Friday, April 29, 2016

NMEA 2000 Device Score Card

At various times I've made comments about how frequently I find problems in the NMEA 2000 interfaces on devices.  A while ago I made a rough tally, but decided it would be good to be a bit more methodical about it.

So here's a table showing all the devices I've worked with, where I found problems, and most importantly which ones have been fixed.  When issues have been fixed, I have included the software/firmware revision that resolves the problem(s).  I'll do my best to keep this up to date, and if anyone hears of fixes, please let me know.

Please note that just because a device has issues with its NMEA 2000 interface doesn't necessarily make it unusable.  Many of the problems only show up under certain circumstances, and many times the problems do not completely impair operation of the device, or can be worked around in one way or another.  I continue to use a number of the devices below even though they still have problems.

Also please note that this is just about the device's NMEA 2000 interface, and not about other aspects of the product.  I've reported on a number of other products that have serious issues, but they are not directly related to the N2K interface, so not reported here.  Maybe someday I'll do a score card looking more broadly at products, but not here and now.

NMEA 2000 Device Score Card

Manufacturer Device N2K problems found Fixed?
Simrad AP24 Yes No
AP28 Yes No
AC12 Yes No
AC42 No -
RF25 Yes No
FU80 Yes No
GS15 No -
NAIS400 Yes No
RS35 Yes No
OP40 No -
RC42 No -
% broken/fixed 67% 0%
Maretron WSO100 No -
TLM200 No -
TLA100 No -
TMP100 No -
FPM100 No -
RIM100 No -
USB100 No -
IPG100 No -
J2K100 No -
SSC200 No -
GPS200 Yes Yes (v1.1.0.1,,
DSM250 No -
% broken/fixed 8% 100%
NavPilot 700 Yes No
TZTouch2 MFD Yes Yes (V3.01)
NavNet3D MFD12 No -
GP330B No -
% broken/fixed 40% 0%
Hemisphere GNSS Simrad HS70 Yes Yes (v1.6.2)
V103 No No
% broken/fixed 50% 100%
ICOM M506 Yes No
% broken/fixed 100% 0%
AMEC NK80 Yes No
% broken/fixed 100% 0%
Bennett Trim Tab Indicator Yes No
% broken/fixed 100% 0%
RosePoint NT50 Yes Yes (v1.30)
% broken/fixed 100% 100%
Airmar DT-200 No -
PB200 No -
% broken/fixed 0% 0%
Actisense NGT No -
NGW Yes No
% broken/fixed 50% 0%
Offshore Dynamics 4272 Tank Sender Yes No
% broken/fixed 100% 0%
Industry-wide % broken/fixed 35% 17%

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Icom M506 + Furuno TZTouch2 doesn't work

[Editor's note, Nov 1, 2016:  Furuno has released firmware version 3.01 for the TZTouch2 products which fixes this problem.  I haven't been able to test it myself for logistical reasons, but I accept Furuno's assertion that they have fixed this.]

A comment on this Icom M506 article pointed out that most people only have one VHF on their boat, and hence the issue I discovered when using two of them has limited impact.  He's right, but hold on a minute before you run out and buy an M506 with NMEA2000.  I did just that for a small runabout that we recently got, and was in for another unpleasant surprise.

We recently got a Grady White open boat and I picked and installed electronics for it.  It's a very simple system - about as simple as you can get - a Furuno TZTouch2 multi function display plus an M506 VHF.  As I've said before, I really like the M506 as a VHF, but find the optional NMEA 2000 interface to be pretty seriously broken.  But in this super simple, bare bones config of a single MFD and a single VHF, I figured my chances were pretty good that it would all work.  Wrong again.

First off, the M506 continues to appear to the TZ2 as a valid data source for just about every imaginable type of data.  Take a look at the screen shot below.  Really?  The M506 is a good source for rudder position, rate of turn, atmospheric pressure, outside temperature, etc?  Come on.

M506 says it's a data source for pretty much everything

But it gets better.  The TZTouch2, like many MFDs, has a built-in GPS.  This is very convenient for an open boat where you can get an acceptable signal.  The TZ2 and M506 both have N2K, so it's just a matter of connecting them together.  The TZ2 provides GPS to the VHF, and the VHF provides DSC alerts back.  But when I hooked everything up and powered it on, the M506 was complaining that there was no GPS data.  How on earth can something so simple from two very reputable companies not work?

