Ask Ken: Connecting Older Electronics to Newer Equipment

Data converters allow electronics of different protocols and manufacturers to work together and share information.

Ask Ken: Connecting Older Electronics to Newer Equipment
Ask Ken: Connecting Older Electronics to Newer EquipmentHydra-Sports

Q. Can I connect my older electronics to new equipment?

A. Many new electronics (most of which use NMEA 2000 connections) can be networked with older models (that use NMEA 0183 protocol) using special data converters or "gateways."

NMEA 0183 and NMEA 2000 are data languages that let your electronics share information. For example, the GPS can send steering commands to your autopilot. Data converters are language translators that allow older 0183 electronics and newer 2000 equipment talk to and understand each other. These standards also allow electronics of different manufacturers to work together and share information.

For instance, the Actisense NGW-1 ($189.95, thegpsstore.com) and the AMEC NK-80 ($179.95, milltechmarine.com) both can send and receive data from either type of NMEA network. Versions are also available to pass special AIS data messages or be able to connect to your computer's USB port.

Connection Considerations
Keep in mind that some manufacturers require special connector and cable adapters when making NMEA 2000 connections. Simrad and Lowrance, for example, have special SimNet to NMEA 2000 adapter cables and connections. Raymarine uses its DeviceNet adapter cables to connect with 2000 devices (most cost about $30).

Furuno, Garmin and Maretron all use original NMEA 2000 connections and do not require any special connectors or adapters.

The Navico AT10 adapter ($110) converts standard NMEA 0183 data to SimNet language but requires the use of an adapter cable (described above) to mate with a 2000 network.

Raymarine provides a converter to allow some older gear to work with newer electronics. Its Seatalk1 to STng Data Bridge (E22158/$95) translates its earlier version SeaTalk1 data (similar to NMEA 0183) to the more current STng language (similar to NMEA 2000).

Furuno also offers an NMEA converter, the IF-NMEA2K2 ($195), which converts NMEA 0183 digital messages coming from other electronics to data understood by NMEA 2000 compatible equipment.

The ITC-5 ($265) by Raymarine is a convenient and affordable accessory that lets you keep your earlier-style analog depth, boat speed, wind, compass and rudder-angle transducers and converts their signals to data that can be used by new Raymarine instruments. This reduces the cost for new transducers, added installation labor, and the expense of a haul-out.

In some cases, special-connect adapter cables are available that let you convert the connectors of some transducers (including some from a different manufacturer) to the correct connector needed to plug into your new equipment. This will avoid the trouble and expense of having to replace an existing transducer. Check with your electronics dealer to determine if an adapter cable is available for the transducer and equipment models you may have.

Software Considerations
When integrating different types of equipment networks, be sure the software version of each device is up to date. This will help you avoid possible data conflicts. Most manufacturers make the latest software available for download at their websites.

Radar Considerations
With radar, new and old don't necessarily mix. For decades, radar had analog signal processors. In recent years, the industry has switched to digital signal processing, which tends to enhance radar echoes and produce a more detailed picture. Unfortunately, analog radars are not compatible with displays designed for digital radars. If you upgrade your navigation display, you will most likely need to upgrade your radar antenna dome or scanner as well. However, older analog radar antennas that are operational are often in demand by boat owners looking for a replacement radar antenna and usually sell well on the Internet.

Resources for Additional Information
Raymarine SeaTalkng Reference Manual
raymarine.com

Garmin NMEA2000 Network Fundamentals
michaelkintner.com

Maretron NMEA2000 Network Guide
maretron.com

Simrad SimNet Installation Manual
chicagomarineelectronics.com