0183 or 2000, you tell me (& G.)

Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now pleased to have Ben Stein as a very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Please don't regard him as an "expert"; he's getting quite old and thinks that "fadiddling fumble-putz" is a more accurate description.

22 Responses

  1. Dan (b393capt) says:

    Ben wrote: “don’t hesitate to speak up if you think Garmin should support NMEA 2000 thoroughly (or even if you think I’m making much too much of this ;-).”
    I’ll speak up. Making to much of this ?? Ben asks, well not at all I answer. I would say you have it exactly right except your being to gentle on Garmin. Someone over there should clearly be fired for the product feature decision, and another somebody over in marketing should be fired if they know about Panbo and don’t take the opportunity in the next 24 hours to respond to you with something more concrete then “We listen to … add support … in the future”
    In my mind, this tarnishes the Garmin brand name, e.g. beyond diminishing the belief that when you purchase a product that says it supports a protocol … that it does so in an industry leading way (my prior belief of the Garmin brand)
    This one error in judgement, is enough for me to doubt the technical savy of the new chartplotter line and cause me from this point forward to in the same sentence where I say how mostly happy I am with the raymarine e-series product to omit recommending checking out the garmin 4xxx/5xxx product line site unseen before deciding.
    And it absolutly removes any buyer remorse of getting the e-series rather than wait for the 4xxx series and use maretron sensors (my original plan in 2006). A certain amount of that buyer remorse started building again thru May as I had to trace every NMEA and seatalk wire in my boat after a certain somebody didn’t label the six seatalk and nmea wires when they removed and sent the S2 autopilot for a software upgrade, and was to busy to trace the wiring themselves in the busy spring season. (There are three seatalk wires and three nmea wires that run to my autopilot and smart heading sensor, and bridge numerous times throughout my 39 foot boat on their way to eleven devices; adding to the confusion two of the wires are not actually used, but I couldn’t tell that from looking at the pile of discarded wires). Talk about getting an appreciation lesson in the potential benefits of NMEA-2000
    If I was in Garmin’s marketing department, I would be crafting some damage control language to send to you and your readers right now, that included a date certain of full nmea-2000 support. But, thats me.

  2. Richard says:

    Ben – I’ll also chime in. You’re not making too much of this. It needs to be said, and loudly, and repeatedly!
    The previous poster comments that this calls into question the “technical savvy” of the 4xxx & 5xxx series chartplotters. I disagree. It only calls into question the marketing decisions on which features to support and which Garmin proprietary features to “protect”. I’m pretty confident the technical issue could be resolved with a trivial firmware upgrade.
    I’m a big Garmin fan. I have Garmin equipment on two boats and a lot more of their equipment in two airplanes. For years, they’ve seemed to never be willing to embrace open architecture.
    Now, I’m not talking at the OS level. If I go with a chartplotter, I’m buying into the closed OS, hopefully stable OS approach. And until something like NMEA 2000, that was a reasonable basis for not supporting non-standard equipment from other makers. That time is past.
    On my GNS-530W GPS in one of the aircraft, the proprietary Garmin 16 MB memory card costs $149.00…for a 16 MB card. Protection of proprietary revenue streams, (in this case at utterly abusive pricing levels). That’s been the Garmin pattern.
    I share another commenter’s frustration with their BlueChart DRM policies – though that’s now pretty much moot with their new bundling policy. And, in fairness, we can thank Garmin’s bundling policy for radically driving down the price of high quality cartography.
    There is much to like and respect about Garmin. Their engineering is terrific. Product performance, in my experience, is terrific. Menu logic is (usually) very well conceived and logical. They are leaders in many realms.
    But the failure to support, fully support, NMEA 2000 on their marine products is an ill-conceived, short-sighted decision that, when it becomes widely known, will not be helpful to them. And, ironically, it’s a decision upon which, I’d argue with almost 100% certainty, they will have to reverse course.
    Why not just do it right from the start?

