NMEA 2000 networks can be frustrating as evidenced by the amount of times I help troubleshoot them. Actisense has come out with a small piece of hardware that is a new take on something old, and adds the utility of being universal.
The two most common issues I see with NMEA 2000 networks are inadequate power, or poor/bad/no termination of the bus. Both of these things will cause instability for the devices on the network, and many other ancillary “weird” issues.
Low voltage is usually an issue at one end of the bus, where the length of the wiring has caused a voltage drop. This results in devices in that section behaving erratically, or not “seeing” devices elsewhere on the bus reliably. In extreme cases, it can result in devices powering off or rebooting, especially when other large loads kick on, such as a windlass.
Poor termination can happen from a missing terminator, a bad terminator, or termination in the wrong place in the bus. This results in a myriad of issues, but all coming back to things not “seeing” each other, or really erratic data and behavior.
One way to solve these issues is a NMEA 2000 tester – either an expensive one like the Maretron N2K Tester, or a simple one made of a NMEA 2000 cable and a voltage tester. You can read more about how to test a NMEA 2000 network and the tools for it below.
Actisense have come up with a rather innovative way to do some basic validation using a single device that becomes part of your NMEA 2000 network.
The terminator is universal, meaning it can be used in a female or male configuration, and has an LED indicating whether your bus has power, and if the power is above 9V.
They are more expensive than a traditional terminator, but I think they are worth the money. Documentation is on the back of the included bag, and shows both how they are universal, and the lighting used to indicate voltage.
As is usual from Actisense, the terminator is made using quality plastic and stainless, and seems well built in general.
You can see a bit of a circuit board inside that is likely responsible for switching the termination from one end to the other, and generating the LED lighting based on voltage detected.
No more searching for the terminator that is female or male – now you can just uncap the end that matches, and plug it in. I don't know why someone hasn't done this before, but it sure saves scurrying around looking for the right one!
For the last 10 years or so, I have used Maretron cabling (pre-made and raw cable + field installed ends) and their taps, drop ends, and other pieces. When I re-did Rendezvous network after purchasing her, I chose to use some Actisense products including their wonderful 4 port tap that you see above. This is one of my test networks that I use for things I don't trust yet, and it has a standard terminator in the upper left of the picture.
You can see I've replaced the traditional terminator above with the new universal one. It's just a bit bigger than the older one, and of course has a nice green glowing light indicating I have power and that the bus is terminated.
I really like the idea of a visual indicator telling you that bus voltage is acceptable, as well as indicating that the bus is terminated. That it is universal is even one step better, and makes this a no-brainer on just about any NMEA 2000 network.
It's not as sexy as a new chart plotter or satellite compass, but the network that keeps all that sort of stuff connected is just as important. Being able to see at a glance that things are OK is super convenient.
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