NMEA 2000 instruments, ready to rock


So I may be on semi vacation, and having a time, but I’m still looking forward to getting back to the lab where the network of NMEA instruments recently grew to include Furuno’s and Simrad’s latest. Check out the big picture here . I’ll be writing a comparative overview on these five brands soon after I get back, and I’m trying to sort out factors to check out. So far I’ve got:

* Data versatility; like how many PGNs are understood by an all-in-one instrument or family of more dedicated instruments.
* Data display versatility; i.e. how much choice you do get over how particular data is presented. Extra credit for smart features like that little trend icon on Simrad’s depth display at far left.
* Net citizenship; i.e. does a given instrument disturb anything else on the backbone, does it play well with others; extra points for any attempts to handle the calibration conundrum.
* Installation; how easily does a given instrument find all the sensors available to it, and does it clearly ID them for the installer’s benefit?
* Redundancy support; related to above, can you choose preferred sensors when there’s a choice?
* Calibration abilities.
* Special features; proprietary PGNs are allowed, and may be doing some cool stuff.
* Alarms…depth, anchor, etc. How easy to set, etc.
* Screen readability in conditions from bright sunlight through total darkness.

What do you want to know about these instruments? What would make you choose one over another?

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.

33 Responses

  1. Dan (b393capt) says:

    * Data versatility and display versatility as you wrote.
    * Very important for me : Viewing angle and readable distance from left/right/above – important for example if your not standing directly in front of the instrument. For programmable displays, base on having 4 windows displayed. E.g. the instrument is on one side or the other of a companionway, and your watching your boat speed as your adjusting your lines. E.g. a family member is helming your boat, and you need to be off to one side keeping an eye on things without being right on their sholder.
    Of less importance:
    * Power consumption at average, at maximum brightness, when display off while N2K bus is on. If device daisy chains, measure “off” consumption while in the middle of a daisy chain. Can it be off while still allowing data to pass thru instrument ?
    * When power is applied, can you set a default screen that will appear (relevant to the GMS10 and ST70 only) on each display
    * When MOB occurs, can you set a default screen that will appear (relevant to the GMS10 and ST70 only) on each display.
    * Software is upgradable in the field.
    * Option to power seperate from N2K bus, or display can be turned off while N2K bus is powered.
    * Scratch resistance / easy to clean fingerprints.
    * Ability to silence alarms on one display via other displays.
    * another important criteria … recommended by Ben

  2. Sandy says:

    I would be glad to know if any of these instruments would calculate true wind, VMG, and drift. It would be wonderful if they would advise of a sustained header or footer and announce it, but that might be a little too much to ask.

  3. Sandy says:

    Do not eat any broiled Rockfish stuffed with crab imperial; you would have to move to Delmarva and the real estate slump would sting.

  4. Dan (b393capt) says:

    Ben, is the difference in backlighting between the ST70 and GMI10 (which appears brighter than the starboard behind it) as much as it appears in this picture ? Is the ST70 still bright enough for sunlight conditions ?

  5. Duncan says:

    I will be doing two installations over the next few weeks that may provide helpful information to your study.
    One is a Raymarine E-Series, Maretron Wind/Weather Station, ST-70s, older Simrad autopilot integration. I suspect that this one will require me to use my DSM250 display or USB gateway to calibrate the Wind/WX since the ST-70 can not.
    The other is a Maretron DSM250 Display, GPS, Compass, Wind/Weather, Garmin GMI-10s, New Simrad Autopilot, Raymarine E-Series integration.
    I will let you know how they go.
    Thanks for the great work on Panbo and congratulations on your anniversary!

  6. Russ says:

    I like your areas of investigation. My rank ordering of importance is:
    1) Net citizenship. If you don’t play well with the other kids, you’re not welcome on the playground. Or in medical terms, first, do no harm. Ease of installation is a corollary, if it’s a problem to get you onto the playground, you can’t play the game.
    2) Screen readability. There is a minimum bar to get over which includes daylight, daylight with polaroid sunglasses, night (too bright or not bright enough), size of the digits / displays, etc. If I can’t read the instrument, the rest is irrelevant.
    3) Power consumption (thank you Dan). Is this like turning on a 10w light per display, or just a few mw? These tend to be on 24×7 so it adds up.
    4) Data versatility, how many PGNs can it understand?
    5) Display versatility, how well can it present what it understands? What sorts of graphs, meters, digits, multiple lines, single lines, etc. I include alarms in this criteria as well as triggers to external equipment (e.g., tank full/empty, close relay on pump)
    6) Source sensor redundancy and management thereof.
    7) Proprietary features. Something that is only available on this display, not otherwise covered above, which probably means it’s probably related to some other piece of gear from the same vendor.

  7. Bill says:

    Manufacturers recomended price.

  8. Richard C says:

    One common problem I believe many are up against is how to make the conversion over to NMEA 2000 from the old rats nest of wire associated with NMEA 0183? All my devices are the old NMEA except a new Garmin 4212. How does one make the jump over to 2000 without replacing every device on the boat? Is there a way to easy the transition one “mega bucks” instrument at a time?