Here's what I found.

The TZ2, once you enable a couple of things, puts out a couple of different GPS data messages (PGNs).  Both of them include the basic GPS position info, and one includes additional information that reports the general status of the GPS receiver.  The TZTouch2 doesn't fill in that status info, but the M506 expects it, and rejects the message when the info is not there.  Or at least that's how it appears.  What I know for sure is that when I hooked up an external GPS, the M506 started working fine.  And when I compared the messages being sent and their contents, the status info was the only difference.

I sent traces to Furuno since this time is looked like the TZ2 was the culprit.  They replied that this was a known issue and that they were working on it.

To add to the confusion, there was an issue a while back between the TZTouch (not the TZ2) and the M506 where AIS data was not passing successfully between the two.  I never experienced it myself, but it was widely reported.  AIS data received by the M506 was not displaying on the TZTouch.  This problem was fixed a while ago by some combination of software updates on the TZTouch and the M506.  I'm not sure whether both devices need to be updated to fix the AIS problem, or if updating either of the two will solve it.  Regardless, the issue I encountered is completely different, has nothing to do with AIS (my VHF doesn't even have AIS), and I'm running the latest software in both the M506 and the TZTouch2.

Below is a screen shots showing operation with just the TZ2 providing GPS data, and a closeup of the message contents.  Then the same thing again with an external GPS.  I've circled the missing data in the message from the TZ2 that appears to be the problem.

Running with TZTouch2 internal GPS (this doesn't work)

Missing data in GPS message from TZTouch2 (this doesn't work)

Running with external GPS (this works)

Notice the data is included in this message (this works)

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Icom M506 NMEA 2000 issues

[Updated 24-Feb-2017]

I've been sitting on this issue for about a year hoping for a fix from Icom, but nothing seems forthcoming, so it's time to post anyway.  I prefer to post problems along with their solutions, but most of the time that's not possible.  At a bare minimum, I try to give the vendor ample time to respond.

The bottom line is that I can't recommend anything except the simplest version of the M506 with no N2K and no AIS since the N2K interface is fundamentally broken.

The M506 is one of Icom's newest marine VHF radios and is available in several different configuration.  They choices are:

VHF, No NMEA 2000, No AIS Receiver
VHF, NMEA 2000, No AIS Receiver
VHF, NMEA 2000, Receiver

I picked the model with NMEA 2000, but no AIS.  My primary navigation data was all on N2K at the time so that made sense.  The VHF could pick up GPS info from N2K enabling DSC emergency calling, and it could transmit incoming DSC alerts to my charting software to show the location of a distress call.  These are all important safety features.  Below is a picture of two of them side by side on my overhead dash.

Two side-by-side M506 VHFs

As radios go, these are really, really good.  Incredible clarity, noise cancellation, the ability to play back recent reception, etc.  I've been very happy with Icom radios, and these are no exception, except for the N2K interface on the M506.  That's a disaster.

The first sign of trouble was that when getting underway, I would power on all sorts of things, and within a few seconds alarms would be going off on other devices indicating a loss of GPS signal.  The errors would clear on their own and not recur until the next time I got underway.  It took me quite a while to figure out that it was the VHFs that were causing it.

After many hours of traces and decoding messages, I finally saw what was happening.  The twist is that it takes two M506s on the same N2K bus to cause the problem.  Each one stimulates the bug in the other.

