MFD engine alarming improves, but still needs more Maretron-ization

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Sep 17, 2015

Garmin_741_engine_alarm.jpgOn Oct. 4th I'll present a seminar titled "Electronic Engine Monitoring Comes of Age" at TrawlerFest Bay Bridge in Stevensville, Maryland. This Garmin 741 photo will be useful as it shows three new and different ways Gizmo's old diesel engine can now indicate a low oil pressure problem. Thanks to the Actisense EMU-1 I installed in 2013, the simple low pressure alarm switch on the Volvo Penta can trigger an informative pop-up (and audio alarm) on all the networked Garmin screens regardless of what function(s) they're showing. And if the engine gauge page is up, the familiar low oil pressure icon lights up and, better yet, the customizable digital psi dial can go red based not on the alarm switch, but rather on a minimum pressure I've set. That's all good, but modern marine electronics can do even better...

Simrad_NSS_evo2_n_Raymarine_LightHouse_II_engine_alarms_cPanbo.jpgThis week I've been exploring the engine alarming features found in current Garmin, Raymarine, Simrad, and Furuno MFD operating systems, and I came away impressed with how well organized and comprehensive they've become. For instance, the screens above show how Simrad and Raymarine have put all alarm info and settings into one place, and they also suggest the dozens of specific engine warnings and alarms that can be displayed if the MFD sees the requisite NMEA 2000 message (PGN) on its network. Garmin multifunction displays also seem to understand more PGNs these days, as do the all-in-one N2K instruments from the same manufacturers. Let's note, though, that these alarms are just on/off signals sent by the engine -- with no custom set points possible -- because that's a limitation I'll be griping about.

Furuno_TZT_engine_gauge_n_setup_cPanbo.jpgI also checked out MFD engine gauges, but only see minor changes from my tepid 2013 review. That's not surprising for the Furuno TZT14, which hasn't gotten a software update since early 2014. While some useful customization is possible -- engine nicknames a small but unique one -- the TZT has trouble translating some of the data on my network, like oil pressure and fuel rate/economy. Furuno, however, has been busy getting out the new TZTouch2 series, which boasts of "Fully Customizable" gauges as well as improved PGN compatability (and a favorable Panbo review by Fred Khedouri). Hopefully, TZT owners will eventually receive some of the Touch2 features via a software update.

Simrad NSS evo2 gauge controls cPanbo.jpgAnd maybe TZTouch2 full customization will motivate Simrad to make their fixed "dashboards" more flexible. Credit Navico, though, with letting you use just about any numeric value on an N2K network, pick the source when they are multiple, and also configure min/max gauge limits and min/max warnings (the red parts). Note, for instance, how the top middle gauge is showing "ENGRM" temperature. Engine Room is one of the more arcane categories built into the NMEA 2000 standard, and in my case it's actually a Maretron TMP100 temp sensor bolted to the engine block. 165 degrees really is when I want a head's up, and this may be the single most valuable sensor value on all of Gizmo!

Raymarine_LightHouse_II_engine_gauges_n_NV_Chart_cPanbo.jpgRaymarine's gauge pages remain the most flexible in overall design, TZTouch2 aside, and the customization seems improved in ways I can't quite put my finger on. However, RPM is still the only gauge you can configure limits on, and neither of the Ray displays can "see" my Engine Room Temperature at all. And notice all the wasted black space on that otherwise snappy looking gauge window (and others). If possible, wouldn't you rather use those pixels for radar or fishfinding, or to go full screen with that handsome NV Bahamas chart (that just became available)?

Garmin_741_numbers guage page cPanbo.jpgMeanwhile, Garmin also recognizes the Engine Room Temp value on Gizmo's network but -- doh! -- won't let me add it to the otherwise fairly customizable engine gauge pages on the 8212 (the 741 is more limited). The interface designers apparently tried to make the customization easier by limiting the data choices to general Engine, Fuel, Tank, and GPS categories, but odd temperatures are collected in the Vessel category. But I can show any value on any data bar on either display, Engine Room included, and also in the "Numbers" page seen above. This is the sort of screen I often pull up when warming up Gizmo's engine, but actually I rarely use any of the test MFDs for engine monitoring.

Maretron_DSM150_engine_screen_cPanbo.jpgIn fact, after at least 2,000 miles of running with EMU-1 digitized engine data, my favorite gauges are the homely Maretron DSM150 at lower helm and the bigger DSM250 above, and I sometimes use them for other underway tasks too. But that's because I've developed a lot of confidence in their ability to let me know visually and audibly if anything is amiss. The screens themselves flash yellow for warnings and red for alarms, with explanatory pop-ups that I can phrase myself, but it's the audibles that usually get my attention first.