  9. kevin says:

    Something that comes across on that picture is just how bright the screen in on the Garmin GMI 10 is compared to the Raymarine st70

  10. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Kevin, the Garmin does have much brighter backlighting, BUT it is not transflective.
    The ST70 is, and really competes in direct sunlight.

  11. Yuri says:

    I just finished installing my basic N2K setup. All Maretron (at least for now): DSM250 display, GPS100 antenna, DST100 Triducer, and associated cabling.
    The DSM250 is a little clunky both to look at and use, but I chose it because I feel it satisfies my most important criteria, that of “playing nice with others”. I wanted this to be the core device at the nav-station, something that works when other things don’t; I’ll save the eye-candy cockpit chartplotter/instruments, etc., for down the road.
    Tech support at Maretron has leaped all over my niggling setup issues in a way that really leaves me confident regarding any future Maretron additions. When the folks there asked what other sensors I might want to add, I mentioned that I’d sure like a neat and simple N2K battery monitoring device; I was asked to “be patient for a few months”, and that just such a device is in the pipeline at Maretron.

  12. Chris L. says:

    I’m interested in night use – ability to view vs. effect on night vision. I find most displays work decently during daylight, but you see radical differences at night – especially when you have substantial backlighting (killing night vision), or not enough (can’t read). It’s a tough balance.

  13. Matt says:

    I am really look forward to the redundancy question … Say an autopilot with a rudder sensor and a seperate N2K rudder sensor, or an E series with a seatalk Ray125 and a seperate N2K GPS sensor (Not just N2K sensor vs N2K Sensor).
    One question I would also ask is … parallel data paths … 2 E series connected via seatalkhs and via N2K … do you get infinate loops? … is there somesort of layer2 routing protocol?

  14. Geoff Collins says:

    One thing that would be a factor for me is completeness of offering. Raymarine offers autopilot, instruments, plotters, VHF etc

  15. Dan (b393capt) says:

    Another big big plus … would be the availability of interchangable bezels, so we could take one vendors instruments and have them match at the very least the color of the other instrument bezels on our instrument panels.
    Maybe there is even an aftermarket opportunity for some vendor to do that. Hopefully that wouldn’t result in lawsuits etc. (maybe not an issue in they are manufactured in China)

  16. Lucas says:

    I’m checking the specifications of the Garmin GMI-10.
    I’ve found that the GMI-10 always requires external power and cannot be powered from the NMEA2000 Bus.
    The total power requirement is listed as 2.5 Watts. Additionally, the NMEA2000 Network Power requirement is listed as 2 (100mA) LEN but, it does NOT use NMEA2000 for powering the display.
    This makes the total consumed a total of up to 3.5 watts which is quite high.
    Can you test and confirm this….

  17. Kees says:

    As to backlighting, the new Simrad IS-20 instruments have both white and red LED backlighting. You can choose which one you want – for example white during twilight then switch to red when it’s really dark.

  18. Dan (b393capt) says:

    On the surface that sounds real useful, even a top 10 feature, … but if the chartplotters don’t do that (I am guessing they have tried using red and it dosn’t work out so well) I don’t know how it helps that the instruments would. In fact … could that work against you … e.g. having a red backlight could make the instrument almost unreadable in circumstances like piloting inside a harbor that spoils your night vision with numerous shore lights.
    I am not sure if my charplotter already spoils my night vision or not, but I would think so.
    Can anyone comment why chartplotters don’t use red for night use (not just our recreational one’s, but freighters/commercial units as well ?) or if effect night vision when they are in their very low intensity “night” mode ?

  19. Yuri says:

    I can’t comment on any other display, but the Maretron DSM250 I have has really surprised me with the colour and backlighting options: three rotating custom backlight levels, each settable between 0% and 100% intensity, and up to eight rotating color combos, each infinitely adjustable, including inverted displays. At present I have three set up: “normal”/default, inverted default, and a red/gray/black display for night use.
    Cranked-up in full glory, it makes a nice cabin lamp. In reds/blacks with 15% backlighting, it remains very legible without affecting my night vision at all.
    The large display reads well from the cockpit, even as it is installed at the nav station. Viewing angles really impress me for a colour display.
    Other than that; clunky-blocky graphics/letters/numbers, zero panache, elegant as a plastic spatula, but I never need to look at it twice to read/understand the information displayed.

  20. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    “Elegant as a plastic spatula”…thanks, Yuri, you made me giggle. I hope the fellas at Maretron will too, and then get cracking on screen designs. The good work seen on the ST70 and GMI 10—some of it downright sexy—ought to be a motivation.
    And I hope you have a USB 100 gateway and N2K Analyzer so you can flash the DSM 250 with Maretron’s frequent updates.

