NMEA 2000 Certification, in the Panbo crossfire

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.

38 Responses

  1. Bo Collier says:

    Ben, thanks for publishing my letter. I am hopeful this post will stimulate your readers to add content that helps me better understand this issue. Your comments regarding specific elements of my post have already helped me.

  2. Richard C says:

    Your writings are more for a copyright or patent law journal then for a boat owner. I guess there are marine electronics installers who care, but for me, an end user, cheap sailor and do-it-yourself boat owner, certified or almost certified or compatible have little distinction. If a device does what it says it will do and is not interfering with other signals on the network I’m fine with it. From my personal experience I have installed at least one fully “NMEA 2000 Certified”, stamped, approved and blessed device that gives off so much interference I have to disconnect it from the network when using a radio. I won’t get into who that offender is as it gets off topic, but it does point out that certification only protects the end user from a very narrow range of NMEA specifications. As Ben pointed out, not every aspect of the devices performance is covered under the certification stamp.
    Believe me, I wasn’t born yesterday, so I understand the risk when I make the free choice to take a chance on a non certified NMEA 2000 device, (that will in all likelihood get certified at some point down the road anyway). No one is fooling me and I doubt many of the buying public feel like victims to a scam when they buy “NMEA 2000 compatible”. From my point of view, fighting over the fees, labels and copyright are for the lawyers.
    And, then there is the issue of small startup companies trying to get off the ground with limited finances. Why can’t they generate some income with a new “NMEA compatible” product while they sort out their relationship with NMEA? As an early adapter, I have no problem giving them a break at the boat shows.
    In any case, I have so much faith in my mostly certified NMEA 2000 network that I’m considering taking all paper charts off the boat. If all goes wrong with my primary, secondary and backup electronics then I’ll follow the sun until I see land.

  3. Bo Collier says:

    Richard, the intent of my comments were not meant to sound as though they should be in a law journal. I’m also a small business owner and fully understand the cost of doing business. I’m certainly not questioning your knowledge, I’m just trying to get a handle on this issue. However, you stated; “If a device does what it says it will do and not interfering with other signals on the network, then I am fine with it.” This is a critical statement that attests to your greater knowledge of N2k and experience. Fortunately my installer has your kind of experience, I’m just concerned with the “if” fthat precedes your comment. Hopefully my installer won’t be traveling with the admiral and me, so I have to know as much as possible. When a low tire alert lights on the dash of my car I never wonder if that sensor is, or is not, compatible with my car’s instrumentation. I’m also not thinking, and just guessing here, that each auto company manufacturers their own tire sensors. They have found a means of comparability. Hopefully that makes sense…

  4. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Good stuff, Richard, but I’m probably not the only reader wondering what N2K device is causing interference, how you figured that out, and what progress you’ve made with the manufacturer?

  5. Bo Collier says:

    In my previous post, meant to say; I’m guessing each auto manufacturer DOES NOT manufacture their own sensors.

  6. Pat McQueen says:

    Great comments Bo. There should be much more transparency from NMEA and the vendors. The certification is de-valued if there is not a detailed explanation of what certified, compliant or compatible means! Real feedback about the tests and the results are very meaningful.

  7. Richard C says:

    I was referring to my experience with FloNet a NMEA 2000 certified fuel monitor made by Floscan. You can read all the details in the last comment at:
    From my experience, just because a device is NMEA 2000 certified does not mean it does what it is supposed to without fault. This is why I used the example in my reply to Bo. I speak from the point of view of a consumer and end user not as an engineer or marine installer.
    To many, certification might mean the device has been tested and will perform properly as the manufacturer claims. What I found with FloNet is this is not true. FloNet seems to work well on the N2K network, but is a disaster if you want to use a SSB radio. So, the question is, what does NMEA test for? Is this like UL where they certify a toaster as safe (won’t burn the house down) but the consumer finds it can’t toast the bread worth a damn?
    I think a lot of boat owners are under the impression that NMEA certification brings with it much more then it real does and since the published standard is an expensive document how are we to know what certification means.
    After my FloNet experience “NMEA 2000 Certified” carries much less weight.
    In the end, Floscan’s tech support manager stopped taking my calls. HIs last comment was that few people use SSB anymore. In a way he’s right, but I do.