Maretron_ALM100_n_DSM_alert_setup_cPanbo.jpgAlso, on the same N2K network are two Maretron ALM100 annunciators. The one seen above is on the main circuit panel above the steps leading from the lower helm to the galley/head/stateroom area, with the other at the flybridge helm, and I can testify that their "105 dB SPL Piezoelectric sounders" can be heard anywhere aboard, even though they're only powered by the N2K network, and even by someone asleep with the engine running fairly hard. Which would be terrible except that Maretron alerts can be tweaked in numerous ways so that false alarms, or even unnecessary repeat alarms, can be minimized. I've detailed this before, and overlaid on the photo above are a couple of virtual DSM250 screens showing the high Engine Block Temp alarm setup (which pops up as "Engine Hot!").

Maretron_N2KAnalyzer_TMP100_config_cPanbo.jpgI've also written about Maretron's great labeling feature before, but here's a reminder screen showing that I can use N2KAnalyzer on Gizmo's PC to give the TMP100 sensors more accurate labels than the temp category names supplied in the N2K standard, particularly when I use the sensor in a somewhat odd way. These labels, like the rest of the configuration, gets pushed to the sensor box itself and can then be seen on the DSM displays. All this can done with the DSM itself, but it's tedious and for tasks like alert setups, which can only be done on the DSM (or with N2KView), I usually use the virtual DSM250 (which you can demo yourself on a PC).

Simrad_NSS_evo2_custom_alarms_cPanbo.jpgNow I'm not saying that the big MFD manufacturers could or should emulate everything Maretron does (though I have fantasized about what, say, a Garminized Maretron monitoring setup might look like). But any one of them certainly could allow a boater like me to customize an alarm based on engine temperature, oil pressure or even an oddball sensor like the one on my engine block. By the way, the reason I find that one so valuable is that it tells me the moment my diesel is getting abnormally hot and is independent of the Volvo Penta alarm, which only tells me when the engine is way too hot anyway. And, look, many MFDs like the Simrad above already have nicely customizable alarms for some non-engine values. (Where you see two custom % or gal figures above, those are Warning and Critical limits.)

Raymarine_LightHouse_II_custom_alarm_cPanbo.jpgHere's a similarly flexible alarm on Raymarine, meant for fishing, though I set it up to let me know if I ever get south of Maine again. And while I don't have an illustration at hand, I know that Garmin already allows limited labeling (just tanks and engines as I recall), but I don't know why any of the manufacturers couldn't enable extensive labeling, including what a given sensor value really is about and what an alarm really means. It might just work within their own display networks, but heck, I believe there's some sort of labeling built right into the N2K standard, though so far hardly used.

If, like me, you hope for better MFD alarming, please speak up. These are the glorious days when MFDs have become so powerful and connected that the developers often aren't sure what feature to improve or create next!

But wait... how about something truly new in engine room monitoring and alarming? Just today FLIR and Raymarine announced LightHouse 15 support for the AX8 camera, which combines standard video detail with low res but very accurate and stable thermal sensing. The results can go to a Ray display network over Ethernet, and I understand that the interface not only shows your propulsion plant like you've never seen it before, but also lets you program different temperature alarms for different sections of the thermal image. More to come.



Although the Maretron equipment is terrific I avoid anything Maretron. For one, I don’t have the room on a sailboat for a DSM150 that is required to set up and configure the Maretron sensors and alarms. I already have a full suite of Garmin and B&G screens to view all the N2K data.

When you buy, lets say, the TMP-100 and add in the the required DSM 150, ($495 List) or the DSM 250, ($995 List) or the N2KView ($995) it becomes very expensive addition. Why can’t Maretron allow their products to be set up and configured using any brand N2K instrument display of chartplotter? My Floscan fuel flow monitoring is adjusted for a full tank using a Garmin GMI-20. Actisense gives you a free configuration program to set up the EMU-1 and I can view the EMU-1 on a Garmin 7212. Is the Maretron equipment designed to make sure every customer has to buy their display or computer program?

I was about to buy the Maretron WSO-100 wind/weather instrument, however, their tech support told me it can only be setup using a Maretron display or their Gateway, (other gateways will not work). Well, that was the end of that idea! If Maretron ever changes this I’ll be happy to take another look.

