NMEA & IBEX 2013 awards, winners & explanations

NMEA_2013_Technology_Award_cPanbo.jpgThat’s Raymarine’s Larry Rencken accepting the NMEA New Technology Award for the Evolution autopilot system from NMEA Director Bruce Angus (with NMEA Office Manager Cindy Love assisting). This was Evolution’s second honor in two weeks — congratulations! — as it also shared the IBEX Innovation Award for electronics, as discussed on Panbo here. Whereas I was involved in that first contest and a close observer of the various NMEA Awards, I thought I’d explain how they work and also note the other winners. No awards process I know of is perfectly fair, but these are handled quite seriously and are worthy of attention, I think.

NMEA offers Product Awards in several categories plus the single Technology Award, which is quite separate. Electronics manufacturers nominate entries for the Product Awards and traditionally they were judged by all NMEA members who cared to send back the ballot. However, the results became fairly predictable and seemed to largely reflect the high standing certain manufacturers like Furuno have with the U.S. technical dealers who dominate this trade organization. So this year NMEA tried something new by appointing 50 anonymous expert judges who were “proportionally balanced amongst dealer, manufacturer and trade members in each NMEA region.”
   Manufacturers could submit one product nomination for each brand as long as it had been “available for sale in North America no earlier than January 1, 2011 and no later than June 30th, 2013.” Also, a nominated product “using NMEA 0183 as the data interface must utilize RS-422″ and one with N2K “must be NMEA 2000 certified or have been submitted for certification.”  As best I can tell, the expert judges were not necessarily looking for most innovative, but rather a more general “best” product. And here are the 2013 winners in order of announcement:

Autopilot­­: Garmin GHP 20 Autopilot with Smart Pump (which may well be the first time Garmin won an NMEA Product award and drew large applause).

Fish Finder: Humminbird 360 Imaging (another large round of applause — perhaps partially because it was becoming clear that these Product Awards really were different — and I heard that the Furuno crew enthusiastically bought the Humminbird crew a round later that night).

Radar: Furuno TZtouch TZT14 w/ DRS4D (some things are virtually undeniable).

Communications: KVH TracPhone V3 (KVH has also built strong relationships with technical dealers, plus when the nominees were announced, I noticed all sorts of worthy products ranging from security systems to VHF radios) 

Entertainment: KVH TracVision HD11

Navigation: Furuno NavNet TZtouch Black Box System

Computer-Based Software: Nobeltec Time Zero App (this was a new Product category this year and the first Product Award to an app, I think).

Marine Specialty: FLIR MD-625 Thermal Imager (another category stuffed with interesting and divergent nominees and another challenge to the experts, I suspect)

Manufacturer of the Year — Support: Furuno USA (All NMEA members could vote on this and the applause was huge as Furuno has won the category ever since it went on the ballot in 2005!) 

NMEA_2013_Ray_n_Simrad_demo_boats_cPanbo.jpgManufacturers can nominate the same or another product for the NMEA Technology Award except that it has to have been released for sale after June 30, 2012 (and again prior to June 30, 2013). This award is determined by three judges put forward by Boating Writers International and I know the drill well, as I was one from the award’s inception in 2009 until I rotated out after the 2011 NMEA Conference. This year’s able BWI judges were Bill Bishop, Zuzana Prochazka, and Mark Corke.
   Before they even got to San Diego, the Tech Award judges got packets about each nominee product, and then they went around the conference exhibit area to review them. In some happy cases that also meant a ride on a demo boat like the ones above, and I hear that the judges really put the Evolution thru some paces (like a highspeed sharp turn). At any rate, based on the award’s stated criteria of “innovation, benefit to boaters, practicality and value,” the trio gave Evolution the nod and also awarded honorable mentions to the Nobeltec TimeZero app (my enthusiasm vindicated?) and to the Garmin quatix watch (with which I’m also very impressed, review coming).
   It’s no coincidence that the IBEX (and Miami) Innovation Awards are also judged by BWI members using very similar criteria.  They’re just much bigger affairs (and IBEX also allows nominees that will be released for sale within 60 days, which I think a bit dangerous). This year seven of us reviewed 59 products in more than 9 categories (we’re allowed not to give an award in a category, and we did). That meant huge boxes of brochures, samples, and USB sticks shipped around the country, then two solid days of walking the show floor as exhibitors set up their booths, and finally, some comparative Google searching and lots of spirited discussion.
   Listed here are the IBEX 2013 Innovation Awards and note electronics-wise that still-innovating Fusion Marine Audio got an honorable mention in the OEM Electronics category won by Raymarine and Volvo Penta/Garmin; that Navico won in the Boatyard and Dealer Hardware/Software category for System Builder (not a consumer product, but certainly of benefit to); that ABYC won for Safety Equipment with its free Boat Essentials app; and finally, that I’ll soon put up more detail on Syntec Industries’ Smart Wheel, winner in the Deck Equipment & Hardware category. When our super-organized leader Alan Wendt hit the stage at the big IBEX opening breakfast — with silly slides profiling his fellow judges — we even got to honor a particularly compact and easy-to-install Dometic Marine Head.


