Monday, February 18, 2013

Marine Data to WiFi

The Marine Data Revolution

The world of marine electronics is changing faster than most of us bloggers can write about it. The last few years we have seen the invention of mobile devices, tablets and apps that are revolutionizing the way we share and display marine data.

I normally review marine apps but the hardware that provides the data to these apps is worth taking some time to talk about. Multiplexers and WiFi are making it easier than ever to make data available to anyone on your yacht, anytime and anywhere.

Most yachts today are outfitted with a whole series of marine instruments. These may include wind speed and direction, depth, boat speed, course, heading, AIS, radar and a variety of navigation and weather data.  The smart phone and tablet revolution has created a whole new industry around sharing all of this data with charting, AIS and data apps for mobile devices on your yacht.  These may include a laptop computers, iPhone, iPad or even Android devices.

Sharing Instrument Data

So, what is the best way to get access to all the data on your yacht. Sailors first started incorporating laptop computers with their onboard navigation systems.  In the last 10 years, PC based charting programs became very popular and required access to this instrument data.

This brought about the development and use of multiplexers to connect instrument and GPS data to a laptop. If you still have some older NMEA 0183 instruments or transducers on our yacht, this is still a great way to connect these devices.  

There are several PC programs such as NavMon PC, Polar Navy and GPS Gate that can create virtual serial ports.  Data can then be shared with multiple PC charting programs or with wireless devices through TCP/IP.  An-ad hoc network can also be easily set up with the laptop to share the data with mobile devices.

Serial Data  to WiFi

The next evolutionary step was the development of multiplexers that combined serial NMEA data from yacht instruments and made it available to any WiFi capable device.  This setup omits the need for a computer making the data readily available to any mobile device.

The Digi Wi-SP is a popular model and will efficiently broadcast your instruments NMEA 0183 serial data over WiFi to your iPad, iPhone or Android device. It  can be found for about $270 on various sites.

The cheaper of these options are a couple of  tiny devices called the WiSnap and WiFly serial to WiFi adapters.  These can be powered by battery or hardwired into your 12 volt system using pins 5 and 9 of the serial port.  At $99-$159 these may work well for smaller boat installations where you may only be connecting a single NMEA 0183 devices to the serial port.

Below is a list of serial to WiFi adapters that could be used to broadcast your serial NMEA 0183 data over WiFi. These are very economical and range in price from $100-$300. This list is by no means all inclusive.  Search for "serial to WiFi" in Google to find many more options.

Check out some of the serial to WiFi options available below.

Marine WiFi Multiplexers and NMEA 2000

The NMEA 2000 marine data protocol is the new defined standard and is widely used in the industry.  All new instruments, chartplotters and marine electronics are built using this protocol.  It has an easy plug and play network that can be put together by just about anyone.  Several of the new WiFi multiplexer devices allow the use of both NMEA 0183 and 2000 protocols.  These devices will help bridge the communication gap until the older NMEA 0183 hardware is phased out.


The Vespers Marine XB-8000 combines AIS, GPS, NMEA 0183 and NEMA 2000 data capabilities in one sweet package.  I reviewed this recently in my blog. It is one of the most full featured and will cost you around $800. It also comes with a dedicated Watchmate app.

The devices come with varying specs and data type inputs so make sure you check them all out to determine the right device for you.


Brookhouse has been in the Marine multiplexer game for quite a while. They now offer an iMux which is capable of converting NMEA 0183, GPS and AIS data to WiFi. They are one of a few companies that will convert Raymarine SeaTalk data to WiFi also.

The following is a partial list of dedicated Marine WiFi for AIS, NMEA 0183 and 2000 devices. 

These devices are hardened and built for marine use.  They are designed to be more reliable and stand up to extended use in the harsh marine environment. Select one of these for a more permanent solution on your yacht.


As you can see, there are numerous options out there to fit the needs of just about any application. I could spend hours talking about the many options available, but that would be one boring post.   I hope this list at least gets you thinking about the possibilities of adding WiFi to your yacht.