Posted by: Richard C at September 18, 2015 1:16 PM | Reply

I wonder if it is possible to include a graph in the various displays. They start to look like the SCADA systems used in proces-control and there graphs are essential for the operators.

Take the main engine (exhaust) temperature: if you could a create graph you could see how fast the temp. would increase over time, and perhaps even add an alarmpoint in the graph as with some of the gauges you have shown us. A smart graph could even include a rate-of-change alarm i.e. if the line of the graph exceeds an angle of say 5 degrees per per minute you get an alarm, even if the 'gauge alarm' temp. isn't reached yet. This would allow you some time to take action to prevent an engine shut down.

A display page with a 5 to 10 line graph allows a system overview that you can scan in a fraction of time and gives the state of the system over a period of time. It might take a while to get used to, but once you are it's a great tool.

w. fr. greetings, Leo

Posted by: Leo Starrenburg at September 19, 2015 4:52 AM | Reply

Thanks, Richard, but I think you're pretty mixed up about Maretron, particularly how they compare to other manufacturers. Here are some points:

* Your Garmin GMI-20 is not configuring your Flowscan sensor. It's letting you add gallons to a count it keeps based on the fuel flow PGN it's receiving from any flow sensor. On Gizmo, it works the same way with Maretron flow sensors --

* You can set up any Maretron sensor the same way you did the EMU-1. You need the Maretron gateway instead of the Actisense gateway, but N2KAnalyzer is free (and does a lot more than configurations).

* So, no, you don't need a DSM to configure or display PGNs from Maretron sensors. (But you do need at least one DSM for Maretron alarming, and you also get the benefit of the custom sensor output labeling I discussed.)

* Incidentally, I'm not sure there's any wind sensor (or depth, etc.) that can be truly configured by a different brand display. Some -- like your B&G N2K instruments, I think -- can overlay data corrections like offset but they are not actually modifying the sensor output, so non-B&G displays on the network won't see the corrected data.

* Finally, let's note that no display maker is required to show any particular PGN. Of course they all do show the common ones, but it isn't Maretron's fault that a somewhat exotic value like Engine Room Temperature doesn't show up on all of Gizmo's displays. As noted, though, progress is being made.

Hope all that makes sense.

Posted by: Ben in reply to Richard C at September 20, 2015 3:50 PM | Reply

Ben, thanks for clearing up my misconception on Maretron. I see if one is going to buy the DSM (for maximum flexibility) it pays to dedicate most of the boats transducers to this family and have the ability to configure the sensors before the data gets to my other displays.

In my case, I’m more interested in the temperature of the freezer then the engine. And, getting the external alarm output from my Simrad autopilot to wake the dead with a Maretron alarm module would be a great improvement, (is that possible?)

Posted by: Richard C in reply to Ben at September 21, 2015 8:17 AM | Reply


I have seen the FLIR AX8 first hand and it is a fabulous addition to the electronics, for engine room monitoring. FLIR created a marketing video:

At first I was skeptical as there are many monitors already in the engine compartment that trigger if needed. However, there are some added thoughts and observations:

1) Over the years I have had several false alarms trigger due to the sensors going bad. While floating in the ocean I was waiting hours for the overheating temp to "cool" only to finally determine it was a sensor that went bad. If I had the FLIR installed I could SEE if the engine areas were truly overheating!

2) There are some areas which are not monitored by most engine electronics, such as batteries. When a battery goes bad it starts to "fry" and in turn can damage other batteries. If you have the ability to see this change in heat before it becomes an issue, you are way ahead of saving yourself an expensive headache!

The AX8 triggers pre-set alarms and can be set to be "looking" at specific locations in the engine room.

It is a game changer for engine room monitoring.

Posted by: ValkyrieYachts at September 21, 2015 1:12 PM | Reply

I hope Simrad and Maretron continue to advance the customization features of their systems. When we left Florida this spring, I ran N2Kview on one of my M016T monitors and Simrad split screen on the other monitor. In an effort to reduce battery draw, I would shutdown the PC, and if I wanted to check the wind speed later, it would not be available.
I added most of the items I displayed on N2KView on the side data bar of the NSO screen. I have two issues I am hoping gets improved by Simrad - 1) I wish the data could be presented as graphs instead of just numbers 2) the data side bars could be setup to display consistently if selected - the bar shown when viewing Chart is different than when viewing Radar unless you configure each bar to match.
If Simrad would make the Dash/gauges screen customizable, I am thinking I would not need N2Kview at all. I am getting used to the side data bar performing the N2Kview function, so any improvements by Simrad will only make it better.
The NMEA2000 alerts available from the Simrad saved me from spending $999 for Martron's Alert module. Simrad's display of my cameras saved me from spending $999 for the Maretron Video module.

