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Author Topic:   SmartCraft Compared to NMEA-2000
LHG posted 01-17-2006 03:45 PM ET (US)   Profile for LHG  
[This has been separated from a discussion about I-Command, a NEMA-2000 instrumentation system from Evinrude. The following is a discussion about SmartCraft, a proprietary digital instrumentation system from Mercury.--jimh.]

After attempting to figure out how [NMEA-2000] works, and seeing all of the parts, I think I know why Mercury decided to develop their own Smartcraft and DTS System. Smartcraft seems to offer more, for less money, and in a less complicated installation. Or am I mistaken here, which I could be?

It could be that trying to keep a standard like the NMEA-2000 workable for many manufacturers, makes it more complicated to purchase and install?

jimh posted 01-18-2006 09:24 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
I don't think the wiring topology of NMEA-2000 is very complicated. It is about at the level of plugging a USB mouse into a USB hub. Mercury has not published any literature that shows their system to customers in anywhere near the detail provided about I-Command. However, since it is a very similar approach, it will have all of these same components. In terms of complexity of the wiring and installation, I would imagine it is about the same. They both use CANBus technology, I believe.

In terms of cost, I have not seen any price lists of components for SmartCraft except for the actual gauges, so it is difficult to make a comparison.

The potential advantage of NMEA-2000 is the open standard and wide range of manufacturers providing devices. This simplifies interconnection. For example, if you want to integrate a GPS, you just get a NMEA-2000 GPS and connect it to the system. It just plugs into the bus.

How are GPS devices interconnected to a SmartCraft system? Probably using NMEA-0183 interface. Hmm. How complicated is that? Okay, let's get the two instruction books out. Figure out which wire connects to which. Find the right connectors. Figure out the color codes. Buy a terminal strip. Strip the wires. Connect them to the terminal strip. Set the software for the GPS to send the right data. Tell the GPS which output port to send it to. Set the software for the SmartCraft to receive the right data. Tell the SmartCraft which input port to listen for the data. See if it works. Hmm. Does not work. What could be the problem? Maybe a wiring error. Maybe a protocol error. May be a data error. See, not so simple.

rtk posted 01-18-2006 11:42 AM ET (US)     Profile for rtk  Send Email to rtk     
The Smartcraft set up is not a simple "plug & play" process. The complex part of the setup is getting an answer on the type of conncectors and harness that is needed for the application you want to install.

There are resisitors, harnesses with resistors/without resistors, etc. I found that dealers are not real familiar with the requirements.

The basic Smartcraft system, an SC1000 monitor connected to a Smartcraft ready engine is very easy. All you need is a harness from the engine to the monitor. Cost is around $350 for the set up. The monitor will display most Smartcraft data without adding additional sensors to the engine.

I think the monitor is a good enhancement to a digital or analogue gauge set up, but not sufficient as a stand alone gauge. The display is just too small, and only can display one data set at a time.

I think one will find that once they start adding tachometers and spedometers to the Smartcraft system the cost will not be much different than the E-TEC system.

The big advantage to the Smartcraft system is that most of the sensors you need are already on the engine, and will not require additional cost and labor to make certain data available to monitors and gauges.


LHG posted 01-18-2006 03:30 PM ET (US)     Profile for LHG    
I think RTK hit it on the head. When you have a proprietary system like Mercury has, Smartcraft has all of the outputs needed built right into the engine. No additional cost is required either in materials or dealer labor expense. No consolidator or power hubs to be mounted in the boat somewhere. For instance, on a Verado, the standard engine outputs are: Supercharger boost (could a generic system accomodate this?), Oil Temperature, Oil Pressure, Boat Speed pitot pressure (from engine intake), Engine Trim, Water Pressure (Optimax only). Engine alarm values - sensor readings like Water in Fuel, Engine temperature, Engine diagnostics, Battery voltage, Troll control (maintains engine speed automatically), Engine Alarm source, Fuel flow, and assorted calculations, Engine Hours, Engine Guardian, RPM

For a boater who wants to use conventional gauges, the price of the Smartcraft monitor showing all of above is $309. The tachometer only readout gauge is $412. If you want the gauge setup like Boston Whaler is using, the Smartcraft analog tach and Speedo, with integral digital readouts, it's $942 list single engine, and $1286 list dual engine. Nothing else is needed. The leads for GPS hookup are also integral in this package at no extra cost. Don't know what NMEA standard is used.

Based on all of the above, I differ with most of you, and think I at least see why Mercury developed its own system 6 years ago. I think it's years ahead of the generic competition that the others are going to use, and offers more options, for less money and installation cost. And it all comes in the engine's base price, giving you more for your money. The others are only now working to catch up. Remember that it is being used not only for outboards, but eventually almost all Mercury I/O and inboard applications, another reason for them to go with their own system. Indeed, with the I/O dominance they have, Smartcraft could end up with about 60% of the total instrumentation market. Only time will tell how well it compares and functions as opposed to the "Command" generic equipment.

jimh posted 01-18-2006 06:59 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
As far as I know, Mercury has no NMEA-2000 certified equipment. For their GPS connection they probably use NMEA-0183, a serial data, one-to-one connection. The one-to-one approach works OK if you just have one or two devices to interconnect. It falls apart very fast if you have many devices. Soon you have to add complicated repeaters and distribution equipment. I just have a 22-foot boat and already I have used all the NMEA-0183 outputs from the GPS. (One to my radio and one to my fuel flow computer.) If I added some other device that need to get data from my GPS, I would have to buy some peripheral device to distribute the NMEA-0183. This situation creates a mess of haywire. And again, this is just on a 22-foot outboard. Imagine if you had a sophisticated 55-foot vessel. The NMEA-0183 wiring would become unmanageable. In addition, transmission of serial data, particularly using the unbalanced techniques often seen in low cost devices, will limit the length of any cable to a few feet. It also increases the potential for grounding probems. This is why the NMEA-2000 protocol was developed.

NMEA-2000 is a many-to-many connection. You can connect over 100 devices to the buss. The NMEA-2000 protocol is extensible for each manufacturer, so if you need to display supercharger boost, it can easily be added to the protocol.

