consumers a greater confidence in their electronics."

If you're a really serious do-it-yourselfer, you can buy the Installation Standard for $199 ($125 for NMEA members). More likely, you'll simply want to ask your electronics professional if your gear has been installed to the Standard. You might also want to nod with thanks toward Port Clyde, Maine, and a man who's pursuing two callings with vigor and skill.

NMEA Phone: (410) 975-9425. Fax: (410) 975-9450.

Next page > Electronics Q&A > Page 1, 2, 3

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

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