  21. marc says:

    Another USB gateway is available from Actisense. Supposedly a standalone device giving optoisolation as well. 2 variations called the NGW-1 or NGW-1USB.
    Connecting N2K to 183 devices or USB port of computer (mac or pc)

  22. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Marc, I don’t think Actisense is shipping these yet, but I look forward to when they do. I think they are also working on a real N2K gateway, too. Instead of converting the messages to NMEA 0183, these will put straight PGNs into a PC and provide a firewall such that other developer’s approved software can run behind it. I don’t think NMEA has quite completed the spec, but these will open up all sorts of possibilities.

  23. Yuri says:

    The Maretron USB100 is definitely the next N2K device I will be adding.
    Tech support at Maretron left me with the impression that N2K Analyzer can be used to implement some sort of scheduled redundancy, ie., in the event of a device failure, a connected (but otherwise disabled) device can be set to enable itself on the network to replace the failed unit.
    I know this can be done manually through the DSM, but can you confirm any sort of automatic function via N2K Analyzer?

  24. Dan (b393capt) says:

    Ben, another area to evaluate the ST70 and GMI 10 … are how well they substitute for the dedicated instruments we are use too.
    For example, when configured as
    [ wind display ], would users still enjoy one button toggling between apparent and true wind, one button access to tack angle, or are these things many button presses away ? For example on my Raymarine st60 graphic, where I setup one page with apparent and one page with true wind, I might be one button push away from changing to true wind (e.g. jump next page), but then I have to press it seven times to get back to apparent wind.
    [speed/depth/log display] less of a concern here that I would loose one touch features, hardly use any, but there are many options on this display I do use that require an in-human memory or a nearby instruction card to use. Does the ST70 or GMI 10, with their soft key capability, make this much easier ? E.g. can you more easily toggle on/off the depth alarm, or change at what depth the alarm will sound ? I have situations today where I would like to set the alarm depth commesurate with where I am sailing to get an alarm soon enough … but don’t do that as often as I should due to the difficulty level. I also tend to turn the alarm off when in the harbor, and not turn it back on later.

  25. Randy says:

    Message for Yuri:
    Take a look at our Alba-Battery. I have one running on my Raymarine ST70 and its great. Shows apms, voltage, and current of my batteries. Take a look at the Tech Area of the site and interface manuals.

  26. Kees says:

    I just noticed that Maretron is now advertising its new N2K battery monitoring equipment (and more) on their website that they promised to Yuri a few months ago.
    To be exact, they have a DC power monitor, an AC power monitor and a switch indicator module.
    Cool, this might be just what I’m looking for. Being able to store longer term DC power use and also right from the cockpit just became a lot easier!

  27. Robert says:

    Based on an inquiry I made a week ago about MacOSX support for Maretron’s USB100 interface, I received the following reply from Maretron:
    “Thank you for your comment. We do recognize the marketplace desire for a MacOSX capability to utilize our USB100 and do intend to address this in future product development.
    Larry Anderson
    Vice President, Sales & Marketing – Maretron LLP”
    Sounds like a N2kView for OSX is in the works..

  28. Microship says:

    Yay indeed… I have made a similar inquiry. I’m about to try inhaling USB100 data to a Ruby on Rails environment, but would love to avoid wheel-reinvention (at least at the driver level *shudder*)!

  29. ian says:

    have raymarine st50 instruments which at night are very yellow making hard to read displays any clues cheers

  30. Allan Meredith says:

    I have a Dehler 39 with B&G network, i also have a 3DL mast pod! it’s to small and hard to see from the wheel.
    Dose anybody have 3 Network Data Displays or any idea’s about replacing them with somthing else better.
    Allan Meredith
    Devon UK

  31. Andy Vouras says:

    I have a lowrance lcx113hd and i’m pleased with it (even though I had to have it replaced after 3 months because of a problem. I also have a lmf400. What I and many others have been looking for is a way to display our gas engine data outputs via nmea2000 to the lowrance instruments.I want to display my tach, oil pressure and water temp from my analog senders and convert them to nmea2000. Maretron has such a device for yanmar engines. A company called bearbonesboating had a device that looked identical to the Maretron ems100 and they claimed to have developed the software to do the conversion. I haven’t heard any discussion about them and their website has not been updated since april 2007. Lowrance has adapters for some outboards but nothing for inboards. Any thoughts?
    Andy Vouras
    Rhode Island

  32. Bill says:

    Andy, I also have a lowrance chart (LCX111HD) plotter similar if not the same as the 113 except with a different connector for NMEA2000 connection. I have a Maretron USB100 and purchased an Alba Engine Control Module for interfacing to my old Perkins 4-108 analog gauges and it seems to work after time spent trouble shooting compatibility problems with firmware versions for the USB100. Alba sells a USB gateway which is the same part as Maretron’s part except for firmware updates.
    Maretron’s firmware must be at 1.7.1 in order to calibrate the Alba Engine Control.
    And be forewarned if you decide to go this route Alba’s support and documentation is non-existent at this time.

  33. Stan says:

    Hi Everyone,
    this is my first posting, so apologies if this has been covered before.
    Is it possible to read the water temperature from a lowrance sounder on the NMEA 2000 bus.
    I’ve been looking at packets on the bus, but the temperature does not seem to be there, but I could be missing something
    Kind Regards

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