  8. Brian M says:

    Well, I’d bet that NMEA tests for whether it works with a NMEA 2000 bus, not if it gives off harmful RF interference… which is the domain of the FCC in the US..

  9. xavier Itzmann says:

    All N2K system here, installed by one of the best-reputed and most expensive installer companies in So Fla.
    In their advertising and sales pitch, the play up their NMEA credentials, membership, by-the-book-thingness, etc. To their credit, they did try to discourage me from buying the consumer version of B&G because of its use of Simnet (uncertified).
    But, heh, my installation included three B&G Tritons and they daisy-chained the blasted things, making the whole backbone run thru them.
    To their credit again, they did get red-faced when I pointed this out and re-did the job without any ado.
    But the fact remains that having two connectors on the Tritons was too much temptation for the guy actually stringing the wires, so much so that he forgot his company’s vaunted “standards.”
    Bottom line: the standard is only as good as the supervisor of the job.

  10. Richard C says:

    Yes, Brian I thought about telling the FCC but decided not to head down that road. Originally I was under the impression I was helping Floscan by bring this to their attention.
    Maybe NMEA should add RFI/EMI to the certification testing in case the manufacturer didn’t consider it important.

  11. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Richard, I sent a note to NMEA asking about possible EMI specifications in the NMEA 2000 certification rules (and anything else they might want to add to this conversation).
    Xavier, that’s an interesting story but Tritons use standard N2K connectors, not SimNet ones, like all the Simrad/B&G gear that’s been introduced in the last couple of years. The general trend is toward closer adherence to the Standard.
    It’s definitely bad practice to route a NMEA 2000 backbone through a daisy chain, but in fact the old SimNet manuals showed diagrams like that and even un-terminated backbones for small networks. And I think they worked OK unless a network grew too large.
    Other CanBus applications also seem more liberal about network architecture, but NMEA chose a tighter subset of rules. But then again I’m not sure there’s another CANbus application that was designed for installer and even DIY level multi-manufacturer systems (certainly not vehicles).

  12. Don Joyce says:

    Sigh, there a lot of things going on that could be causing the difficulty and I would be hesitant to jump to a conclusion that its Floscan or N2K, or the SSB installation. Having stated that, I also note I’ve been on boats having multiple floscan N2K systems installed that never mentioned a problem with their SSB which I installed.

  13. HenryD says:

    Bo and Ben,
    I am very interested in this discussion, as I am replacing all electronics at the helm within the next 4 months, with a hope of sorting it out at the Miami boat show.
    Just because a device is certified or not has baffled me as I have built a NMEA2000 backbone with many sensors for a Maretron N2Kview display. As part of my setup I have stumbled with such devices that did not talk with others such as the Airmar PB200 sending some data to be understood by N2Kview or my Maretron USB100 not providing data to any application on the PC once used by N2KView – resolved by adding a second USB gateway from Actisense. I do not think this was a fault of NMEA or certification but an assumption on my part that a USB interface would work with what is on the PC. If a device is NMEA2000 certified or compatible I would expect it to have a NMEA2000 connection – but there are devices such as a Fusion ip700 that requires a silly adapter cable. When a PC says it is USB 2.0 or USB 3.0 or Firewire, etc, I do not need an adapter – it works.
    For those that want redundancy, it would be great to have a way to connect N2K to two or more systems with the ability to enable / disable or perhaps a switch. I have been advised to take it back to 0183 with a simple switch.
    I tend to agree with Bo perhaps the need for better oversight by NMEA but understand that the organization has to try to keep both small and large vendors happy while they have proven they would prefer to complete with proprietary solutions than cooperate for the growth of the industry.
    Always enjoyable reading.