Don't think the NMEA-2000 protocol is at its peak--it really just got off the ground. And it is aimed at much larger vessels than trailerable outboard powered boats. In a year or two you will see much more of it.

Going it alone as Mercury has done is probably fine for them, as they are owned by Brunswick who also owns marine electronics companies like NAVMAN and NORTHSTAR. It won't be a problem for those companies to integrate with a closed, proprietary system controlled completely by another company.

So far, Evinrude and Lowrance seem to be the first out of the gate with NMEA-2000. There is no sign that Mercury will ever become involved with NMEA-2000. People who don't have a Mercury engine can NEVER use SmartCraft; people who have a Mercury engine can ONLY use SmarCraft. So for people leaning toward buying a Mercury engine, there is really no point in worrying about NMEA-2000 and how it works. It won't be an option for those folks.

For owners of Evinrude, Yamaha, Honda, and probably Suzuki outboard motors, NMEA-2000 will be the future of marine electronics.

jimh posted 01-18-2006 11:41 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Some more comments on pricing and comparisons made above:

Larry--I don't see in your example pricing any GPS data in the system. You would have to purchase a GPS receiver to add to the system to bring it up to the I-Command system level with inclulded GPS I described. I would estimate that would cost at least $300 for the most basic GPS receiver and antenna. And you would have to wire that into the system yourself, fashioning the interconnection, buying any connectors or accessories needed. In a NMEA-2000 like I-Command system the prices I mentioned include a GPS receiver which provides position, speed, and trip log data. Adding this additional device thus makes the SmartCraft system more expense than the equivalent I-Command system. The precise features set may vary slightly in the comparison above, but I would say the overall cost is in the same ballpark. I do not reach the same conclusion that the SmartCraft system is cheaper at all. I am also skeptical that all the components required are simply included in the price for each gauge. Because Mercury insists you buy SmartCraft for their Verado, they already built all the needed sensors into the engine. That is why you don't have to add them on as accessories. However, in the case of the OptiMax, I cannot imagine that every OptiMax engine that has been sold since the 1990's already has the sensor for water pressure installed in it just in case the owner wants to use SmartCraft gauges. I think you will find that if you want water pressure readings you will have to pay for a sensor and some harness to connect it. Apparently you cannot get water pressure readings from the Verado. Again, in terms of cost, I put the I-Command and the SmartCraft on an even footing in this department.

To show you how the NMEA-2000 approach is potentially much cooler, I just noticed that you can get a sensor that reads the position of your Bennett Trim Tabs. You can display the trim tab position in your NMEA-2000 cluster (on the LowranceNET™ series of gauges).

Also, the newer Lowrance high-end color display Chart Plotters are NMEA-2000 certified, and they can be used as a display terminal for data from the NEMA-2000 BUS. I am sure more manufacturers will follow suit. You can read your engine data on a big 10-inch color display if you like.

If you stick with the closed system and proprietary system of Mercury, you are limited to using a NAVMAN chart plotter to integrate. Also you have to purchase an expensive "dongle" to interconnect the SmartCraft data to the NAVMAN device, and this adds to the cost. In the NMEA-2000 system, the Chart Plotter just plugs into the same bus as the other devices; nothing extra to purchase or configure.

LHG posted 01-19-2006 12:26 AM ET (US)     Profile for LHG    
Jim - From what I understand, the GPS input to Smartcraft comes from the boat's regular GPS or GPS/Sonar combo unit, which always has the NMEA 0183 leads. And the SmartCraft gauge also has the two wire leads to match to these connections. So it's just a matter of connecting the two existing sets of wires, one set from the GPS unit such as Lowrance, Garmin, etc, and one set from the gauge. This is why the GPS lead wires come from the Speedo gauge, since a given boat would only have one, in spite of multiple engines.

There are some optional inputs to SmartCraft if required, such a boat fuel tank level, oil tank level, water temp, time of day, paddle wheel speed, etc. To me, most of these seem like a waste of money. And some of that I get from my GPS anyway.

Since almost any boat would have a GPS, I didn't consider the sonar/GPS unit an extra cost. And the connection is not mandatory either, althougn ti greatly increases the number of fuel calculations available beyond just GPH. As for the speed, Merc engines already have a pitot pickup, and in the engine this is converted to the Speed signal for the gauge, as is water pressure. There is no tubing to be run from the engine to the gauges, as in conventional instrumentation. So one has a choice of pitot speed or GPS speed, both via wire.

According to the SmartCraft literature I have, the necessary plug-in data cables are included in the gauge price I quoted, and those are list prices. According to the literature, even the Verados only need the "system digital readout" unit, for the $309, and then conventional analog tach gauges can be used if desired. However, from what I have seen, and with Boston Whaler, almost all Verado installations use the tach/Speedo digital readout round analog gauges as shown on, and that is $900 expense for a single, 1200 for twins. SmartCraft also has additional, matching conventional gauges for people who want a traditional gauge array to compliment the tach/speedo. That way you're not constantly pushing buttons at speed to see what's happening. Volts, Trim, Water press, oil pressure, Temp, etc can all be read in a conventional analog matter, and SmartCraft digital readouts can be set to show fuel readings, etc.

And remember all of this has been available, from 40 HP on up, for 5 years. The lower HP engines support a few less features, however, which are not generally needed in the lower HP ranges.

jimh posted 01-19-2006 02:21 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Larry--The SmartCraft system is a fine system, but it is not NMEA-2000, it only works on Mercury motors, and it only interfaces to electronics that are owned by Brunswick after you buy a $280 adapter. SmartCraft got a lot of mention two years ago when it was first available. Now the new kid on the block is NMEA-2000.

The whole point of having a standard is so there can be inter-operation possible between vendors. This is what NMEA-2000 will create. Evinrude was just the first outboard company, but Yamaha will be certified soon, then Honda. LOWRANCE is one of the first with electronics, but many other manufacturers will be following suit. Well, that's the idea. We'll see if it comes to pass.