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.

9 Responses

  1. thedon says:

    You’ve got to be freaking kidding me… Humminbird 360 and a basic App won awards?? Did they actually test anything??

  2. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Nope, not kidding, Don. And Nobeltec TimeZero was honored by two sets of judges. Why do you characterize it is as “a basic App” and what’s wrong with Humminbird 360?
    And how would it be remotely possible for either set of judges to test every nominated product? Do you know any similar tech award program that’s able to pull that off?

  3. Rick R says:

    I am very pleased to see that an app won an award. Nobeltec Time Zero certainly is a worthy winner. However, I think that it is odd that an app would win, but the iPad didn’t. I presume that Apple is not a NMEA member, so does this mean that only NMEA members are eligible?
    PS: Bill Bishops saga of his 30 hour flight back to Sarasota is a hoot.

  4. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Well, Rick, speaking of giant tech companies — but on the dark side — I’m sorry to report that there’s yet another patent suit in the little marine electronics industry. Furuno has requested the (U.S.) International Trade Commission to stop the importation by Garmin, Navico, and Raymarine of “certain navigation products, including GPS devices, navigation and display systems, radar systems, navigational aids, mapping systems, and related software that infringe one or more claims of U.S. Patent Nos. …” http://goo.gl/VX0j1t
    For me what’s especially noteworthy is that the complaint was publicly filed on Sept. 23, just days before I attended a relatively tiny conference also attended by at least fairly senior U.S. sales and/or product managers from all four of the companies involved. But I never heard a peep about this litigation!
    In fact, what I think I saw yet again in San Diego — and you can sense it in the entry above — was quite a lot of comradery and graciousness even amongst fierce competitors. I’m beginning to think that all these patent fights are quite compartmetalized in every company. At least in marine electronics, the folks who actually develope and market the products don’t seem to pay much attention (unless it affects their R&D and ad budgets, which is sometimes an unfortunate side effect).

  5. thedon says:

    I am guessing I may be seeing a different point of NMEA Awards then. Maybe they are actually awarding innovation rather than the best of?
    But if they are awarding the best of and they cant possible view all products entered, maybe they should change it to the “Best of the things we tested/saw/played with”….
    Is there anywhere we can find the reasons behind the awards? Eg, this won that because of these points?

  6. Labozza says:

    The Don,
    The NMEA awards are awarded to the BEST in class, voted by as Ben mentioned this year a panel of 50 carefully vetted expert voters. The BWI Technology Award, in which Ben has participated in, is strictly for Innovation. I was surprised by a lot of the winners of these years awards, but each voter was responsible for evaluating every nomination thoroughly and using field experience and technical specifications. Do I think the best product won in each catagory? No, but that’s my personal opinion, and just like the baseball and NFL HOF, the Oscars, and even the Daytime Emmys, there will always be disagreements over who won what. The end result, which is the best part, is each nominee that didn’t win will continue to try and improve their products not just for an award, but to be the best. That’s the beauty of competition, and it’s a win-win for everyone, especially the end user.

  7. Bill Bishop says:

    Just a few words about the the judging process for the NMEA Technology award. The packets we receive are a considerable pile of reading material to sort through. Each entry gets as much of the judges time as they need to explain the hows and whys of their entry. A simple product might take 15 or twenty minutes. A more complex product may take much more time. This year it took two days to do the vendor visits. The previous year it took three days, As Ben mentioned, there are four criteria, of which innovation is the first.
    If it was strictly innovation that we looked at you might have a different winner. Factoring in value, benefit to the boater, and practicality changes the picture, and in my personal opinion creates a more well rounded winner.
    After all of the interviews we separate and do our scoring, and then we meet. As a rule of thumb a half dozen entries will have risen to the top of the lists, and a spirited discussion occurs to winnow the list down to the top three, and then with consensus the order is selected.
    Each judge sees things a bit differently, and the differing perspectives are good. This is not a casual process and we all work very hard at it. Judges are not paid, we volunteer to do it. Our hotel room is provided, we get meal expenses, and $350 towards airfare (somewhat short in my case). In the real world it costs all of us money out of pocket to do this, but I consider it a privilege to participate.

  8. Rick R says:

    Furuno’s application to the International Trade Commission is probably just a tactic to force Garmin, Navico, and Raymarine to settle a patent dispute. But if Furuno is successful and forces their competition out of the US market, I predict a consumer backlash. Furuno may win the battle, but they will be heading for a PR train wreck.

  9. thedon says:

    Ah, now I get it. Its not just a Best of Award. Thank you guys for clarifying this.
    I guess firing off opinions without first knowing the process is not the best idea :).
    I still don’t think an app should have won it though 😉

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