  14. Bo Collier says:

    HenryD, Sounds like you are preparing a similar system as mine. We are working with Maretron’s N2kBuilder to design a system that will be capable of handling current and future devices. A Maretron engineer, who took my call on new years eve, spent about 20 minutes answering my questions. His parting comment was that we spend the extra money to install Maretron cable. I’m sure there are lots of debates over this issue, but his casual, non-sales demeanor had a similar effect of a drill Sargent who once grabed my ears thereby making sure he and I were clearly face to face for a critical one way discussion. Since then, all cable installed to connect the Furuno equipment is removed and will be reinstalled once our backbone plan is complete.
    These issues have caused me to reconsider a few devices. For example; instead of a Simrad AP70 pilot I will install a Furuno 700 pilot (hey Ben, is furuno releasing a new pilot in April?), I like the Airmar but will stick with Maretron’s weather sensor, instead of running Maretron’s N2kView on my PC, I’m installing their dedicated TMS1330C.
    Is there any truth to the issue that Maretron and Furuno worked closely together when Maretron developed their N2k cable?
    It would be good to hear from someone who has completed NMEA’s Certified Marine Electronics Technician training and testing. Really… A fuel metering device interfered with SSB. Is this simply harmonics produced from the high spin sensor? If so, the gyro for our stabilizers may be an issue. We used to test radio output by laying a fluorescent tube against the antenna. If the tube lit we were getting out. There must be a way to check for stray, unwanted, and unexpected RF.

  15. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Geez, Bo, you may have precipitated a valuable change! NMEA Technical Director Steve Spitzer likes the idea of making the NMEA 2000 Certification test criteria public, and hopes to work on it when gets off the road.
    But being a thrifty Yankee I hope you’re not going to chuck perfectly good Furuno N2K cables. For an N2K network of any size, I do advocate the use of Maretron MID size cabling. It’s not that much more expensive, voltage drop issues (maybe future ones) are reduced, and the color choice means it’s possible to make your backbone self documented.
    That’s what I have on Gizmo now. But for the drop lines I’m using every type of N2K cable made, I think.

  16. tim says:

    I’m fully in the “use only Maretron cables” camp. They’re just so well made and the clicky noise they make when you’ve tightened a connector all the way is awfully comforting. Nothing wrong with the mix-n-match approach though! That’s the whole point of having a standard after all.
    I am not however afraid to use non-NMEA certified equipment. In fact a lot of my network is DeviceNet gear that I’ve gotten cheaply off eBay. Here’s a great example. Of course, this means that my backbone is “mini” cable and connectors, but I’m fine with that.
    As an aside, as odd as “micro”, “mid” and “mini” are for “small”, “medium” and “large”, it’s better than the original DeviceNet “minifast” and “eurofast” connector/cable names.

  17. David says:

    To understand the reasons behind the industry’s resistance to certification, one question seems very important to me : How much does it cost to have a device certified?

  18. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Thanks, Tim! I bought one of those N2K junction boxes you linked to at eBay, it came today and it’s first class gear. In fact I confirmed that it can be used quite like the light blue Maretron multiport also made by Turck (I think).
    I won’t be using the “mini” backbone ports but “micro” N2K going into any one of the 8 micro ports connects to the other seven. A gender change might be needed in many cases and I’ll need to cover the mini ports some way. Plus while the “voltage monitor” seems to work, it’s probably only good as a “powered up” indicator on boats since it goes Green to Amber below 12.9v or above 25.6v.
    But wow the price is right at $35. The seller, BLF Tech, also included four Micro-size port covers and a nice Turck male terminator.