LHG posits above that there is complexity in NEMA-2000 and simplicity in SmartCraft. rtk mentions some of the (not well documented) complexities of SmartCraft which even his dealer had little knowledge of. I hypothesize that SmartCraft installations will require accessories and components very similar to those shown above for the Evinrude I-Command NMEA-2000 instruments. Indeed, here is a listing of Mercury SmartCraft accessory components:

SmartCraft Connection adaptor plug = 892453A01
SmartCraft Termination Resistor = 859318T1
SmartCraft Weather Cap = 859318T2
SmartCraft Junction Box -- 4 way = 8784924
SmartCraft Junction Box -- 6 way = 8784926
SmartCraft Junction Box -- 8 way = 8784928

SmartCraft wiring harness (6, 10, 15, 20 or 30 meter lengths) = 879968T-x (x = 6, 10, 15, 20)

SmartCraft wiring harness with 1 terminator (10, 15, 20 or 30 meter lengths) = 879981T-x (x = 10, 15, 20 or 30)

SmartCraft wiring harness with 2 terminators (20 or 30 meter lengths = ) 879982T-x (x = 20 or 30)

SmartCraft accessory wiring harness (fuel / oil) = 859743T2

It looks to me like an installation of Mercury's closed, proprietary SmartCraft gauge system will involve almost exactly the same wiring harnesses, junction boxes, terminators, etc., as used in the Evinrude I-Command. Based on this, I don't see any reasonable inference could be drawn that the Mercury SmartCraft system would offer a less complex installation than similar CANBus-based NMEA-2000 open-standard technologies.

LHG posted 01-20-2006 03:03 PM ET (US)     Profile for LHG    
Jim - I have the Smartcraft installation diagrams, and I will send you a copy. Unless I am completely misunderstanding it, it is a lot less complicated, and with fewer compnents to be hooked and installed in the boat.

1. I see no power harness from batteries at all. Mercury's data cable as they call it, plugs right into the engine for it's power. Nothing has to be hooked into the batteries at all.

2. I see no power hub to be installed somewhere in boat and connections made to it. (same comments as above)

3. I see no EMM to HUB Harness. With Smartcraft this evidently all this stuff mentioned above is pre-installed in every engine, as a part of the engine's price.

4. What they are calling a Consolidator Hub or terminator harness is what Mercury calls the junction box, a 4 way (2 slots each side) connector used for single engine and twin gauges, and a 6 way (3 slots each side) used for twin engines and 3 gauges (2 tach, 1 speedo). Makes sense, I think.

Here is the way Mercury's Smartcraft hooks up:

For single engine, and single digital gauge, only the single data harnes is needed (which I included in the price) to plug in at each end. That's all there is. "Smartcraft for dummies"! Price, with cable, $283.

For a single engine and twin gauges (tach & speedo with all digital functions included) as BW installs, there is a data cable from engine to helm mounted junction box, than the cable from each gauge plugs into the other side of the junction box. That's it. Also "Smartcraft for Dummies".
Price with all cables, $942 MSRP (Tach only is $412)

For a twin engine installation and the three gauges, as Whaler installs, there is a data cable from each engine which plug into the junction box (two screws to mount this) and the cables from each gauge plugs into the other side of the junction box. That's it. More "Smartcraft for Dummies"
Price, with all cables, $1286 MSRP

So from that list, an installer has to select which junction box, if any, and what data cable length from engine to helm station. 1 resistor cap fills unused junction box slot. The gauges come with their own wiring lead to be plugged into the junction box, two GPS wire leads, and a lead to other 2" gauges. This is a VERY simple "plug and play" installation, and MUCH EASIER than all that wiring work to install an analog array like I have done in "Whale Lure". The labor saving to a boat builder must be significant, and the 3" gauges give a lot more total information than I get on my boats.

After having taken the time to understand this, I now know this is really simple installation work that I could easily do myself.

LHG posted 01-20-2006 06:49 PM ET (US)     Profile for LHG    
I found the Smartcraft information I was referring to online:

jimh posted 01-20-2006 10:52 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Larry--a couple of comments:

First, thanks for that link to the SmartCraft two-page sales brochure. It is not quite as much information as the 50-pages of I-Command installation instructions, but it does provide a basis to try to guess at the details of a SmartCraft installation.

The $208 system is a bargain, but not at all comparable. Nothing can be connected to it. There is no expansion. It is just one instrument. This is a good solution for a fishing motor on a small boat. Evinrude does not implement NMEA-2000 instrumentation on the smaller motors. The base NMEA-2000 installation is about $625. Most smaller outboard motor installations will not want to invest in $625 of digital instrumentation with expansion capabilities. Evinrude will probably have some options for them in the future.

The Mercury $942 system is not bad in terms of price. That is only a few dollars MORE expensive than the I-Command system ($935). However SmartCraft does not include a GPS at that price, so figure about $300 more to add that to get them comparable. It looks like I-Command is quite competitively priced! Also, the SmartCraft system does not allow anything else to be connected. You do not need to provide a hub or collector which allows for more devices to be connected if there are not other devices to connect. I can see why they omitted this part of the system.

One of the reasons that the NMEA-2000 bus is powered from the battery is because it is capable of powering up to 100 connected devices. If you have a system where by definition there cannot be anything else connected, you can power it from other sources, perhaps from the power in the engine. I do notice that there are a pair of wires shown with a (+) and (-) designation in the SmartCraft diagram. I assume these connect to a source of power, probably a battery. So perhaps you do connect it to something else besides the engine. Also, I would guess that with a connection to two batteries (as the I-Command sytem shows), you could read the voltage of both of them.

Once you make a choice of engine brand the die is cast:

Mercury = not NMEA-2000
Evinrude, Yamaha, Honda = NMEA-2000

It is really just that simple. It would be more interesting to compare the prices among NMEA-2000 devices. I have not seen any pricing from Yamaha. And still waiting for Honda to show up with an announcement of product.

As long as we are comparing, I will carry on with this:

I have to disagree completely with the notion that SmartCraft is "years ahead" of NMEA-2000. I think in the future it will become something of a liability for SmartCraft to be an isolated system, and NMEA-2000 will become very widespread.