What multiplexer or WiFi setup are you using? I would love to hear some feedback on some of these units.

~~~ Sail On ~~~ /)
Mark

29 comments:

  1. This is the best synopsis of this subject I've ever seen - really well done. It's one to bookmark!

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    1. ActiveCaptain,
      Hey, thanks for your kind comments. This whole marine data thing is fun to follow. Not sure what the next big innovation is going to be. When it happens, rest assured, that I will be around to write about it.

      I am a big fan of ActiveCaptain too! Keep up the great work and keep in touch.

      Mark

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  2. The next release of iNavX will support the DMKYacht Box NMEA 2000 data in addition to the already support NMEA-0183. iNavX currently supports NMEA-0183 through any WiFi connection and N2K via the Chetco SeaSmart connections.

    MacENC supports NMEA-0183 data through any WiFi connection.

    Both iNavX and MacENC support TCP and UDP connections.

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    1. GPSNavX,
      Thanks for the update on iNavX compatibility. I have used iNavX successfuly with TCP and UDP. Glad to see your supporting NMEA 2000 too. Your app is still listed as my number 1 for good reason. You continue to add innovative features that all of us are looking for.

      Consider becoming a follower of the blog if your are not already! Appreciate your support.

      Mark

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  3. Hi I am thinking of hooking up a Google Nexus 7 to a Sport Pilot Autohelm for both Navigation and steering capability...

    Would ideally like to have a wifi to serial (NEma 183) converter added to the existing line, and this would allow for a wireless connection for navigation.

    Would like to be able to have a portable navigation software set up with the capablity to also (Dreaming)use the nexus Tablet built in compass to be capable of manual remote steering like the Raymarine autohelm S100 controller.

    Can anyone let me know what the lowest cost options would be for this set-up...Note: I am handy with programming and networking as well so if I need to do some coding its wouldn't be too much of an issue...for the manual steering option..Navigation, definatly need a recommendation for NEMA navigator....for the Nexus

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  4. kflack,

    Welcome to the site. Great to hear from you! Sounds like you have some abituous plans. Most of the great marine apps have been built for the Apple iOS products such as the iPhone and the iPad. Apps like iNavx will connect with your on board instruments and systems and can be set up to control your autopilot with NMEA 0183.

    As far as Andorid apps I do not know of any that will do that. The Chetco SeaSmart will support Android and allow you to develop web based pages to display your data.
    http://www.seasmart.net/marine-wireless-networking-wifi.html

    There are others like iRegatta that will support just viewing NMEA 0183 instrument data on your Android device. It is more of a sailing app.
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=dk.letscreate.aRegatta&hl=en

    Hope that helps, stop back soon and become a follower to keep up on the latest posts.

    Mark

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  5. Hi Mark,

    Is there any chance you could help me? I was recently part of a team trying to start up a boat wifi reseller company. Long story short the company failed to find funding. I've not been given the task of selling off the domain name (www.BoatWiFi.com) and I've listed it on ebay. But i'd rather not let it go to some guy who will just put up a holding page and leave it used for decades - i'd rather contact a few companies in the field and see if they are interested. The problem is I dont know where to start. From you (ample) knowledge in this area can you make any suggestions?

    Thanks in advance.

    Greg

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    1. Greg,
      There are alot of companies who have equipment, apps and software in that area.

      Comair
      Vespers Marine
      Brookhouse
      DigitalYacht iAIS WiFi receiver & multiplexer
      DigitalYacht WLN10 WiFi multiplexer
      ShipModul Miniplex-2 WiFi multiplexer
      SailTimer Wind Vane
      vYacht NMEA Wifi router
      DMK Yacht Instruments Box
      Chetco Digital Instruments SeaSmart WiFi
      Actisense

      These are just a few. You can Google others

      Good Luck!
      Mark

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  6. Basic Question.Do I Need A Multiplexer Or Just A Serial To Wifi Connector? I Have Gpsnavx And Older Equipment That Must Be The Older Nmea. Also, Really Basic Question, What Do I Connect The Serial To Wifi Connector To? Is There A WIre From MY Boat Information?
    Thanks...Carla

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  7. Carla,

    Welcome to the site. Hope you find it informative. Consider becoming a follower to keep up on all the latest posts. Support the site by viewing some of the Google adds.

    I am not an expert on GPSNAVX, but it appears from their webpage that it is compatible with a few multiplexers. Check out the GPS compatibility section where it talks about Shipmodul multiplexers. They have the special Raymarine units too if that is the type of instruments that you have.
    http://www.gpsnavx.com/index.php?page=Compatibility

    If your instruments are NMEA 0183, the old type, you can connect them to a multiplexer. The multiplexer then connects to your laptop through a USB cable. The multiplexer basically helps your laptop read the instrument data. Consult your instrument manufacturer to find out how to connect them to a multiplexer.

