Back in the 1980s the National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA) defined an interfacing standard that would revolutionise the way marine electronics operated together. For the first time a common standard was defined that allowed equipment from different manufacturers to talk to each other and do things that had previously been impossible.
After a few iterations (NMEA0180 and NMEA0182) the NMEA0183 standard was published and gradually manufacturers developed products that had NMEA0183 Inputs and Outputs that could be connected together. There were some teething problems but over time NMEA0183 established itself as a very compatible and reliable interface standard and even today most marine electronic systems have at least one NMEA0183 interface, although the newer NMEA2000 standard is gradually taking over.
Online information on NMEA0183 is fairly limited and often quite old, but Actisense publish a useful booklet on NMEA0183 and this website http://www.catb.org/gpsd/NMEA.html has also collected a lot of useful information on NMEA0183.
Testing NMEA0183 systems can be done in a number of ways. The simplest method, just to see if there is data being transmitted or not, is to place an LED across an NMEA0183 output. One way round the LED should flash and the other way round it will not flash. If the LED fails to flash in either direction then no NMEA0183 data is present. For more information on this type of LED test, please download our Tech Note by clicking here.
If after establishing that there is NMEA0183 present, you wish to go a step further and look at the raw data to see what messages are being transmitted then you will need an old laptop and an NMEA to USB adaptor cable like our Part# ZDIGUSBNMEA. This adaptor cable can easily be connected to any NMEA0183 Output (two wires) and then with suitable software running on the PC, the NMEA0183 data can be displayed and interpreted.
A few years ago, when Microsoft stopped including a utility called HyperTerminal in Windows Vista/7/8, Digital Yacht developed a useful NMEA Display program that is free to download from here. Our NMEA Display program is perfect for not only viewing the raw NMEA0183 data but also for interpreting and displaying the different fields of data i.e. Wind Speed, Depth or Heading. For more information on using this program and NMEA0183 in general, please refer to an earlier post we wrote, by clicking here.
With these simple tools and techniques, anyone can test and fault find NMEA0183 systems and with so many systems out there, it is a useful “string to your bow” that might just get you out of trouble.