From a business stand point, going with a closed and proprietary system fits perfectly with the rest of the Brunswick business model. It closes out all other manufacturers from selling instrumentation for their boats. The only instrumentation for use with SmartCraft will be Mercury's own devices or those from companies who pay licensing fees to Mercury to manufacture devices (like Faria). This ensures that Brunswick will make money on all the parts of the boat purchase, even the gauges. No more losing out to aftermarket choices.

LHG posted 01-21-2006 06:21 PM ET (US)     Profile for LHG    
Jim - Those pair of + and - leads from the Smartcraft gauges and displays are labeled "GPS". Readily admitting that you know a lot more than I on GPS, my assumption is that they are are NMEA 0183 green and yellow output/input feeds to the GPS? I am not under the impression that any other device is needed, other than the boat's regular GPS device? Am I wrong on that? I assume that is where the fuel calculations on MPG, etc, come from, from the GPS NMEA interface built into the Smarcraft enabled EMM.

There is also a group of optional cost, add on output sensors shown in the Mercury link, that can be added to Smartcraft, such as boat fuel tank level with electric sender, oil tank levels (Optimax), water temp, paddle wheel, etc. I assume that, at least for most of our Whalers, none of this is needed, as I get that on my Sonar/GPS screen anyway.

I also don't know much about how the Navman sonar/GPS products can display Smartcraft. I assume the other vendors will eventually get sonar/GPS units out that can display the Command Link and I-Command data.

From observation of many Mercury powered boats at Dealerships, I have noticed that conventional arrays of "Aftermarket" instruments, like the domed Teleflex Premier Pro series that I use, are being rigged on High HP boats with twin Optimax (135 to 250 HP), using that basic single cable digital readout gauge for the $283, one for each engine. It's a very slick, low cost answer for those who like the gauge look, and have the room for all the gauges. That simple digital readout gauge has a data cable coming off it for all of the conventional gauge sender leads, such as tach, volts, temp, water pressure, etc. So, in my case, if I re-powered with Optimax, minimally all I would need to add would be a $283 readout for each engine, and use my existing gauges and speed/water pressure tubing.

When I said "years ahead", I meant that literally, not design wise, that Smarcraft came out in 2001, 5 years ahead of all of the others, only now catching up. I have no idea if one is better than the other. And having driven a Whaler with Smartcraft, I cannot see how these later NMEA systems offer any more information, or in different visual form, to the guy standing behind the wheel. All the functions, readouts, etc seem to be and look the same, regardless of the kind of engine powering the boat, or the electronic standard providing it. The nice looking 2006 Evinrude combo analog/digital gauges look almost identical to the nice looking Smarcraft VDO gauges introduced 5 years ago, and dispaly the same information, no more, no less.

It really does seem that Mercury created the standard in 2000, and everyone is now playing catch-up. None of this means, however, that the later solution isn't as good or better. They all look good, and now the future is here for all brands. Mercury's 5 year window of advantage is now almost closed.

Buckley has said many times, that no matter who comes out with something new in outboards, and in spite of patents, the ideas will get reverse engineered in about 4-5 years. Looking back in outboard innovation for the last 40 years, this has been the case. The Verado supercharging is next up, and someone will eventually find a way to do it better.

Since Whalers are the featured guest here, and they now all come with Mercury and Smartcraft, I hope this discussion helps out new Whaler buyers as well as those interested in other brand re-powers.

bluewaterpirate posted 01-21-2006 07:28 PM ET (US)     Profile for bluewaterpirate  Send Email to bluewaterpirate     
Smartcraft display functionality is also available thru specific Navman fishfinders, gps/chartplotters, and combo units. The connectivity is a breeze it's all plug and play.

Here is what the back of a standard SC5000 Smartcraft Display and Northstar 6000i looks like when installed by Whaler. sitebuilderpictures/

Good discussion ........

bluewaterpirate posted 01-21-2006 07:42 PM ET (US)     Profile for bluewaterpirate  Send Email to bluewaterpirate     
Forgot their 2 of their auto pilots are Smartcraft compitable. This one is the worlds 1st color auto pilot. If ur outfitting an Opti powered boat this is the way to go. I've done 1 so far and I think for the money theses displays are much easier to read and understand.


jimh posted 01-21-2006 07:44 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
NMEA-2000 is not a reverse-engineering of SmartCraft. The two systems are very similar and were developed simultaneously. In fact, Mercury was a member of NMEA and got to hear and know everything there was to know about NMEA-2000 as it was being developed. That is the basis on which OPEN standards are developed.

One the other hand, Mercury shares nothing about SmartCraft openly, it is a proprietary system. For all we know, SmartCraft could be the EXACT SAME THING as NMEA-2000, it is just that Mercury is not saying much about it nor are they certifying it as such.

It is really more reasonable to speculate the SmartCraft copied NMEA-2000 than the other way around.

jimh posted 01-21-2006 08:04 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Tom--don't forget the $280 dongle needed to interconnect NAVMAN devices to SmartCraft. This adds to the cost.
jimh posted 01-21-2006 08:11 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Tom--That looks like a very cool installation.

I will say this about developing devices to interconnect when one company has complete control: it is often faster to accomplish than working through a standard's committee, and it just about guarantees that everything will actually work together.

This is just the nature of standards and committees. Mercury was faster to market with their SmartCraft because they weren't waiting on an international committee to decide how things should be done. Fortunately for Mercury, since they started down the go-it-alone road the also bought out NAVMAN and NorthStar. Now they have two nice electronics companies to make stuff for their SmartCraft systems to connect with.

Also, there can be problems with inter-operation of devices even when they all comply with the agreed on standards. Problems that arise in those situations can be resolved faster when all parties involved get a paycheck from the same company.

jimh posted 01-21-2006 08:15 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Larry--There are already vendors that can display I-Command or Command Link data, precisely because those devices use NMEA-2000 standards. You can connect to a Lowrance Chartplotter and display NMEA-2000 data on that display if you like. I imagine that others like Furuno and Garmin will be coming along. Maretron already has a NMEA-2000 display console.
bluewaterpirate posted 01-21-2006 08:30 PM ET (US)     Profile for bluewaterpirate  Send Email to bluewaterpirate     
Absolutely, but for the average boater u have everything at ur finger tips. Easy integration of major componets (i.e. gps/chartplotters, fishfinders, auto pilots, and communications. If u get a chance to see a Navman Smartcraft grouping in action don't pass it up. This alos includes the radio functionality using their products. And yes, they were swallowed up by Brunswick.