    If you already have a multiplexer connected too your laptop and want to share your boats data to your iPad or iPhone wirelessly, you can set up an ad hoc connection from your laptop or you can use a WiFi enabled multiplexer. Apps like iNavX, and SEAiq can connect wirelessly to a laptop or WiFi enabled multiplexer and display your instrument data.

    Hope that helps. Without knowing exactly what you have it is hard to suggest one.

    Mark



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  8. Hi Mark,

    I am coming back to race sailing after many years. I will do tactics on a esse850. It's fun to see how fast technology is moving! Anyway, I found you site whilst surfing for a solution to get the data wirelessly from the boats suite of Tacktick Micronet 100 instruments to an iPhone or an iPad. First, compliments for your reviews! very useful! anyway, here the question:

    The instruments themselves don't have an NMEA output but I found that Tacktick (now Raymarine) has an NMEA interface, the T122, that provides wired NMEA output. Do you know if I would need then to add a wifi multiplexer behind the T122 to get the data over wifi to the iPad or does the T122 already do that on its own?

    Thank in advance and best regards from Switzerland!
    Olivier

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    1. Oliver,
      I am not familiar with the T122. It says it is wireless and it can broadcast to other Micronet displays. I could not find what wireless protocol it uses. You may have to contact Raymarine to see if it can broadcast WIFI to an iPad or iPhone.

      Raymarine has several app which I have reviewed. These include the RayView, RayControl and RayRemote apps.
      http://www.raymarine.com/view/?id=2121
      Some of these may interface with your system also.

      Good luck. Become a follower of the site and share it with your friends. Any support would be appreciated.

      Mark

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  9. Can I use wifi instead of cable from my mast mounted Radar?

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  10. Ken,

    Not sure what you are asking in reference to WiFi and radar. Could you explain what you are trying to do?

    Mark

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  11. hello MArk
    I just read your interesting article, but I have not yet found a good solution to my problem. I have a Brookhouse multiplexer with usb output and would like to connect it to my Ipad to use the nmea data with the Iregata app or other iPad apps. I have seen that there are many multiplexer with wifi output and I might change my multiplexer but I was hoping not to have to do it. I hope to find a hardware that could convert the usb entry with a wifi output. can you help me?

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    1. Paolo,
      Thanks for checking out the site. Become a member of the site to keep up on the latest posts. I did a quick Google for NMEA USB to WiFi and did not come up with anything to solve your problem. I think you may need to swap out your multiplexer for a WiFi enabled unit. There are a few listed in the article above and I am sure there are more available. It will cost you a few buck to do it but I think that would be the cleanest and best approach.

      For about $100 you could try the WiSnap or WiFly discussed in this article. I have not tested one but it looks like a cheap approach. You would have to get a USB to serial adapter cable to link the two. http://www.amazon.com/TRENDnet-RS-232-Serial-Converter-TU-S9/dp/B0007T27H8/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1386298422&sr=8-1&keywords=usb+to+serial+cable

      Good Luck, let me know if it works
      Mark

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  12. Hi Mark

    Thanks for a very good review blog. I'm reading everything with great interest, and find many of the articles useful.

    There is however one thing I think you have failed to mention about the NMEA to wifi devices. What the buyer should look for is a multiplexer.
    A multiplexer is a device capable of collecting data from several sources, like AIS, GPS and other instruments, and then stream the signals into one output used for the wifi. This is important because there might not be a single point on your boat that delivers all signals you need in one stream. Therefore, if you buy ex the Digital Yachts wifi device, you might not get the result you are looking for.
    I learned this the hard way after being talked into buying one, over 300 euros out the window. This as a warning to others.

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    1. Mr. Olsen,

      Thanks for your comment and welcome to the blog. You are right that if you have multiple sources of data you will need a multiplexer. I have talked about multiplexers extensively throughout my many blog posts. This article was about getting the data from your multiplexer to WiFi and to your mobile device.

      You have to be careful because some of the NMEA to WiFi devices are mulitplexers and some are not. Make sure you get the right one. Carla asked that question above if she needed a multiplexer. It all depends which device you buy and how many sources of data and if they are NMEA 0183 or 2000.

      Thanks for your comment and the heads up on the need for multiplexer.

      Mark

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  13. What a breath of fresh air...... not only to see all this wonderful information in the one place....... but even better to see a .com.AU YAY Awesome work Mark. I cant wait to completely read the whole site, but in the meantime, I wanted to ask you your thoughts on the sailtimer app www.sailtimerapp.com. It seems like a great APP, but doesn't support Australian Charts :( However the associate hardware www.sailtimerwind.com which wifi's directly to you device with no additional wifi device looks so impressive that I have put my hand up to become the Australian distributor for the device, so I would really appreciate ALL of your (and your followers) opinions on this..... consider me a regular contributor from now on!!