  3. Dan (b393capt) says:

    Richard wrote “It only calls into question the marketing decisions on which features to support and which Garmin proprietary features to “protect”.” … only that?
    Writing to defend my position … as opposed to technical competance (which I am not questioning garmin has in abundance), “technical savy” or “technical leadership” if you would, is brought into question when Garmin’s newest offering for a boat wide central process excludes an important marine networking protocol that can make our vessels less difficult to wire and more reliable.
    Also my experience with garmin’s documentation and technical support is that they are extraordinarily honest about their products (who else both admits to 100’s of bugs over a products lifetime and fixs them as well ? ). Listing NMEA-2000 certification as a feature, and then only having this limited functionality … that just isn’t something I expect.

  4. Dan (b393capt) says:

    … and when a company does something negative a consumer dosn’t expect, that diminishes their brand value.
    To the extent that Garmin reacts to this feedback from Ben and readers of Panbo, it’s better than getting the feedback via a print magazine. However, I think it’s still wise they do some damage control here as well in the next 24 hours. Didn’t I read somewhere Panbo has 40,000 readers? I would fire my marketing person if in a similiar situation they didn’t move fast.

  5. CharlieJ says:

    “…too much of this.” Actually with your industry clout, please redouble your efforts or the industry may well be led down the 0183 path to disarray.
    I agree absolutely with b393capt and Richard. Garmin does have superior engineering and hardware It is my observation that their business plan is protective to the extreme. In a pleasure boat market that is dwindling in many sectors, the 900 pound gorilla should be thinking very carefully about how he is going to get his share of the bananas.
    One of the major advantages of N2K was that the boat owner would now have the ability to pick and chose the best of breed for each pieces of equipment he is contemplating installing. This would be foster a healthy marketplace and would continue to advance development and improvement in all the equipment that is connected to an N2K bus.
    It is my opinion that your are right on the money on this issue. Keep up the great work.

  6. Pat Harman says:

    Thank you Ben for writing about this lack of functionality in the new Garmin Units. Standards work for both the consumer and the manufacture. I am not planning to upgrade my Garmin 2006 soon, bur if and when I do I would be remise if I didn’t require NMEA 2000 compatibility.
    What would cause me to instantly upgrade my GPS plotter would be compatibility with NOAA ENC Cartography. Accurate, up to date and official; what’s wrong with that?
    Pat Harman

  7. fgstreet says:

    My first reaction to Garmin’s “oversight” is, I think, going to be typical of many in the marine electronics world. Why the heck would they want to limit their support of NMEA2000 when all the rest of the manufacturers are jumping on it? If you say your device is compliant, then support ALL of the approved messages at the time of manufacture, and add support as new sentences come out. That’s what Raymarine is doing on the C/E Series; witness the new software update for the C, which supports the Airmar weather instrument.
    Garmin is apparently trying to keep things in their house, like they did with their charting for a long time (a real downer when trying to integrate their products with a real-world, mixed-manufacturer system). Not every one of my clients can afford to wholesale replace every piece of equipment on their boat every two years when something new comes out. Eliminating this is supposedly part of the promise of N2K, and so far it has lived up to that promise.
    Come on, Garmin — you made your reputation with reliable, user-friendly devices that were nice to work with. At this point, I will definitely not recommend that my clients seriously consider the 4xxx/5xxx series, because if Garmin is going to limit functionality (and not “play nice with others”), there are extremely good alternatives out there.
    BTW, in the interests of full disclosure, I’m a Raymarine-certified installer/dealer, but also install a good deal of equipment from other manufacturers (including Garmin).

  8. Anonymous says:

    I think you are kind and gentle enough, Ben. Garmin does talk to you. And their response IS a promise. I still hope they can put a true wind arrow on the screen some how. [more wish list later; I have a plan….]
    Still a Garmin devotee’.