What I think we're going to see especially in the NMEA 2000 world is 2nd party vendors offering the same functionality found in the Navman/Smartcraft marriage but with other outboard makers. Take a look a Lowrance's new newtork cables ...... look familiar?

The race is on!

Thanks .......


bluewaterpirate posted 01-21-2006 09:55 PM ET (US)     Profile for bluewaterpirate  Send Email to bluewaterpirate     
My Navy background is in the area of combat systems integration, interoperability functionality, user training, and battle group data exchange. It included the Navy Tactical Data,C4I Systems and overhead connectivity. Before the 1st Gulf War everything the Navy used was developed, in most cases, over a 10 year period, was mil-spec'd, and a training pipeline developed for the users. In the mid 80's the JOTS System (affectionately known as the Jerry O Tuttle System for the admiral that developed it) became operational and for the 1st time the Navy used COTS (Current of the Shelf) technology to provide near real time data, using IBM (Windows NT) based systems, to display data to our combat systems teams. This caused an avalanche of data to descend on the users. I can't tell you how much overhead bandwidth all the services started using and still do today. We actually ran out of military bandwidth and starting buying commercial bandwidth.

Let me get to my point. All the engine information that is available today is wonderful and that functionality will continue to grow at a rapid pace as NMEA 2000 becomes more wide spread. However, at some point the vendors will have to figure out what data is vital, user effective, and just down right overload. By this I mean, a Captain can't get so wrapped up in displays that he forgets his primary job, the safe movement of his boat. This happened to my combat systems teams as the data kept getting greater and broader in scope.

It's nice to have myriad of information at your finger tips but it is imperative that you have data that is easy to understand and use. Color displays are one of the best ways to enhance data and provide visual prompts that promote good situational awareness. That's why I like the 2nd party vendor developing innovative data display units.

Thanks for indulging me.


jimh posted 01-21-2006 11:56 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Roger on "COTS" in the Military. I just saw a picture of a Navy nuclear submarine that had a GARMIN chartplotter in use!

What is the RADIO functionality vis-a-vis SmartCraft? I had not heard of this before. Please elaborate; it sounds interesting.

jimh posted 01-22-2006 01:21 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Tom --I want to follow up on that photo you linked to which shows a SC5000 Smartcraft Display and Northstar 6000i.

First, what the heck are all those wires going into the SC5000 display? I though this SmartCraft thing was a network? That instrument has about 15 wires going into it. What are they all for? It almost looks like a conventional gauge with all the signals coming in on separate wires.

Second, I hear that Northstar has a new feature for the 6000i which allows it to display the SmartCraft engine data. Do you have this working? The rumor I heard was they will show this at the Miami International Boat Show in February. They previewed it at the NMEA convention recently.

bluewaterpirate posted 01-22-2006 10:32 AM ET (US)     Profile for bluewaterpirate  Send Email to bluewaterpirate     
I have never felt that the Smartcraft System in its current configuration to very easy user friendly. My case in point is the SC5000 has lots of neat stuff but when said and done it is not easy to use much less see. The harnesses that feed into the SC5000 have snap connectors but the harness wires don't as you saw. I have some more pictures I'll post.

What's interesting is that it appears the Brunswick has decided to to rely on its Marine Electronics Division to develop integrated marine systems to display Smartcraft motor information to the user's. That's why I like the Navman intergrated functionality so much.

The interesting thing in regards to Whaler marketing strategies is that the electronics packages they offer are really not providing the Navman functionality. Why can't the buyer order a new Whaler with the Navman system vise the Northstar Chartplotter.

Smartcraft is an integrated engine, trim, and control system that can display some navigational information where as the Navman is an inclusive navigation, fishfinder, and communications package that can integrate Smartcraft data into it and display that data in an easy to understand and use color display. I'm sorry if I miss lead you on the Navman radio Smartcraft functionality, there is none, but what I was trying to point out is that the vhf radio is a key component of the Navamn electronics package. Go to the link below and look at the right middle part of the page. You'll see 8 screens to view, click on the track your buddies one and you'll see the integration of the 7200 series vhf radio.

Northstar makes terrific products (expensive) but are playing catch up when it comes to the integration of Smartcraft data into the display system. I've heard rumors that they will definitely roll out this functionality at the Miami boat show. It makes sense with Brunswick buying boat companies as they are(I heard Cabo was added). This would in a sense lock up their high end market share.

The really interesting "story in a story" is that Navman has terrific products that provide the average boater all the integrated Smartcraft data for much less money. You see very little advertizing of Navman systems in relation to the monies spent on Northstar.

As for COTS and the Navy you'll find many items out there from these vendors Fununo, Raymarine, Garmin, and Northstar. The difficulty lies in the inter ship connectivity (i.e. can you share your info with other systems so that others can see the same picture). It's nice to have gismo's but if only one user has them then it becomes very cunfusing to the other members of the combat systems team that are in place to back up the bridge when it comes to the safe movement of the vessel.

The beat goes on .......


jimh posted 03-08-2006 09:25 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Tom--Your complaint about the visibility of the SC5000 display may be answered by the new VESSEL VIEW display that replaces it. Now if only we could actually see this new device. I am still looking for a digital image of it. It was on display at Miami (I have been told), but I cannot find it anywhere on-line.
hauptjm posted 03-17-2006 11:57 AM ET (US)     Profile for hauptjm    
The only two views I could find are not very detailed, to say the least:

hauptjm posted 03-17-2006 12:06 PM ET (US)     Profile for hauptjm    
two more:

glen e posted 03-17-2006 12:59 PM ET (US)     Profile for glen e  Send Email to glen e     
Having merc on smartcraft and everyone else on nema 2000 is dangerous for a lot of customers - I hope that the companies involved don't leave the customers in the lurch while they have format wars - I was a loser in the vhs/betamax war and it still makes me mad....

