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Marine Electronics Journal Blog
Best electronic gateways for 2018

It’s a good bet that not many boaters have walked up to the counter of a marine electronics dealership and asked for a gateway, unless they’re big into do-it-yourself installation projects. Gateways are devices that, in effect, allow electronics operating under different “protocols” to communicate with each other and work together cooperatively. There are gateways that permit an onboard NMEA 2000 network to “talk” to a PC that is looking for NMEA 0183 data. Other gateways convert engine data into NMEA 2000 language so it can be displayed on monitors in the bridge. And that’s only two flavors.

Whether or not you’re in the market for a gateway, it’s good to become familiar with them so the next time you add a new piece of electronics and the dealer says, “OK, we’re going to have to gateway it into the network”—you can nod knowingly and engage in a useful conversation.

With that in mind, below are five gateways that come highly recommended in terms of performance. The lineup is part of an exercise that Marine Electronics Journal does every year. We call it the Best & Brightest Boating Electronics—it works like this:

We ask manufacturers to identify the one model they produce in a particular category that they consider to be their Best & Brightest—not necessarily the most technically advanced or newest but rather the one they rate highest in the product line for one reason or another. Could be the functions and features it offers, or maybe it breaks new ground in maximizing effectiveness or utility, or maybe it’s the most popular as measured by sales to boaters.

There are 17 categories in all­, ranging from autopilots and fishfinders to vessel monitoring systems and multi-function displays---MFDs. Last week we rolled out EPIRBs—Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons. Click HERE to check it out.


Actisense NGW-1 (NMEA 0183/NMEA 2000)

Upgrading to NMEA 2000 from NMEA 0183 can become costly if all electronics need to be replaced at the same time.  A boat owner can save thousands of dollars by only upgrading what they need and using an Actisense NGW-1 to integrate old with new.  This cost-effective solution supports conversion of NMEA 0183 to NMEA 2000 and vice versa, which means that multiple devices can be integrated with a single unit.  With all conversions enabled, and a version for use with AIS devices, the NGW-1 is ready to go, straight out of the box.


Actisense NGT-1 (NMEA 2000/PC)

The NGT-1 allows precise transfer of NMEA 2000 data to a PC.  When combined with the free NMEA Reader software from Actisense, it becomes a powerful NMEA 2000 diagnostics tool.  Combining compatible third-party software with the NGT-1 NMEA 2000 to PC Interface gives the user a wealth of essential information for vessel monitoring and route planning.  Remote configuration and updating of a select range of Actisense products is also possible using the NGT-1.  The most popular option is the USB variant, providing simple ‘plug & play’ connectivity between a PC and the NMEA 2000 network.  A serial option is also available for more advanced applications or users who prefer serial PC connections. 

Digital Yacht ST-NMEA Converter

Palm-sized ST-NMEA gateway converts legacy and proprietary SeaTalk data to NMEA for easy integration of older Raymarine systems with PCs, third-party NMEA sensors and other instruments.  Brings life back to older systems and allows integration with wireless servers for iPad navigation.

Maretron J2K100 

Most modern electronic diesel engines come from the factory with a digital interface developed by the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) called J1939. Maretron’s J2K100 gateway converts or translates SAE J1939 messages to NMEA 2000 messages so engine data can be displayed directly on NMEA 2000-compatible chartplotters.

Rose Point nemo

The nemo gateway will connect all NMEA 0183, NMEA 2000, TCP/UDP, and OneNet (when released) marine electronics devices onboard a vessel. It can be used to provide PCs, tablets, and phones access to devices supporting these standards. The certified NMEA 2000 network connection ensures compatibility with newer devices while classic NMEA 0183 connections provide support for legacy equipment. This makes it possible for installers to help customers bridge between all NMEA standards. The nemo gateway supports incredibly complex installations requiring translation, prioritization and filtering of data. There is no single device like it on the market—its settings and robust options are configured using a PC or an easy-to-use app on Android and Apple devices.

