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The basics of NMEA 2000 Starter Kits for your network

We often talk about complicated NMEA 2000 networks with multiple devices that may incorporate analogue and NMEA 0183 devices, but we also understand those who require a simple set-up for smaller installations. This formed the idea behind our NMEA 2000 Starter Kits – a simple and cost-effective way of creating a basic NMEA 2000 network from scratch. This article outlines each kit, as well as some frequently asked questions about building an NMEA 2000 network with a starter kit.

Starter Kit 1a (A2K-KIT-1a)

  • A2K-MPT-2: Micro Power T- to power the network
  • 2x A2K-TER-M: NMEA 2000 micro terminator male – to terminate the ends of the network
  • A2K-T-MFF: 2x Micro T-piece – to allow two NMEA 2000 devices to connect to the network
  • A2K-TDC-2M: NMEA 2000 Lite cable assembly 2 metre – to extend the distance between any two network pieces.

Starter Kit 2a (A2K-KIT-2a)

  • A2K-MPT-2: Micro Power T- to power the network
  • 2x A2K-TER-M: NMEA 2000 micro terminator male – to terminate the ends of the network
  • A2K-T-MFF: 2x Micro T-piece – to allow two NMEA 2000 devices to connect to the network
  • A2K-TDC-6M: NMEA 2000 Lite cable assembly 6 metre – to extend the distance between any two network pieces.

Starter Kit 3 (A2K-KIT-3)

  • A2K-MPC-1: NMEA 2000 Micro power cable, 3m UL certified cable
  • A2K-TER-F: NMEA 2000 micro terminator female – to terminate one end of the network
  • A2K-TER-M: NMEA 2000 micro terminator male – to terminate one end of the network
  • A2K-4WT: Multi Drop T

Starter Kit 4a (A2K-KIT-4a)

  • A2K-MPT-2: Micro Power T- to power the network
  • A2K-TER-U: 2x NMEA 2000 micro Smart Universal Terminator – to terminate each end of the network and monitor network voltage
  • A2K-T-MFF: 2x Micro T-piece – to allow two NMEA 2000 devices to connect to the network
  • A2K-TDC-4M: NMEA 2000 Lite cable assembly 4 metre – to extend the distance between any two network pieces.

Self-contained Boat Networks

A2K SBN 1 Self-contained Boat Network
A2K SBN 1 Self-contained Boat Network

The Actisense Self-contained Boat Networks allow for quick and easy installations of NMEA 2000 networks by providing the equivalent of 4 or 8 T-pieces in a single case.

It is important to emphasise that the network cannot be expanded using an SBN-1/2, so if you use all 8 M12 connections on an SBN-2 and wish to add a 9th device, this cannot be achieved in accordance with the NMEA 2000 specifications. A starter kit such as A2K-KIT-2 may be preferable as it removes the limitations of expansion.

What is needed for an NMEA 2000 network?

Everything you need to create a basic NMEA 2000 network is provided by the Actisense Starter kits, as follows:

1.     2 NMEA 2000 certified devices, such as depth sounders, GPS receivers, and wind instruments.

2.     NMEA 2000 backbone: the main cable that runs through your vessel and connects all the devices on the network together.

3.     NMEA 2000 power cable: the cable connects the NMEA 2000 backbone to a power source.

4.     NMEA 2000 T-connectors: to connect devices to the NMEA 2000 backbone.

5.     NMEA 2000 terminators: these are plugs that are inserted at the extremities of the backbone to terminate the network, which is necessary to avoid signal reflection and interference.

6.     NMEA 2000 network analyser or a display with NMEA 2000 network analysis capability: This is optional but highly recommended. It allows you to monitor the network, ensure devices are communicating with each other, perform basic troubleshooting exercises and enable the configuration of network devices.

Once you have all the necessary components, you can begin connecting the devices and creating the network. The exact configuration of the network will depend on the specific devices and layout of your vessel, so it is always good to consult the device manuals and network diagrams for guidance.

It is important to note that some devices may require extra components to communicate over NMEA 2000 networks such as adapter cables, and compatibility should always be checked prior to installation.

How do I set up an NMEA 2000 network?

As a general guide to set up an NMEA 2000 network:

1.     Gather all necessary components, including NMEA 2000 certified devices, backbone and power cables (+ power insertion tee if required), and two terminators.

2.     Plan the layout of the network. This will involve determining the location of each device on the vessel, and the best route for running the NMEA 2000 backbone cable. The layout should minimize the length of the cable runs, and keep the cable away from sources of interference, such as electrical motors and other equipment that generates EMI.

3.     Install the NMEA 2000 power cable, which connects the NMEA 2000 backbone to a power source. Make sure that the power cable is properly fused, and that the connections are secure.

4.     Install the NMEA 2000 terminators at each end of the backbone cable. This is necessary to prevent signal reflections and interference on the network.

5.     Start connecting devices to the network by running drop cables from each device to a T-connector. Connect each T-connector to the NMEA 2000 backbone.

6.     Power on the devices and test communication on the network using an NMEA 2000 network analyser or display with network analysis capability. Ensure that each device is properly configured and communicating with other devices on the network.

7.     Once all the devices are connected and communicating, you should double-check the network layout, and make any necessary adjustments to ensure the best performance.

We also have a video to take you through the fundamentals of setting up a basic NMEA 2000 network here.

Can I expand my NMEA 2000 network?

Yes, you can expand your NMEA 2000 network by adding additional devices to it. NMEA 2000 uses a standard known as Controller Area Network (CAN) to connect devices together. To add a new device to the network, the device must be compatible with NMEA 2000 and have an NMEA 2000 connector, an NMEA 2000 drop cable and a T-connector.

Here is an overview of how to add a new device to your NMEA 2000 network:

1.     Locate the NMEA 2000 backbone (the main cable that runs through your vessel and connects all the devices on the network).

2.     Use the T-connector to connect the new device’s NMEA 2000 cable to the backbone.

3.     Power on the new device, and ensure that it is properly configured.

4.     Check the NMEA 2000 network to confirm that the new device is properly connected and communicating with other devices on the network.

It’s important to check that the device you are adding is compatible with the existing network – refer to the specific device installation manual to ensure compatibility and proper installation.

Also, adding too many devices on an NMEA 2000 network may decrease network performance, due to the limited amount of bandwidth on the network.

Are all NMEA 2000 connectors the same?

The wiring connections to each pin on the connectors have been defined in the NMEA 2000 specification, making installation standard across NMEA 2000 installations.

NMEA 2000 certified cables and connectors all adopt the DeviceNet M12 Standard. There are other options out there such as Raymarine STNG cabling. These cables are not M12 standard, and thus require an adapter cable such as the A06045 to interface with an NMEA 2000 network correctly.

For more on building and testing your NMEA 2000 network, read our article here.