Buckda posted 03-17-2006 01:21 PM ET (US)     Profile for Buckda  Send Email to Buckda     
Glen -

You were the winner.

The rest of the country were losers. You enjoyed near DVD quality video throughout the 80's and 90's while we were forced to sit in front of grainy, low quality tapes.

Sure we had selection, but the video and sound quality of BETA was and is far superior to VHS. In fact, BETA size tape is still used by a majority of television stations today.

When I send footage to a TV Crew, it is nearly always a BETA dub or else a DVD copy.

I keep BETA masters in my office.

VHS was and is nowhere near the quality necessary for broadcast TV work.

(can you tell that my family members still have BETA machines around the house!?)

Smartcraft may indeed be "better" than NMEA-2000, however, the dice have already been cast and NMEA-2000 accepted by the majority of users. Why? Did Mercury hold this technology close to the vest, and not share it with others? Another corporate behemoth has learned that lesson the hard way...twice.

Sony lost big-time on the BETA vs VHS format wars, but they also lost a bit of money on the TRINITRON front (Sharper picture from filaments or "strings" of color, rather than the three-crystal pattern of the RCA/Magnavox/Phillips system licensed to and used by the majority of televisions sold today).

Heck, Apple also got short shaft (despite the remnant of loyal users here and generally in the advertising/creative industries) when Microsoft licensed the DOS operating systems to many manufacturers.

On that front, it is interesting to note that many of the very people complaining about Mercury's exclusive system vice the open format NMEA-2000 systems, are, in fact, Apple users....and vice-versa, the one here who has most vocally supported the Mercury system is PC user.!!

How's that for irony?

glen e posted 03-17-2006 01:49 PM ET (US)     Profile for glen e  Send Email to glen e     
I knew someone would split hairs and announce that Beta was better. Yes it was, but in the grand scheme of things, it did not matter that it was better. VHS recorded longer and that was the overriding feature why it won out.

Let's not get off track here. Companies that produce proprietary products and don't conform to a standard so everything works together short change the public. Period. As it is now I cannot buy a Raymarine GPS display and get engine data on my screen because the copmpaines will not share information. That sucks.

jimh posted 03-18-2006 10:51 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Dave--The SONY BETA format video tape you are talking about today is far different than the BetaMax recordings of years ago. The BetaMax that competed with VHS was a consumer product. The BETA format you are talking about is a professional format. It was not that long ago that a good SONY BETA VCR costs about $50,000.

On NMEA-2000 vs SmartCraft wiring topology:

One of the reasons that NMEA-2000 wiring uses hubs is that the entire point of having a NMEA-2000 system is to permit the connection of many devices to the network. The hub is a simple way to provide that facility. To point at SmartCraft and try to turn its lack of hubs into an advantage is to ignore the whole limitation of SmartCraft--it cannot connect to anything else! You do not need a wiring topology which allows connection of lots of devices if you have a system which is designed to prevent things from being connected to it.

Peter posted 03-19-2006 08:44 AM ET (US)     Profile for Peter  Send Email to Peter     
Many believe, including myself, that the VHS format won out over the Beta format because of the economic network effect phenomena. DOS/Windows won out over the Mac operating system for the same reasons. What drove the network effect in the VCR market was the shared content provider's preference to provide content predominantly on the VHS format due to its ability to provide sufficient time length for their content.

There is very little likelihood of a network effect causing Brunswick to switch from its SmartCraft proprietary network to an NMEA-2000 based network. There is no potential shared content driving this. There is little need to communicate between a SmartCraft system in one boat and an NMEA-2000 system in another boat. The purchase of a few thousand dollars worth of electronic components for a boat won't strongly steer outboard sales in one direction or the other but the purchase of 20 or 30 thousand dollars worth of outboards could steer electronic component sales in one direction or another.

No one should expect Brunswick to open its proprietary SmartCraft system. To do so would undermine its long term business model which is to capture more of the consumer spend on a boat. This is the reason why it bought Navman several years ago. By having the Navman exclusively SmartCraft compatible, Brunswick hopes to and will create some convoyed sales opportunities from those folks that need to see their SmartCraft data on an electronic display that is not engine dedicated.

While some may not be pleased that the closed, proprietary SmartCraft system is not in total communications compatibility with their favorite non-Navman electronics brand, keep in mind that companies are not charged with the responsibility of not "shortchanging" the public. The corporate responsibility is to earn a profit (in a responsible way) so that its shareholders earn a return on their investment. I think a reasonable argument can be made that keeping the SmartCraft system closed and essentially exclusive to the Navman brand is consistent with the responsibility to the Brunswick shareholders, including one of its most vocal advocate-participants here. ;)

jimh posted 03-19-2006 06:38 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Peter--You analysis is interesting. I would add that in terms of information to be exchanged between vessels, the standards and protocols are far beyond the control of a single manufacturer. Standards for information exchange between vessels are set by maritime organizations, and those standards tend to be completely open and vendor independent. If this were not the case, you'd have the ridiculous situation where a boat with an ICOM radio could not communicate with a boat with a Standard-Horizon vessel. That doesn't happen because both manufacturers have to adhere to FCC standards. It is the same for digital data between vessels. NMEA and IMO standards apply.
antz1975 posted 09-18-2006 11:18 PM ET (US)     Profile for antz1975  Send Email to antz1975     
Interesting the use of Mercury with the SmartCraft capability, now with Navman on the market, and distancing themselves from the new technologies group, will integration with other electronics brands be available, that is, viewing onto Raymarine C- and E-series screens? With other engine manufacturers going with NMEA-2000, and these been tested and working well, has Mercury shot them selves in the foot? I know plenty of non-Navman customers who want the engine data on the screens, that is, glass cockpit, but don't want Navman. Will they have to buy a Yamaha instead of Mercury?
jimh posted 09-19-2006 12:01 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
The SmartCraft network protocol was created by Mercury and it uses network technology which is also CAN-Bus, and thus it is electrically similar to NMEA-2000. NMEA-2000 was initially a bit more strict about network topology, connectorization, and termination, and this led some non-technical boaters to conclude it was more complex than SmartCraft, which, since it was a closed system, could be more flexible about things like location of terminations, connectors, and network topology. But in truth, the wiring and installation is just about the same, and follows the lead of CAN-Bus as developed for automotive applications. The availability of low-cost integrated circuits for implementing CAN-bus made it a natural choice for any marine electronic network effort.

