GPS, Electronic Charts, Radar, Fishfinder, VHF radio, Stereo
Marine Electronics form a major part of onboard navigational and operating systems. The advances made in the electronics industry over the last few decades have been extreme, evolving now to the point where one screen can display all navigation systems, weather instrumentation, and engine monitoring. This is made possible by manufacturers adhering to NMEA software and hardware interface standards.
Most new generation electronics are capable of interfacing with each other via a common software standard called NMEA0183, or the most recent NMEA2000. NMEA0183 grew from advances over the last 25 years. The end result, is that one location can listen to and display data from the input of several different instruments. New electronic components use NMEA2000, which means information exchanges between electronics in multiple directions, thus electronics interact with each other. For an example in practical use: an autopilot receives an alarm from an overheating engine or a depth alarm, and slows down or changes course. In another example, the driver of a center console in foggy visibility reads one monitor which displays GPS/chartplotting functions, actively following a course, and input from a radar overlays the image with range rings, creating instant, easily interpreted distance from shore or to a target. Change the scenario to a captain of a multi-million dollar luxury sailing vessel in the same foggy seas. On the same screen as the navigational input, the new engines are wired into the feed with NMEA2000 stream of data displaying alongside a readout of windshift that just forced a tack in a crowded channel. Amidst the commotion of changing course and avoiding inbound traffic, the pilot looks with one eye to the screen and the other to tending business on deck. This all results in safer navigation for both commercial and recreational boaters.
Much of these electronics are plug and play for the end user, but often require that all instruments be of the same brand. This is because some electronics manufacturers make the data output proprietary to their own systems. In addition, older generation instruments such as a circa 1980 wind indicator or depth sounder will not mesh with new NMEA2000 software, simply because the data stream is too slow. While this may seem burdensome or against a sailors thrifty nature to replace working electronics, the integrated system does economize space, improve aesthetics and cut expense by having fewer monitors to install, less cables to run, and a centralized display area. With the future looking like more vessels will be produced with 24 volt and even 36 volt systems, most of these electronics are perfectly content working with a range of voltages.