  9. Dan (b393capt) says:

    Note the tag line in this marketing piece for the 4xxx series in the UK “The power of networking meets great design”

  10. Joshua says:

    I just don’t understand how they could clearly advertise the product as supporting N2K and yet severely limit it’s implementation. I’m not so much looking at this from a legalistic “deceptive marketing” point of view but more of the standard customer purchase scenario. Consider;
    A) customer has a boat with N2K devices installed
    B) customer shops for N2K chartplotter – sees 4xxx/5xxx has a YES next to N2K compatibility
    C) customer installs chartplotter tries to get things working – fails – notices caveat “gotcha” buried in Garmin manual
    D) customer’s head explodes
    E) customer returns chartplotter swears never to buy Garmin again
    So; Garmin looses, customer looses. Seems pretty dumb to me.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Ben, you and I had exchanged email about N2K support privately last week.
    I believe that the *real* direction here is that Garmin does not want to adhere to N2K. Why would they? I beleive that Garmin is the market leader in this space (I am sure that someone out there has access to market share statistics). Enabling integration of other manufacturers products enables customers to choose “best-of-breed” (I hate that term) products, and integrate them into a total hybrid systems monitoring solution that best suits the end users needs. This only helps *decrease* the Garmin market share which is maintained by their proprietary interfaces. (ie you are forced to buy a Garmin transducer, for your Garmin Chartplotter, because Garmin has restricted it from working with anyone else’s transducer.)
    The same thing has happened in the computer industry several times. Market leaders either resist, or develop extensions to (in effect breaking), a standard, so that they can maintain a lock on their customers wallets.
    The big chink in this strategy is that Garmin does support *some* N2K products, yet states that they support *THE* standard. I am certain that Garmin engineers have figured out N2K, or they wouldn’t have been able to support the N2K engine monitoring systems that they do today.
    I think that three things will bring them into compliance: 1 the scenario that Joshua describes above, 2 a class-action lawsuit by individuals that have been harmed by the “Joshua” scenario, 3 the realization that they are loosing customers to their competitors that fully embrace the standard.
    We need to make Garmin aware that we will not buy their products until they fully support N2K.

  12. Russ says:

    Ben, you’re definitely not making “too much” of this. I raised this point several months ago and you pushed back telling me that Garmin did support N2K. It turns out that only their marketing literature supports it.
    Stepping further back, here is how I see it:
    1) NMEA 183 is ok to ship low volumes of text around the boat, but we’re all asking for more than that.
    2) NMEA 2000 was too little too late and doesn’t provide sufficient support for video.
    3) The three major suppliers, Ratmarine, Garmin and Furuno could set a new industry standard in 30 days if they wanted to, but instead they think that by having a proprietary solution they can “lock in” their customers to the rest of their solution and protect their various revenue streams.
    This was the same situation for the PC industry in its early days, but it ended when other manufacturers appeared and offered “standard” systems. For the most part, #3 is working for all three vendors, and will continue to work until one of these vendors starts to lose out, or another vendor joins the party and differentiates themselves by actually having an open system.
    Until then, we should all accept that we’re buying into proprietary solutions and all of the vendors related products; most notably charts because that is where they gouge the most deeply.
    They all have their strengths and weaknesses and Ben gives us insights on those from time to time. But if he exposes too many of their flaws his publishers will feel the heat from the big three and their advertising budgets, so he gives us a forum. And let me suggest that Sailing Anarchy’s “Gear” forum is another such venue.
    Burn us once, shame on Garmin. Burn us twice, shame on us for not recognizing the reality of the marine electronics industry.
    It’s only a standard if everyone supports it. The only standard in the industry is NMEA 183 and it doesn’t support any of the new things we’ve asked for (and received) in the last ten years.
    That leaves us with proprietary solutions. So pick your solution and take your lumps. None of these guys is going to kill their proprietary revenue steams.

  13. Arnie says:

    I retired from selling marine electronics a couple of years ago. I’m pretty glad I did too.
    I am having trouble understanding what the general beef is about that you all are having. I never had this many problems intergrating systems on some pretty large vessels. From what I can gather this is what most of you are looking for:
    GPS from manufacturer A connects to plotter B, which connects to radar C and depth sounder D. Then you want it all to travel (info and video) to monitor E at another station. And all this with free charting software and built with $200 worth of off the shelf components from Radio Shack.
    In addition all this should be designed for a harsh marine enviroment and come with a 3 year warranty. And let us not forget that the manufacturers should have a 24/7 help line available with a toll free number.
    Do I have your dream systems correct?