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    1. Mr Yachty!

      Welcome to the site. Thanks for the heads up on the new SailTimer wind instrument design. I reviewed the app and the original back in October of 2012. Great to see a new version of the hardware is out. I will have to review it again soon.

      Become a follower of the site by clicking on the link in the right column. Look forward to hearing more from you!

      Share my site and help spread the word about i-Marine Apps with your friends and boating client. We need more followers in Australia!

      Regards!
      Mark

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    2. Hi Mark,
      I am still following your site with great interest. Firstly, how do I get to this page from your homepage?....... there is No tab to get to this page? I can only get here from an Old link i have saved in my favourites??

      Secondly, I thought you should check out this website.......

      http://vyacht.net/products/nmea-wifi

      This unit is considerably cheaper that anything else I have come accross, the latest unit accepts NMEA0183, NMEA2000 and SEATALK, but I believe only transmits data in NMEA0183 Format. I have one ordered, and i will let you know how it goes when I get it.

      Update on Sailtimer Windvane here:

      http://sailtimerwind.com/

      I am still waiting to receive one.! Looks like March Delivery now.

      Can you put a tab to this page on homepage??

      All the best

      Grotty

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    3. Grotty,
      Looks like a great unit at a great price. Let me know how it works for you. Thanks for the link.

      You can find the link to this post by searching for it from the home page or going to the Directory page and look it up under Information Display apps.

      Keep in touch and thanks again the comment

      ***Happy Holidays***
      Mark

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  14. Great overview, thanks! Note that the fact that the DMK Box also supports Seatalk was omitted from your list.

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    1. Anonymous,
      Yes it does, sorry for the oversight. I will update the list.

      Mark

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  15. Hi Mark:

    I have Vesper Marine on my boat along with Inavx all of which works just fine. However, I have at home a Vaisala anemometer which feeds NMEA into my desktop computer which is connected to my home network and a D-Link Wi-Fi modem. It would be nice if there's some software I can run on the PC that will squirt NMEA over my Dlink to Inavx. Ant suggestions?

    Doug

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    1. Doug,

      Thank for your question. I hope you found the site interesting. Please become a follower by clicking, Join the Site in the right column. I used some PC software called GPSGate to wirelessly forward GPS data from my laptop to my iPad. I think it only does GPS data. http://gpsgate.com/products/gpsgate_client

      You might check out NavMon PC it is a small software program that looks like it can send GPS, speed, course, wind speed and direction wirelessly to mobile devices over TCP/IP. I have used it successfully myself to forward GPS data. I have not tried the wind data. You can find it at: http://navmonpc.com/

      I think NavMon PC is your best bet. Let me know if it works for you. Check out page 14 of the user manual TC/IP Network server.

      Good luck!
      Mark

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  16. Mark - great blog, thanks for doing this. An now struggling with understanding the differences between n2k wifi gateways for use on a seatalkNG network. They range in price from the open source vyacht unit at around $200 to digital yacht at over $500. Any thoughts on the disparity? I note the digital yacht unit claimed to feed bidirectional data for autpilot control. - is this a differentiator? It's hard for the non expert to compare, and export comparisons don't seem to exist. Thoughts?

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    1. Dave,

      There are certainly lots of options when it come to WiFi boat data. I hate to recommend any of them to you because I don't know your application, budget or skill level. I can only tell you what I have had experience in. There is no way for me to know all the features of all these routers. It basically comes down to how much do you want to spend. Spend a lot and get turn key or spend a little on open source and do some work to get it all working. These devices are changing so rapidly I personally would not spend alot, because next year you might want the latest and greatest.

      I personally found a used DMK Box on eBay for $200 and connected it to my Raymarine instruments using the SeaTalk interface. The product has its own app or it can be set up on other apps as well like iNavX. The big rage seems to be Signal K functionality which is available on some routers. If you are going to spend alot make sure to get those features.

      Many of the new chartplotters have their own apps which allow you to view and control the plotter from your mobile device. I have written about the Raymarine apps previously.
      http://www.raymarine.com/view/?id=2121

      Let me know what you decide. Love to hear about your installation.

      Mark

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