The Marine Electronics Industry Has Really Lost The Plot Now

Computertechnician

Longterm readers will know that I’m not exactly a fan of the marine electronics industry, and particularly the recreational branch…Oh, OK…I’m a dyed-in-the-wool, foaming-at-the mouth, raving critic.

Though I have called BS loud and often, I really thought I had seen it all but I just read something that has raised my indignation to new heights.

The National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA) and the American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) have got together to put on a course that will result in successful participants receiving not one, not two, but three certifications:

  • ABYC Electrical,
  • NMEA Marine Electronics Installer,
  • NMEA 2000® Network Installer,

in four days.

Is the whole industry so screwed up that I’m the only one who sees the problem in this? Four days…four days!

As far as I can see, there are no prerequisites…zero…nada. And I took the trouble to go through the registration process, up to paying the money, to check.

But don’t worry about a thing, they’re going to teach the attendees everything they need to know to work on your boat:

Topics include: Ohms law, grounds, battery and battery chargers, DC wiring, EMI, coaxial cables, antennas, AIS, marine VHF radios, transducers, radar, heading sensors and NMEA data interfacing.

Ok, if you’re not an electronics technician as I am, you can be forgiven for not understanding how damming that above quote is. You see, Ohms law is the most basic part of the beginning of the process of understanding electricity. I learnt about Ohms law and how to apply it at school…when I was fourteen.

To quote again from the course description:

…never before could a marine professional attend four days of training and potentially walk away with three certifications….

…the need for highly qualified installation specialists is more important than ever. This new program will go a long way toward ensuring that the technicians working on your boat will have proven expertise with both the electrical power side and electronic side of these complex systems.

I mean, really, in four days they are going from grade nine physics to understanding the intricacies of NMEA 2000 network architecture, boat wiring, and the super-complex software that ties all this lovely whiz-bang crap…err…equipment together?

How would you like it if you found that the mechanic working on your car had four days of training to get a certificate of competency? Not happy, I wager.

I guess this level of training might work if marine electronic and electrical equipment was super-reliable, standardized, and had really great manuals…stop dreaming, John.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge believer in the need to upgrade the training of marine maintenance professionals. And I do understand that many of the attendees will be deeply experienced and just there to get the certificate.

But if they need to explain Ohms law I fear there will be others, perhaps the majority, who will come out of the course as undertrained menaces who will be foisted on the unsuspecting boat owner at vast expense by boatyards because they are “certified”. And this will also tarnish the reputations of the real marine electronics and electrical technicians who have taken years to learn their trade.

Do Better

Come on ABYC and NMEA, you can do better. I suggest:

  1. Acknowledge the problem that many, perhaps most, “marine professionals” are woefully undertrained, particularly in electrical and electronic installation and troubleshooting. Heck, in my experience it’s rare to find a technician in a boatyard who even understands the basics of how to keep a battery healthy. (Freelancers tend to be better, I find.)
  2. Work with community colleges to set up real courses lasting months, not days.
  3. Set up a mentor/work placement system in which candidates work for several months with an experienced technician before being certified.
  4. Think along the lines of a European old-style apprenticeship program, although the traditional five years to reach journeyman is probably not practical.

Do all this and you guys would be doing something meaningful to make things better and make your certifications something that those who earn them can be truly proud of.

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John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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