Today you can display just about any engine parameter on a multifunction display (MFD), possibly the one you are now using to view your GPS/chart plotter, fish finder or radar. It’s akin to the glass-cockpit concept that airplanes use instead of myriad gauges.
In boats, the key is an NMEA 2000 interconnection standard, which uses a single digital cable to communicate with various electronic, electrical and other onboard systems. It’s called a “backbone” cable and can be networked with the engine’s electronic control unit and other sensors to show information on an MFD.
What You Can View
The information displayed can include basic engine parameters such as rpm, oil pressure and engine temperature. In some cases, an analog-to-digital interface is required. Fuel management including fuel consumption, fuel remaining and calculated fuel economy can also be viewed. This helps in finding that “sweet spot” for best fuel economy.
You can also keep your eye on engine room temperature and, with a camera, watch out for fire. Carbon monoxide, fire and fuel vapor alarms are readily viewable. The status and health of your AC and DC electrical systems can also be observed on your MFD.
The screens can also be customized by you. Menu options let you pick and choose the data you want, as well as where on screen and how you want to view it.
Both your MFD and boat engines need to be NMEA 2000 compatible. This includes MFDs from Furuno, Garmin, Humminbird, Lowrance, Raymarine and Simrad. Many of today’s large marine engines are also NMEA 2000 compatible, including models from Caterpillar, Evinrude, Honda, MAN, Mercury, Suzuki, Volvo Penta, Yamaha and Yanmar.
If your engine is not NMEA 2000 compatible, there are aftermarket products that can convert conventional analog engines. The Maretron (maretron.com) JSK100 J1939 to NMEA 2000 gateway ($395) and the Actisence (actisense.com) EMU-1 engine monitoring unit ($495) can perform this analog-to-digital signal conversion.