TECHNICAL - THE POWER OF DATA

Yachting Monthly|Summer 2020

TECHNICAL - THE POWER OF DATA
The new NMEA OneNet claims to offer more data and a faster, more secure network for onboard devices. Toby Heppell investigates...
Toby Heppell

Video on your chartplotter, night vision cameras up the mast, and wireless gadgets galore are now a reality on many cruising boats, but the digital networks they use are decades out of date, making them slow and open to hacking. It’s definitely time for a new kind of onboard network.

To date, sailors and equipment manufacturers have been able to link devices using the networking of NMEA 0183 and, more recently, NMEA 2000 (N2K). These options provide a data backbone by which all instruments are able to talk to one another. It means that no matter what make your echo sounder is it will be able to talk to your instrument display or chartplotter, even when it’s created by another manufacturer. However, NMEA 0183 and N2K are both relatively low-bandwidth systems that service a limited number of sensors and displays and can only support limited amounts of data. When N2K superseded 0183 it increased the data limit, but increasingly sophisticated technology onboard is far more bandwidth hungry.

This has not historically been a significant problem as the closed-loop, unconnected world of a boat in the middle of an ocean is extremely limited. But speed, bandwidth and networksecurity demands change dramatically when raw radar and sonar data feeds are being shared with networked wireless devices, alongside live video feeds, wireless cameras and linked online to the internet.

All this is one of the key reasons we are about to see the newest NMEA standard, NMEA OneNet arrive. A decade ago, in 2010, a group of marine brands asked NMEA to create a new protocol for transmitting and receiving N2K messages over an ethernet network. At that time, individual brands were using Ethernet to connect equipment like radars and chart plotters, but this was always in a proprietary manner and so didn’t allow for much interoperability with devices from other manufacturers. The aim of the project was to enable the use of ethernet but to bring it under the successful all-inclusive wings of NMEA. Despite delays due to Covid-19, OneNet should be ready to be rolled out this year.

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Summer 2020