ShipModul MiniPlex-3

ShipModul’s MiniPlex-3 Series of NMEA 0183 multiplexers combines data from multiple navigation instruments. Through an advanced filtering and routing system, this data can be sent to other navigation instruments and to computers, tablets and smartphones. A bi-directional SeaTalk1 interface enables conversion between SeaTalk1 data and NMEA 0183 sentences. This conversion works both ways, allowing the MiniPlex-3 to replace Raymarine's SeaTalk-NMEA bridge. MiniPlex-3 models with an NMEA 2000 interface (-N2K suffix) connect directly to an NMEA 2000 backbone and convert between NMEA 2000 PGNs, NMEA 0183 sentences and SeaTalk1 datagrams in all directions. Bi-directional computer interfaces offer connectivity via USB, Ethernet or WiFi, all at NMEA 0183 level. Two special NMEA 0183 sentences offer translation to and from raw NMEA 2000 or SeaTalk data.


Gateways: A key link evolves to meet increasing network complexity


(If you want more information on gateways, here’s an excerpt from an article on gateways written by Ron Ballanti that ran in Marine Electronics Journal last year.)

We probably all know a boater like Ed. He’s out most weekends during the season, trolling for stripers along the coast, or maybe chasing tuna around the offshore canyons.  He’s mighty partial to the late-90s vintage chartplotter he’s had on the boat since he first bought her. After all, it’s familiar, has a few hundred secret fishing hotspots saved in the memory and he knows how to perform all the navigation functions he needs without even thinking. So, when Ed’s trusty old autopilot finally steers its way to the happy hunting grounds and it’s time to replace it with a new one, he may find himself with a little challenge to overcome.

To optimize the performance and functionality of this set up — say to link the autopilot and chartplotter together to allow push-and-go steering to a waypoint — Ed needs to have the chartplotter’s NMEA 0183 “language” converted to accept the NMEA 2000® standard.  This is where a range of gateway technologies from companies such as Actisense, Maretron, Airmar, Digital Yacht and others comes into play.  In the most simplistic sense, you can think of the various NMEA gateway technologies as translators—developed to allow different marine electronics products to connect, talk with one another and contribute to the network. 


What’s in a name?

The variety of products that fall into this category is extensive, and seemingly growing everyday with the need to capture, share and make use of all the digital information flying around today’s boats.  It’s not just about effectively networking MFDs, autopilots, sonar, DSC VHF and other marine electronics to optimize performance, but bringing in NMEA 2000 data from weather sensors, satellite compasses, engines, transmissions, electronic throttles, gen sets, trim indicators, fuel tanks, holding tanks and much more, so this information can be shared, viewed and controlled from different systems connected via the boat’s NMEA 2000 digital backbone. With so much information available and so many ways it could be used by a person operating a complex machine like today’s modern boat, gateway products were developed to help link it all together, and manage and make use of the flow of available information.

 “Gateways are the interface between standards,” said Phil Whitehurst, Chief Executive Officer of UK-based Actisense, manufacturer of a wide array of gateway products, including the widely used NGW-1 NMEA 2000 Gateway. “They can exchange one type of data for another, such as NMEA 0183 to NMEA 2000, or between other types of systems such as J1939 [engine data] to NMEA 2000 bridges.”

“The term gateway is generally used in the NMEA 2000 community to distinguish a product that translates or ‘gateways’ one protocol to another,” explained Richard Gauer, President of Maretron, manufacturer of vessel monitoring and control systems.  “For example, we offer a USB/NMEA 2000 gateway—the USB100—that translates NMEA 2000 messages to NMEA 0183 sentences to ‘gateway’ an NMEA 2000 network to a PC running navigation software and expecting NMEA 0183 sentences. Another example is our SMS100 module, which ‘gateways’ the NMEA 2000 network to the cellular phone network, so text messages relative to the NMEA 2000 network can be sent to mobile phones.”

 “It’s important to think about whether the gateway you need is one-directional or bi-directional,” said Peter Braffitt, General Manager of Gemeco Marine Accessories, LLC, a leading marine electronics distributor that handles many of these gateway products and helps dealers and customers alike with technical issues.  “For example, you might want to convert engine data to NMEA 2000 to access that information, but the engine company blocks the NMEA 2000 data from going to the engine for safety. Companies like Garmin, Furuno, Actisense and others make one- or two-way converters based on application. Some gateway manufacturers allow the user to set filters on bi-directional gateways to alleviate such issues.”


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