  14. CharlieJ says:

    Arnie, you actually have part of it right but you are missing most of the points being made.
    Your assertion that “GPS from manufacturer A connects to plotter B, which connects to radar C and depth sounder D.” is absolutely correct and gives rise to the dreaded “best of breed” concept.
    You go on with “Then you want it all to travel (info and video) to monitor E at another station.” which is correct and absolutely doable with N2K except for the video part which nobody in this thread has mentioned. If you want video, use Ethernet.
    You obviously have never seen any of the N2K backbone components or you would not refer to “…$200 worth of off the shelf components from Radio Shack.” or “In addition all this should be designed for a harsh marine environment.” Both the micro and mini components are robust, fool proof, and waterproof!! They are not cheap but they are also not cost prohibitive as they will build a bus system that will last for many years and provide true “plug and play” capability for manufactures who have had their products fully N2K certified.
    As to the 24/7 help line, the manufacturers need to support their gear. If their gear is engineered well and truly N2K certified, the interfacing problems will approach zero. The N2K backbone is just wires and connectors.
    Finally, you are not even close in defining my “dream” system.
    The real bone of contention is how NMEA allowed Garmin to become N2K Certified with such limited capabilities.
    Caveat emptor.

  15. Arnie says:

    Unfortunately N2K has many limitations and is certainly vague in some of their specifications.
    Since most larger boats require multiple stations manufacturers are using Ethernet. Not only does the video transfer, but so does the data. Another N2K problem is lack of a standard connector. Look at Raymarine, Garmin, Lowrance, and Simrad.
    When NMEA developed 0183 is what done by volunteers from the industry. No one was paid, and there was no certification process. N2K was handled differently and it is a start, but still needs major tweaking.
    My comments about Radio Shack and cheap components were a little tongue in cheek. The point was that many of the complaints about manufacturers are basically coming from people who just want to do things at a price range of “free to cheap”. And unfortunately the marine electronics feild is fairly small and limited. Manufacturers need to see profit and growth or they will bail out or not exist at all. Take a close look at a company as diverse as Garmin. They could pull the plug on their marine division and it probably would not effect their stock value one point. (in fact it might increase their value and bottom line)

  16. Dan (b393capt) says:

    I don’t see any complaints on this thread about the price of the 4xxx/5xxx units, nor the raymarine e-series (That does have real n2k support, right ?), just Garmin’s dumb move here.
    Please don’t change the subject.
    Keep it coming folks … all good reasons Garmin should reconsider.

  17. Dan (b393capt) says:

    You believe Garmin is doing this to intentionally lock us into their proprietary sensors, as opposed to the explination they gave Ben that they just don’t see demand beyond engine instruments.
    Garmin Quote: “We chose to focus on engine data since it’s primarily the only thing that you can get over NMEA 2000 that can’t be provided from another source (either our Marine Network system or NMEA 0183). Our engineers found a dearth of N2K devices on the market that provided data that couldn’t be obtained in another way.”
    You may be right. I hadn’t considered that, that further tarnishs my image of their new charplotters and their company.
    In full disclosure: I am a very happy owner of Garmin handheld gpsmap units including being impressed with the attention to detail and their whole approach to software upgrades, happy with their cartography and mapsource software, and wanted to stay loyal to the brand (nor have too purchased new cartography) when I purchased my 39 foot Beneteau sailboat last year. I re-evaluated the garmin plotters (3xxx series) repeatedly before deciding on the Raymarine e-series, which for me was superior in many ways. My relationship with garmin is now limited to using their equipment as a reliable backup, and continuing to pay for new cartography from both companies as I am addicted to using mapsource for planning my overnight trips. I frequently (twice yearly) upgrade the electronics on my boat in someway, and look forward for example in a best of breed approach to add AIS, ultrasonic weather mast weather sensor, etc. and see NMEA-2000 being on my boat before spring. I am software expert in enterprise computing, which drives (or clouds) many of my thoughts about what could be different or better in the marine market.