Posted by: HenryD at September 21, 2015 8:31 PM | Reply

I don't understand, HenryD. I'd say that Simrad NSS evo2 alarming is pretty good for MFDs at this point in time, but not even comparable to Maretron's alarming and I'm not even using N2KView, just the DSM displays. For instance, the Simrad system can not create a custom alarm based on any engine parameter like oil pressure or coolant temperature, and it can not alarm me about my Engine Room Temperature value, let alone call it by its true Engine Block Temp label. (Though Simrad, and maybe Garmin, do use CZone custom labels.)

But, bigger picture, thanks for showing interest in better alarming. I'm hoping that the big guys will pay more attention to it, but so far you're the only commenter to speak up.

(PS I believe you can have one data bar on your NSO constant across screens: "You can configure Bar 1 for active page or for all pages except those that have a local configuration. Bar 2 can only be configured for active page.")

Posted by: Ben in reply to HenryD at September 21, 2015 11:33 PM | Reply

Thanks for the great video link, ValkyrieYachts! Is that you in the starring role? I agree that this is remarkable technology, and had a preview peek in Miami. Write up planned soon.

Posted by: Ben in reply to ValkyrieYachts at September 21, 2015 11:39 PM | Reply

Richard, refrigerator and freezer temps are among the standard categories in N2K. I'm using one of the TMP100 channels to monitor my frig and can see the value on several screens, but can only alarm it on Maretron DSMs.

I can set off the wake-the-dead ALM100's based on almost any standard N2K value, but not all, and autopilot stuff seems particularly tricky. That's one area of N2K where same-brand-only integration is pretty much the rule, and that probably makes sense at least for the control aspects.

It happens that I bridged Gizmo's two N2K networks last week to do this alarm research. So today I induced a couple of Simrad AC12 AP alarms, but sorry to report that they only showed up on Simrad MFD and instrument, not a peep from Garmin or Raymarine MFDs/instruments.

I also used N2KAnalyzer to look at the PGNs coming out of the AC12, and a lot are proprietary. (This may change as I think the standard alarm PGN set is relatively new.) However, one standard PGN (127237, Heading/Track Control) being output includes a value called Off-Track Limit Exceeded and if Simrad uses it, that might what could trigger a Maretron alarm. However, I don't know for sure that Simrad uses the field and it also looks like Maretron does not yet read the field. In the meantime, you can set a Maretron alarm on a custome XTE value and as long as the AP is steering to an external course, you could get blown out of your bunk by an off course situation ;-)

PS I got reminded today that the Garmin gWind N2K sensors do not require a Garmin display for calibration. That's because they include a GND10 black box that has a USB port you can use with free PC software for calibration. The settings are pushed to the sensor so any brand display on the N2K (and Nexus) network will see the corrected values. The Race model even supports a correction table with different values for wind speed and angle. Sounds slick!

Posted by: Ben in reply to Richard C at September 22, 2015 12:32 AM | Reply

Good morning Ben,

For disclosure purposes, yes that is me in the video. I am a Raymarine ProAmbassador. This was actually done for FLIR specifically although I would not be surprised if down the road there comes a Raymarine branded version of the AX8 (conjecture on my part).

When I was asked to use Valkyrie as a staging for the video, I was happy to assist, but skeptical of the "real need" for the thermal camera. As we used it during the day I saw many great uses and features which the regular engine monitors cannot do and as such became a convert.

Posted by: ValkyrieYachts at September 22, 2015 10:17 AM | Reply

One of Maretron's strengths is monitoring and alarms, not all of which can be displayed on all MFD's. Having a single DSM for configuring their devices and then displaying data on MFD's is a good approach...leaving the "special" data for viewing on the DSM. The annunciator versatility is worth the premium in my opinion where customizing the warning vs. alarms is especially valuable.

Not all of these strengths are necessary all the time but picture the boater who just experienced an engine overheating episode and is heading out with an ever watchful eye on temperatures. Watching temps displayed graphically comes in very handy sometimes and when no longer needed the usual alarms can suffice.
There are ways to use the TMP for special monitoring that I won't elaborate on but I see some of the Maretron devices tools as much as instruments.

Posted by: TPQ in reply to Ben at September 23, 2015 9:12 AM | Reply

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