  19. Bo Collier says:

    Holy cow Ben, somebody should have slapped me when I had the audacity to write you regarding the NEMA certification issue. I just went back (finally) and read the article you referenced in your retort to my letter “The N2K WIFI gateway issue, is NMEA stifling innovation?” from March 2012. https://panbo.com/archives/2012/03/the_n2k_wifi_gateway_issue_is_nmea_stifling_innovation.html. That was exhausting…
    I am so hooked on Panbo. The folks that watch and contribute commentary to your site are sharp, sharp, sharp! Whether one agrees with everyone or not, there is just so much to learn here.
    The whole controversy over open standard, closed standard is way beyond anything I was intending to find out in my original comments to you. But, the 2012 article made me think that maybe the context of closed or open should be changed to ‘for sale’ and ‘free.’ It made me think about how this affects the industry I work in.
    To be brief, there are many ASME, SAE, and other standards that contain mandatory business compliance requirements according to OSHA, MSHA and other Federal agencies. These are incorporated into the standards and many of our clients completely miss that these are mandatory. States like West Virginia make the entire contents of any ASME standard law even if the Feds never mention it. Personally, I think all of the standards in my trade are excellent and, when purchased and implemented, save countless lives. I just think it is wrong to make companies by a standard they are bound by law to follow. I can attest to the fact that this is more injurious to the small companies than the big players. A couple of years ago the Industrial Truck Standards Development Foundation http://www.itsdf.org/ took over the safety standards for all types of fork trucks and they are now a free download. People like that and, from what I see, more readily comply with the free standard. For the standards that must be purchased, companies still can become measurably safer because they have a new standard. But, that’s often overshadowed by the feeling of being screwed out of a couple hundred bucks to get it. It’s like a bad taste that won’t go away.
    I realize we’re not talking about mandatory safety standards here, but it would seem that if the NMEA would open their standard and make it free for everyone to download the organization would be the greatest benefactor. Seems that a free standard would bring more products to certification…$$$… which is where the real money is. Then more techs need to be certified…$$$$ …more organizations see they need to have certified products to compete…$$$$$… and that means more NMEA technician training…$$$$$$…then more products for certification…$$$$$$$… Not a bad vicious cycle to be in. At least that’s the picture this total outsider sees.
    BTW, why does the IMCI not have a single mention of the NMEA? And, what is it with 1,600 NMMA members and not a hint of NMEA on their web site? Just look at Sea Recovery water makers; a NMMA member that’s advertising NMEA 2000 but only “compliant.”
    I am such an NMEA outsider I couldn’t find their door if it and I were in the same phone booth (can’t use that one much longer). But, throughout all of the posts and commentary on the NMEA subject that turned so quickly to ‘open’ or ‘closed,’ ‘costs too much,’ or ‘we should have gone in another direction,’ I read little if anything about any alternate standard. Seems the industry is not only hungry, it has countless pent up resources ready to jump on the N2K bandwagon to tie all the systems together. Given enough time and controversy, however, there will be an alternate and NMEA may just be stuck holding the bag. I like to keep my business on keel with this simple belief; to the human mind there is zero difference between being screwed and feeling screwed.

  20. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Cool. NMEA has put up a PDF that contains the complete list of topics in the NMEA 2000 Certification Test as well as a sample test from Appendix C of the Standard and a partial screen shot of the test from the test tool.
    Technical Director Steve Spitzer says he doesn’t have time to answer our questions about this but I think the PDF nicely outlines the wide set of hardware and software parameters tested.

  21. David says:

    So it’s super cheap. I don’t see why any serious business man would not spend 6k for a business venture.

  22. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Yesterday NMEA issued a strongly worded press release about protecting its intellectual property, including NMEA 0183:
    I’m trying to find out more about their intentions and the possible results, probably toward a future entry, and would appreciate knowing how developers and manufacturers are reacting to this news. Please post a comment here or email me directly (ben at panbo.com). If you email me please specify if your comments are on or off the record.

  23. Bo Collier says:

    Wow… They do listen.
    Thanks Ben,

  24. It’s strange that this press release is not on the NMEA press release web page:
    The latest press release there is from late 2013 announcing that “Johnny Lindstrom, a design engineer at Westport Shipyard, will become chairman of the NMEA board of directors effective January 1, 2014.”
    I do not find this recent press release clear. It says the standards are “the sole property of our members” and “our members have missed benefiting from the revenue”. Do the standards and income not belong to and go to the NMEA organization?
    He says “We are embarking on an effort to aggressively enforce these rights and collect for the use of our technologies by numerous individuals and businesses around the world.” Am I, as an individual who uses a product which includes NMEA features, now also regarded as an NMEA user who owes money to NMEA? That has not been the NMEA position before. Yet, in his example of a major cell carrier air card which he says has NMEA 0183 functions in it, he claims the carrier has not purchased the rights. Since the cell carriers are not the OEM of aircards, that would not be surprising.
    Can I believe that “cellphone network infrastructure timing is in many cases using the UTC Time sentences from the NMEA 0183 standard for synchronization”?
    NMEA should donate 0183 into the public domain and concentrate on 2000. Concentrate on the “create data exchange standards that benefit the entire marine industry” and don’t be greedy.