  18. george says:

    I think that we can get a little off track here. Garmin deserves some scorn for claiming to have a NMEA 2000 system when they don’t yet fully support it, but I don’t think it is part of some grand and evil plan. You can still use NMEA 0183 for any sensors that you like, even the Maretron if you buy the conversion box. If they were trying to lock you into their system, they wouldn’t support 0183.
    I have worked for a large software company and have seen my share of conspiracy theories arise from what are simply technical problems. My guess is that in Garmin’s case, the software simply is not ready yet. It is not a matter of clicking on a box and having NMEA 2000 arise fully formed on some intern’s desktop. The Garmin product is incredibly late, so they have probably cut some features to get it to the market. I’m speculating (but with lots of experience) that the NMEA 2000 team developed their stuff independently from the “main” dev group which was implementing some hard stuff on their own like the touch screen. Looking at the unit, it is almost like the N2K code is a separate program — they have one screen that displays engine instruments. This keeps it isolated from the mission critical part of the code and means that they could have dropped the feature without much harm. Integrating N2K into the rest of the code is not as easy as it sounds and could open up a lot of bugs.
    I suspect that they will have upgrades in the future to support the rest of the specification. They have probably written the code to be fully N2K already, but it didn’t work well enough to be released (speculating again.)

  19. CharlieJ says:

    The “true” N2K backbone has two versions of cabling and connectors; micro and mini. Period. (By the way, there are some inherent problems in complying with ABYC and ISO standards regarding ampacity of the conductor sizes chosen for the two versions, but that is a discussion for another day.)
    The manufacturers have chosen to wander from this standard and apparently, NMEA is allowing them this latitude even though strict adherance to the N2K standard was touted to be a strength of the industry developed N2K standard by NMEA.
    While Ethernet has superior bandwidth capabilities, the N2K standard provides a communication protocol that all manufacturers with certified products are supposed to support. This apparently is not happening which is Ben’s original premise.
    As I recall, 0183 started as three conductors: signal +, signal – and drain/ground. The manufacturers eliminated the signal – or the drain/ground. As B- got noisier, signal degradation occurred. And that’s were we are today in 0183 land. If NMEA does not hold the manufacturers accountable to the requirements of the N2K standard, N2K will be DOA before it even gets a chance.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Garmin’s comments that “We chose to focus on engine data since it’s primarily the only thing that you can get over NMEA 2000 that can’t be provided from another source (either our Marine Network system or NMEA 0183). Our engineers found a dearth of N2K devices on the market that provided data that couldn’t be obtained in another way.” is profoundly disingenuous.
    The reason we’re all so interested in having N2K support is to have a display / integration platform for new applications and devices.
    Garmin’s assertion is roughly equivalent to Microsoft saying, “we would have developed a web browser, but we didn’t see any web sites that we thought would interest people so why bother?”.
    Netscape felt otherwise and the rest is history.

  21. George says:

    Which is why everybody uses Netscape and nobody uses Internet Explorer… 🙂
    It is not time to panic yet, I think we are just seeing the teething problems of a new standard. At the moment it is an advertising claim, but give the engineers more time and it will start to work.
    I would not expect it to go very smoothly for awhile. The very first products released were made by companies who were really keen on the standard and who probably worked “behind the scenes” to make sure that their products worked together. The real test is going to be hooking up the reluctant adopters (like Garmin?) That will show us how good the certification process is, since they will implement enough to pass the certification test and no more. I don’t know about N2K, but much of the time that I spent on technical standards revolved around negotiations over the least amount of work that a vendor had to do to get certified.
    Eventually enough of the products will work together that the public will start expecting all of them to. Blogs like this one help to keep the pressure on and perhaps speed up the process. An article or two in the print media will help immensely (hint, hint…)

  22. Dan (b393capt) says:

    We have several thought now about this, but no response from Garmin.
    I am disappointed Garmin! Tell us some of this ain’t so ? Tell us full N2K support is a high priority ? Tell us you will be a market leader with N2K, rather than turn your back on it ?

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