For those interested, here's what happens.  Otherwise skip over this numbered section:
  1. VHF 1 powers on.
  2. To figure out what GPSs are on the N2K bus, the M506 sends out a broadcast request for the GPS message.  Devices that can send that message do so, and other devices decline.  Through this, the M506 figures out what GPSs are available, or so it thinks.
  3. VHF 2 powers on
  4. VHF 2 sends out the same broadcast request for the GPS message.
  5. VHF 1, hearing the request, responds with the GPS message.  This is where the train skips the tracks.  The VHF is a VHF, not a GPS.  The GPS message it sends contains blank GPS information, but it still sends the message.
  6. VHF 2 hears the response from VHF 1 and concludes that it's a valid GPS source even though it isn't.
  7. Other devices on the network also hear the GPS message from VHF 1, think it is a higher priority GPS than the one they are currently using, and dutifully switch to the higher priority GPS.  But the joke's on them because the GPS message from VHF 1 was blank, and it doesn't send any more if them.
  8. Other devices finally figure out that there is no good GPS data coming from VHF 1 (duh) and switch back to the GPS they were using before.  But this disruption is enough to set off alarms on the AIS transceiver and Coastal Explorer.
  9. Now, just to add insult to injury, VHF 1 sees that the bus has reconfigured when VHF 2 powered on, and it once again sends out its broadcast request for GPS messages.  VHF 2 hears the request and responds with a blank GPS message just as VHF 1 did earlier.  Everything blinks and alarms again, then finally settles down.
  10. Because both VHFs have sent out this silly GPS message, everyone else on the bus thinks they are a valid GPS sources.  If you look through the menus in Coastal Explorer, the Furuno NavPilot, or either of the VHFs, they all list the M506s as possible and valid GPS sources even though they clearly are not.   How messed up is that?
To break the chain, you need to take one of the two M506s off the N2K bus.  Then each never sends an erroneous response to its counterpart's erroneous request.   This is how I have been running for about the past year, with one VHF on N2K and the other on 0183.  Once I broke this cycle, I never got another lost GPS alarm on anything.

Demonstrating the problem is very simple.  All you need are two M506s on the same N2K bus.  Power both on, then work through the menus to select which GPS you want the VHF to use.  On each you will see the other M506 as an eligible GPS source, when of course it isn't.

M506 main screen

Page to select N2K sources for GPS and AIS

How can the M506 be a GPS source when it's a VHF?

But wait, there is more.  Look back two pictures and you will see where you can select which AIS source you want the M506 is display on its own screen.  Well, that has the exact same problem.  Both my VHFs show the other as a valid and eligible AIS source even though neither of them has AIS.

So, great VHF, but don't waste your money on anything but the simplest, 0183 version of the product.

In closing, let me also add that I have updated both VHFs to the latest FW (V1.004).  That helped with some other problems, but does not fix any of what I have reported.  Icom also provided me with V1.005 to try, but no joy.  It didn't address the issues.  So don't waste your time and money sending your M506 back to Icom for updates - at least not at this time because they don't fix these problems.

[Update as of 24-Feb-2017]

Last fall (2016) ICOM came out with new firmware for the M506, but it doesn't fix the problems reported here.  The new Firmware is V1.1 for the main VHF, and V1.006 for the UX-232 module which is the NMEA 2000 interface.

And last summer (2016) I discovered that having two M506 VHFs on the same N2K network isn't the only way to stimulate the problem.  A single M506 plus a Furuno TZT2 chart plotter does it too.  Check out the photo below where the TZT2 seems to think that the M506 is a valid data source for all sorts of crazy data.  Drift, pitch and roll, rudder, rate of turn, atmospheric pressure?  Really?

Juneau back to Seattle

July 28, 2015

Not a lot to report on this segment of the trip.  It was a nice, relaxed trip with some different routing than our trip up, and mostly new and different anchorages so although we were retracing out steps, it still all seemed mostly new.

People love to fish in Alaska, but we basically suck at it.  The one edible fish we got was a pity-salmon given to us by another boater who was hauling them in as we caught nothing.  At one point Laurie hooked up what seemed like a real fish, but it was not to be.  She caught a rock.  That's our Charlie Brown fishing story.  Maybe this year we will do better.

Our catch of the season - a rock

It felt like a real fish

But no complaints about the scenery.  Here are a few of the better views we enjoyed.

A Geyser of a Coolant Leak

July 22, 2015

On our final run up the channel to Juneau, I thought I smelled engine coolant.  Laurie thought she smelled something too, but we both attributed it to the passing cruise ships.  Wrong!

After we got tied up, I did a post run engine room check and look what I found

Coolant on the floor and engine pan
Coolant all over the engine
Coolant dripping from the ceiling

This one was a real geyser and blasted the whole engine room.  It didn't take long to figure out that the turbo gasket was leaking profusely.  But why?