  25. Don Joyce says:

    Sounds like NMEA suddenly has deep pockets. In the Palace of Justice, money talks.

  26. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    What would be the cost to an unlicensed user of 0183? xx number of years of membership costs?

  27. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Dan, I’m pretty sure that NMEA’s intellectual property rights has nothing to do with end users, and that that’s not their intent anyway.
    That said, I’m hearing lots of surprise that NMEA is going after manufacturers who are using 0183 illegally. I’m not sure what case they have but am trying to find out.

  28. tim says:

    Their own website claims copyright on the standards document alone. IANAL, but I don’t see how they have any legal grounds to claim that manufacturers who use NMEA0183 sentences owe them anything.
    Since NMEA only charge for the standards document ($400 currently for non-members) and do not collect royalties from devices implementing 0183, I’m not sure what Mr Lindstrom expects to accomplish with this rather silly press release. Furthermore, reverse engineering is perfectly legal anyway, so again there is nothing for NMEA to pursue.
    Now, if someone purchased their standards documents and uploaded them to a file sharing site or torrented them or something, NMEA could come after that person for copyright infringement then, but if instead they were to reverse engineer the sentences from devices which already generate them and publish that information on the Internet or use it in a product, there isn’t anything that NMEA can do about it.

  29. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    Better choice of words/terminology … What would be the cost to an unlicensed manufacturer of 0183, to become compliant? xx number of years of membership costs?

  30. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Dan, I’ve sent questions to Johnny Lindstrom, but barring some revelations I think Tim correctly describes the situation. A manufacturer buys the 0183 documentation and uses it. NMEA members get a discount:
    There are no license royalties on 0183, nor on NMEA 2000. But NMEA has a trademark on NMEA 2000 which gives it the right to determine how how the mark is used. I believe that’s the legal basis of the Certification requirement, though certification also has obvious benefits for manufacturers.
    But I too am IANAL. (IANAL = “I am not a lawyer”)

  31. Bill Bishop says:

    Ben I only generically with Tim. Why in the world would anybody bother to reverse engineer NMEA’s 0183 when you can downline virtually all of NMEA’s 0183 copyrighted materials up to 3.1 online for free? In the real world I don’t think any real reverse engineering has been done to 0183 for over a decade or longer. Remember 3.1 0183 standards were published in 2002.
    I think the real question is… If you can reverse engineer the standards, or just acquired them somehow, and then publish them online, does this imply anyone can then use those copyrighted materials for free in a commercial for profit product? I exclude open source projects and personal usage because there is no profit involved, and hence no damages.

  32. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Well, Bill, I’m not sure reverse engineering or downloading make much difference if the penalty is $400. Do you agree that buying the 0183 documentation satisfies a company’s obligation to NMEA?

  33. Bill Bishop says:

    Ben thanks, I agree absolutely. It’s the only damages I can perceive NMEA has suffered, especially since there are no time limitations on use, and royalties in any form. Further you could just purchase the archived standards for $350 and that would cover most users. I was just trying to make the point that because it’s laying around online it doesn’t mean it’s appropriate to use it, and make a buck off it without paying for it.

  34. Anonymous says:

    To answer the specific question to the best of my understanding “If you can reverse engineer the standards, or just acquired them somehow, and then publish them online, does this imply anyone can then use those copyrighted materials for free in a commercial for profit product” – yes if the published documents are the result of reverse engineering for the purposes of developing interoperability between systems. In that case they are not copyrighted or owned in any way by the original system/protocol developer. I suspect the new documents could even potentially be copyrighted by the person who did the reverse engineering, but that I’m not sure on. Obviously completely different story if the documents were stolen (shared against copyright). Both US and European law are fairly clear that reverse engineering is permitted for the purposes of developing interoperability/interfaces between systems, and that you can publish the results of that reverse engineering for others to use.

  35. tim says:

    Ben said,

    Dan, I’ve sent questions to Johnny Lindstrom

    Have you heard anything further on this?

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