Introduction to Marine Electronics Integration 

Marine electronics integration is the process of interconnecting the various components of navigation equipment, instruments, computer and/or chart plotter on a vessel, thereby enabling the equipment to exchange data. It is also referred to as “networking” the equipment.

The purpose is to make maximum use of the features offered by the individual components that make up the system and to present the available data to the navigator or skipper in optimal form and at a location on the vessel where it offers most benifits.   The ultimate goal is to make navigating the vessel easier, more reliable and thus safer. On racing sailboats, the emphasis is on presenting data for sailtrim and tactics in an optimal way. Marine electronics integration is not reserved for super yachts or commercial vessels. Even on the smallest pleasurecraft today equipment can be integrated for creating a better, more intelligent system, that will give the discerning boat owner great satisfaction.    

In setting up an integrated system some important aspects often do not receive the attention they deserve: 

  1. Redundancy and backup. If one or more critical components in the integrated system fail, it is important that their function can be taken over by a backup, preferably automatically without losing time. This applies in particular to the GPS, the most important navigation tool on any vessel today. Re-wiring equipment while under way is not to be recommended. Redundancy and backup of the wiring is at least as important as the equipment itself. Most faults in electronic navigation are the result of cabling/wiring problems.
  2. Minimum configuration. It is important that the individual components of the system are not too dependent on each other. It should be possible to navigate the vessel with some of the equipment switched off, not only in emergency situations, but also to save battery power. In particular on sailing vessels, it is advantageous to be able to switch off the computer or chartplotter on parts of a passage that require less demanding navigation, to minimize current draw. However, essential instrument data such as GPS lat/lon should still be available with the computer or chartplotter switched off.  The same applies to motor vessels, if a problem with the DC system occurs, such as a failing alternator. E.g. DC radios require GPS lat/lon data input under all circumstances.
    If this is supplied by the chartplotter and the chartplotter is faulty or is switched off to save power, the DSC radio’s safety feature is compromised. Another example is the Auto Pilot. Modern auto pilots require speed data for best performance. If the AP is hard-wired to a computer or chart plotter, the necessary data is unavailable if that equipment is switched off.
  3. Data stream efficiency. Data from GPS and instruments is often transmitted in a number of different formats (NMEA sentences), which means that there is considerable overhead. Decreasing overhead by removing redundant data is advantageous and will result in an overall more efficient, better performing system.  

 

Brookhouse multiplexers provide the solution for all of the system integration requirements mentioned above. Besides its primary function of combining data streams from different sources, it has automatic data switching capabilities and can filter out redundant data. Since its introduction in 2002, the Brookhouse multiplexer has become the central building block in many integrated systems on all types of vessels.