Mercury has guarded access to SmartCraft. It is only available to companies which partner with Brunswick, such as NAVMAN did (prior to Mercury buying them up, and ironically now selling them off). One of the reasons that Mercury may be so restrictive about letting other devices connect to their network is the presence of critical engine control data on the network. When you have engine control data running on the network, you do not want some chatty fish-finder causing a problem. Let me explain more about SmartCraft networks.

SmartCraft Network: Three Levels of Priority

Highest Level: Critical engine data and engine system data

This is called CAN-X bus, and it is used to control engine throttle and shift functions. The Mercury DTS system is an example.

I think in actual use with Mercury's DTS system that there is a separate network bus (with its own wiring) which handles the high-priority traffic, keeping the low-priority traffic completely away from this circuit. For example, if you have digital throttle control, the digital data on that network is not mixed with other low-priority traffic; it runs on its own private set of wires.

Intermediate Level: Engine diagnostic data

This is called CAN-P (for Propulsion). This bus has gauges and displays related to the engine system. It is used for SmartCraft instruments. It displays information like engine speed, temperature, pressure, and diagnostic warnings. It appears that NAVMAN was allowed to participate at this level.

Also, the CAN-P bus is used as a backup for the CAN-X bus, giving the critical engine control system redundancy.

Lowest Level: Navigation and other data

This is called CAN-V (for Vessel). This bus has data from GPS sensors, depth sensors, temperature sensors, battery voltage sensors, bilge pump monitors, tank level indicators, etc. From my understanding, other company's devices can only inter-operate at the lowest level (CAN-V), thus keeping them away from critical engine system data and diagnostic data. So far I do not see too many partners joining with SmartCraft at this level.

NMEA-2000 is an open protocol and certified devices can connect to it and exchange data, however, I do not think there are any critical engine system devices which use the network at this point.

Mercury's Situation Post-NAVMAN

Mercury has gained a big advantage with their digital control systems, and no other outboard manufacturer seems to be ready to follow them into this new level of sophistication. It is cutting-edge. Most automobile engines still use a mechanical linkage to throttle and transmission. Going to an all-digital linkage was quite a gutsy step for Brunswick.

But since they seem to have all of that network electrically isolated from the rest of the low-priority SmartCraft network, it would seem reasonable for them to embrace the NMEA-2000 standard at some point, and allow their engine customers to have a wider choice of modern vessel electronics to integrate with their vessel data network. This seems even more logical once they finally sell off NAVMAN and their other electronic companies. Why not modify SmartCraft at the CAN-V level to just be NMEA-2000?

NAVMAN's Situation Post-Brunswick

It also seems inevitable that NAVMAN would embrace NMEA-2000 once they become a separate and (seemingly) independent company. If they add NMEA-2000 capability to their whole line of devices, they will have broadened the market for them. Why not sell more stuff to more people, and particularly once your Big-Daddy corporate owner is no longer buying a large percentage of your sales for captive use.

BlackMax posted 11-26-2006 06:50 PM ET (US)     Profile for BlackMax    
[Moved this article from another discussion to here--jimh.]

After laboring through a fine, highly detailed "how to" article [about building a NMEA-2000 network using Evinrude I-Command instruments], I have to pitty the poor E-TEC buyer and his wallet who wants this NMEA-2000 instrumentation.

Now I know why Mercury did their own thing with Smartcraft, six years ago. Buy whatever kind of Smartcraft gauges/screen displays you need, and plug them in to the standard integrated key ignition/Smartcraft harness under the dash of your Gen2 2007 Optimax. Nothing extra to do for water pressure either, and no extra cost cables and hubs to buy and install either.

jimh posted 11-26-2006 08:24 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Only the most recent engines from Mercury come with the engine harness pre-wired with the SmartCraft cable, and it is a good idea to include it. But I do not think that the requirement of having to install a single $40 cable between the engine and the helm is such a burden that being able to avoid it would tip the scale overwhelmingly in favor of SmartCraft as compared to NMEA-2000 system. Indeed the great majority of current Mercury engine owners will have to endure the same burden of buying and installing a cable.

The ability of SmartCraft to display water pressure (or some other functions) depends a great deal on the particular engine being used. Some engines can display water pressure and some some cannot. For the Mercury engines that do have the water pressure data built into their SmartCraft system, it is a nice feature, and I agree that getting it without additional expense is a very nice bonus compared with having to spend over $175 for it as in the case of some Evinrude engines with NMEA-2000 interfaces. But I do not think having to pay a premium to get that particular function is such a burden that being able to avoid it would tip the scale overwhelmingly in favor of SmartCraft as compared to a NMEA-2000 system.

Again, having digital instrumentation for water pressure is a variable of the engine and not of the instrumentation system. Apparently some Mercury engines already have a digital sensor for water pressure installed. In this sense, you have just paid in advance for the sensor when you paid for the engine. Mercury may install this sensor is some engines where use of a digital instrument is mandatory, such as their Verado motors. It would not make much sense to build a digital water pressure sensor into every motor if the owner was not going to use a digital instrumentation system. With the E-TEC engines, the use of NMEA-2000 instrumentation is optional, and the motor can be rigged with conventional gauges if desired. In that situation it wouldn't be cost effective to include a digital water pressure sensor that would never be used.

Now other than the extra cost for the water pressure, the cost comparison is very favorable between the SmartCraft and the Evinrude I-Command, with Evinrude slightly less expensive. (This is detailed above.) In the particular article from which this latest cost and complexity comparison has been made (see hyperlink above)--and I do have to note that no real cost comparison was given, just a generalizaton of lower cost with SmartCraft--by no means was the Evinrude I-Command system being described designed to be the absolutely least-cost approach. There are many ways to cut the costs, reduce the complexity, and simplify that I-Command network. So one should not conclude that there is any price disadvantage with NMEA-2000.