After some consultation with PAE, the first diagnostic step was to uncouple the turbo exhaust elbow form the turbo and see whether they remained naturally aligned.  They did not, with the elbow and exhaust riser dropping freely until it bottomed out against the railing around the engine.  The exhaust structure was clearly placing a lot of weight on the turbo.

Exhaust elbow wanting to hang down well below the turbo.

The next diagnostic step was to see if the turbo mount nuts were tight, and try to tighten them up if they were not.  The top two were clearly lose, and when I tightened them, one broke right off and the other just kept turning.  Both of the top studs had pulled apart, indicating too much strain on the turbo.   The picture below is after the turbo was removed, but clearly shows the broken studs.  The top left parted just inside the manifold, and the top right parted right at the nut.  The bottom studs were intact, at least visually.

Broken turbo studs

Having just been through the repair of an engine coolant leak 10 days earlier that was clearly a warranty job, I decided to dump most of this one on PAE.  While they were arranging for parts and a custom support bracket to off-load the weight of the exhaust riser, I went ahead and removed the turbo, cleaned things up, and removed the old studs.  That last step was easier said than done.

I was able to get vice grips on the top right stud and get it out.  One of the bottom studs came out fine too, but the other one snapped right off when I gave it a little turn.  Even though it looked fine, it was clearly about to come apart just like the top studs.  Fortunately there was enough of a stub to grab hold of and I was able to get it out.  That left the upper left stud where there was no choice but to drill and use an extractor.  If you have never seen an extractor, it's basically a reverse threaded screw.  Once there is a hole drilled in the stud, you screw in the extractor counter clockwise (the unscrew direction) and it bites into the stud hole, eventually getting in tight enough that it starts to unscrew the stud itself.  They can be tricky, but usually work if you are careful.  If you are having a really bad day, the top of the extractor will break off in the hole.   Fortunately this one came out OK.

A parts kit came via air the next day including a new gasket, studs, nuts, and a handful of other gaskets.  Casey from PAE arrived the next day and started putting it all back together, including a new support strut for the exhaust as seen below.

New exhaust support strut

The strut bolts to the engine block on one end, and to a bracket on the exhaust flange on the other end.  There is a threaded rod in the middle that allows for adjustment such that the strut is carrying all the weight of the exhaust, not the turbo.

Bracket tying strut to exhaust flange to weight of carry exhaust riser
With this, we were back in action...

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Glacier Bay, Hoonah

July, 2015

Before I start writing about this year's trip to Alaska, I really, really need to finish last year's trip.  When we last left off (if anyone can remember), we had visited Tracy Arm and moved on to Juneau where Laurie's brother and family (all except the New Zealand contingent) were going to meet us for a 10 day cruise.  While in Juneau, and before their arrival, I dealt with the Pesky Coolant Leak.

Paul, Deb, and Brent arrived safely and off we went.  Getting from Juneau over to Icy Strait involves a lot of zig zagging without much progress in the direction of Glacier Bay, but it's the only route.  Regardless, the weather was great, seas calm, and everyone enjoyed a relaxing ride.

Point Retreat Light on Admiralty Island
We stopped for the night in a nice protected anchorage just off the confluence of the Lynn Canal and Icy Strait which was a good half-way point.  The next morning we were on our way and arrived in the afternoon at Bartlet Cove just inside Glacier Bay and the National Park.  Access to the park is highly regulated to protect the wildlife.  Only a certain number of private boats and only one large cruise ship are allowed in on any given day.  Access is via permits issued on a first-come-first-serve basis, and we had secured a 1 week permit.  On arrival you need to radio and ask permission to enter the park, which of course was granted by virtue of our permit.  The whole boat crew then needs to attend a little orientation session to hear about the park rules, what areas are off limits, etc.   It's a bit tedious, but key to maintaining the park's pristine condition, so we happily complied.

Bartlett Cove Ranger Station

Once oriented, we headed out and swung by South Marble Island as our first destination.  South Marble is home to a large colony of sea lions and puffins.

Sea Lions on South Marble Island

Sea Lions on South Marble Island

Heading up the bay, the beauty is just stunning.

Glacier Bay looking pretty magnificent

Our first night was spent at Blue Mouse Cove, and just across the bay from there we spotted a brown bear foraging for clams, crabs, or whatever along the shore.  It's incredible to see how effortlessly it over turned huge rocks to see what was underneath.

