With more and more wireless NMEA systems being installed on-board boats, it is very useful for dealers, installers and enthusiastic end users to have simple tools to “view” this wireless NMEA data.
Traditionally, wired NMEA0183 data was viewed using an NMEA to USB cable connected to a PC and then a program such as Hyperterminal (included with Windows up to WinXP) would be used to display the data. In fact Digital Yacht released a free, dedicated NMEA Display program to use on Windows Vista/7/8 and this proved to be a popular tool for testing wired NMEA0183 systems.
With wireless NMEA systems it is much easier to test using a smart phone or tablet and we would recommend the following free apps;
For Apple iOS Devices – our own free iAIS app (see image above) has a very simple raw data view window that can be used to display the wireless NMEA data in TCP or UDP mode. Alternatively iNMEA Logger is another free app, written by the company that developed the popular iRegatta App that can log 30 seconds of received data and create a text file of the results, useful if you do not understand NMEA0183 and want to send it to someone who does.
For Android Devices – there are no specific wireless NMEA Apps, but there are a lot of terminal programs that display TCP and UDP data and after trawling through a fair number of apps, we came across TCP/UDP Terminal App which we think is the best Android App found so far.
Once you have installed your app for displaying wireless NMEA data, then you need to know what you are looking at. To buy the NMEA0183 Specification costs quite a lot of money but there is quite a lot of data on-line, you just need to hunt it out.
Unfortunately a lot of the information on-line is quite old and some of the newer sentences are not fully explained. The NMEA do in fact publish a complete list of all Sentence Identifiers with a short description of what they are (not the complete sentence description) and this list also includes the proprietary Manufacturer’s ID – these sentences start $Pxxx, where xxx = the manufacturer identifier.
It should be noted that most wireless NMEA data is “human readable” (ASCII Text) but the AIS sentences VDM and VDO have what is called a “binary encapsulated” section (bit like a zip file) to reduce the sentence length – see example below.
This means that you will not be able to make sense of the AIS target information in the VDM and VDO messages, but our free iAIS app does display this information on the main plotter screen, so worth having a copy of this app.