In general, I find that there is no real cost advantage with SmartCraft over NMEA-2000 in similar systems, and by going with SmartCraft, there are some very significant burdens. Let me just point out the most obvious: SmartCraft is a closed and proprietary system and there are a very limited number of other manufacturers who have undertaken the necessary licensing to be able to connect to it. On the other hand NMEA-2000 is a growing standard, and at this moment it appears that all of the other engine manufacturers (Yamaha, Honda, Suzuki , and, of course, Evinrude) are going with NMEA-2000. At a recent trade show a NMEA-2000 network was demonstrated with over 40 devices from over a dozen manufacturers.

If an engine buyer is going to be influenced by the choice of a digital network engine instrumentation system, it is not entirely clear to me that Mercury being associated only with SmartCraft would become a positive influence when compared to NMEA-2000.

Lou II posted 05-07-2007 02:31 PM ET (US)     Profile for Lou II  Send Email to Lou II     
Great info guys! Seems that it's very difficult to find any data on actually connecting peripherals to [SmartCraft] instruments. I would like to connect my GPS, fuel tank sender, and paddle wheel to my [SmartCraft] system but can't find any documentaion as to which wire is which. The GPS is covered very nicely above, how about the other two?
NCWatercop posted 05-21-2007 06:46 PM ET (US)     Profile for NCWatercop  Send Email to NCWatercop     
LHG--Could I get the SmartCraft install stuff from you? I have twin 2001 optimax 150's and have the 3 guage setup, 2 tachs one speedo to install in place of the old guages. I needed to know what cables and junction I needed to complete the setup to make it functional. And to be honest Mercurys website lacks install info or even the info needed to get you on the right path. I think they really wanted to have their folks install it themselves.
jimh posted 05-21-2007 07:57 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
I'd like to get that same stuff. I would be glad to provide more information about SmartCraft, much like I have provided extensive information about NMEA-2000. Please send me a copy as well. Note that the literature to which LHG makes reference above is just a one-page sales or promotion flyer that shows the system in only the most rudimentary block form. It is not a detailed installation manual. If anyone has an electronic copy of a detailed installation manual for SmartCraft, please send me a copy.
lurkynot posted 05-25-2007 11:15 PM ET (US)     Profile for lurkynot  Send Email to lurkynot     
Found this link while surfing the web. Looks like after market gauges for SmartCraft system.

jimh posted 05-26-2007 08:25 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
I think the totals for licensed vendors making devices for connection to the two different instrumentation networks are:

SmartCraft = 3 or 4 vendors (and of these a couple were owned by Brunswick until just recently)

NMEA-200 = more than 12 vendors

jimh posted 05-26-2007 02:48 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
To those seeking more information about SmartCraft, you no longer have to rely on blind requests to LHG to send that one-page copy of the advertisement. Mercury has extensively revised their SmartCraft website. See my other article on that topic for details:

Mercury Revamps SmartCraft Website

finsailor posted 10-04-2007 05:25 AM ET (US)     Profile for finsailor  Send Email to finsailor     
HI everyone. Im new on this [website] and from Finland. I have tried to get answers from my local dealer about my engine Mercury OptiMax 200 jetdrive. The problem is how I get data from engine to my plotter Raymarine C-80. I've read the manual and to my understanding it's possible to get the data from engine transferred to plotter.

Is it possible? What parts do I need to hook those together? NMEA 2000 gateway?

jimh posted 10-08-2007 09:07 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
The Mercury SmartCraft instrumentation uses a proprietary and closed protocol. You may be confusing this with the industry wide standard, NMEA-2000, which is being used by over a dozen manufacturers.

As far as I know, there is no way to display the SmartCraft information generated by your engine on anything other than a Mercury SmartCraft display or on one of the one or two similar displays made by vendors who have been licensed by Mercury.

At one time the NAVMAN company was closely associated with Mercury--for a while it was owned by Brunswick--and they made a some navigation displays with GPS receivers and SONARS which could be connected to a SmartCraft engine using a special "dongle" which cost about $280. However, NAVMAN has since been sold off by Brunswick, and they are now part of NAVICO brands. I am not sure of the current status of the SmartCraft interface dongle or which models it might be useful with.

I do not recall if RAYMARINE has made any provisions for interconnection to a SmartCraft network. They have their own instrumentation network and also support NMEA-2000.

kevj posted 10-28-2007 04:19 AM ET (US)     Profile for kevj  Send Email to kevj     
Hi everyone I have had exactly the same problem in the UK, I have a Mercruiser 5.0L MPI with bravo 3 stern drive Nov ember 2005 which has a SmartCraft out put. I wanted to connect it to a Navman 8120 or Northstar M121 chart plotters (both the same) which are SmartCraft compatible. I had the CAN output connector (10 way plug male) from the engine and wanted to know what I needed to connect it to the SmartCraft gateway (in this case a single engine one), which I knew I needed and had obtained. The instructions showed many connectors and leads the link is as follows. ( However when trying these part numbers they seem to be out of date and I wasn’t sure which leads I required to extend the CAN data buzz. I spent weeks, trying to find someone who knows how to connect it e-mailing Northstar and Navman as well as Brunswick get absolutely jack shit of a reply. I used the internet to locate Mercruiser dealers and contacted them but the didn’t really know a lot I was even told that SmartCraft was more for the USA market. So I eventually contacted Barrus the Mercruiser importers who again didn’t tell me much got the feeling they didn’t really want to talk to a customer and told me to contact this other dealer who was a specialist. Which I did in Lymington but they didn’t really know, however all praise to them they did find out for me but it took them over a week.
However in the meant time my friend whose an electronics design engineer and I with the aid of the wiring diagrams that came with the CD decided what we needed first we tried just connecting them together but no joy so we made a make shift lead up with a resistor either end to see if it worked, by golly we had solved it. We also tried it with one resistor which worked but that may have been because the lead was only a foot long.

Basically all we needed was a CAN lead with resistors both ends (879982Tx), a male/male (892452A01) connector or junction box 4 way (8784924). It seems these numbers are obsolete and I have not been able to obtain others from Mercruiser, however Livorsi Marine seem to stock SmartCraft accessories under there own part numbers se link

X = length in feet.

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