The next day we continued north towards the Johns Hopkins Glacier, stopping by the Lamplugh Glacier on the way. 

Lamplugh Glacier

The next sequence will give a sense of the scale of these glaciers.  Below is the Lamplugh Glacier as we approached.  Just off center to the right you can see some shoreline, and some small chunks of ice strewn along the beach.  That ice looks to be basket ball sized, or maybe beach ball sized, right?  Just wait.

Beach on Lamplugh Glacier

Next, our intrepid crew decided that a landing party had to be formed, so Laurie and Brent launched the kayaks and paddled up to that little beach.  Well, that little beach turned out to be a LOT bigger than it appeared from a distance.

Here they are, kayaks hauled out, hiking up towards those basketball sized chunks of ice.

The same beach

And that basketball-sized chunk of ice was actually a LOT bigger than a basket ball.  More like the size of a small van.  Here is the crew gathering a core sample.

Gathering glacial core sample

Next stop was Johns Hopkins, or at least I think that's what this picture is.  The fore deck was a very popular place, as you can see.

Magnificent view from the fore deck

The next night we spent anchored in front of Reid Glacier.  The cove where the glacier is located, coincidentally called Reid Inlet, is too deep to anchor in except for one area at the entrance of the inlet.  It's a great spot, but still almost a mile away from the glacier face.  Once again, the distances and sizes are very deceptive.  Paul and Deb paddled over in the kayaks, while Brent and I buzzed over in the dinghy.

Anchored in Reid Inlet

Getting up close to Reid Glacier
 Next we went up to the Grand Pacific Glacier and Margerie Glacier.  At this point we were less than a mile from the Canadian boarder.

Grand Pacific  is interesting because it's completely covered in debris and looks like land, not ice.

Grand Pacific Glacier covered in debris

Margerie is the largest glacier face and is constantly calving.  One of the big cruise ships was in here when we arrived, but didn't stay long and then we had the place to ourselves.

Margerie Glacier

Margerie Glacier

Margerie Glacier

On the way back we stopped by South Marble Island again for another visit with the sea lions

Sea lions back on So. Marble Island

After departing Glacier Bay we crossed Icy Strait to Point Adolphus which is famous for drawing whales, and we were not disappointed.   These humpbacks gave a great show.

Humpbacks off Pt Adolphus

What a jump!

After Pt Adolphus we pulled into Hoonah for the night.   Hoonah is an interesting place.  On one hand it's a commericial fishing town like most ports in Alaska.  But a mile or two down the road is a point owned by the cruise lines.  It's an old cannery that apparently has been turned into gift shops.  The cruise ships come and anchor, then shuttle hoards of people ashore to spend money in the stores, the profits from which go right back to the cruise lines.  It's a clever business model, but doesn't do much to help the local economy.

And now for the really odd part.  We wanted to go check out the stores, so Laurie and Brent paddled over in the kayaks and Paul and I took the dinghy.  As we approached, we were shooed away from the dock and told we could not tie up or land the boat anywhere along their property.  Their property was completely off-limits unless you came on one of the cruise ship tenders.  Laurie and Brent tried to beach the kayaks, and people came running over to chase them away too.  Apparently it's just fine if you want to take the shuttle bus from Hoonah and come through the gated road, but no other approach is allowed.  We decided that their inhospitality, plus the fact that the sales profits all get siphoned back to the cruise lines, was all the excuse we needed to go spend out tourist dollars back in town where they might actually benefit Alaska and Alaskans.

Cruise ship shopping mall

Finally on our way back to Juneau, we again approached Point Retreat, but this time from the other direction.  In the distance to the left you can see the Mendenhall Glacier which is just north of Juneau.
Pt Retreat with the Mendenhall Glacier in the background

And just around Point Retreat we encountered a group of humpbacks who were bubble feeding.  They dive down and as a group blow a ring of bubbles around their prey.  The bubbles herd them together and as the bubbles surface, the whales all come up in the middle of the ring and gobble up the krill.
Whales bubble feeding

And last but not least, here is a really nice scenic to wrap things up.

Just another nice scenic view