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‘Uptick’ on the radar, says NMEA leader - Trade Only Today

‘Uptick’ on the radar, says NMEA leader

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David Hayden thinks recovery will begin in 2011, with further electronics sector consolidation

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The president of the National Marine Electronics Association thinks the end of the marine industry's worst down cycle is in sight.

David Hayden, who three years ago predicted a long recession, says he believes a slow comeback will begin next year. "We've got some members now who are just hanging on by their fingernails, but if they get through the winter, in 2011 we should see an uptick," Hayden says. "I'm not saying it's going to be gangbusters, but I do see an uptick."

Hayden made the remarks in Seattle, where the NMEA held its annual convention Sept. 29-Oct. 2.

Hayden says he also expects continuing consolidation in the marine electronics field, citing the combination of prominent brands, such as Simrad, Navico and Northstar under the Navico name and FLIR's acquisition of Raymarine earlier this year. "We'll all be running leaner and meaner," he says. "We'll be watching our dollars. I think this recession has taught a lot of people a real lesson."

A return to prosperity would enable the NMEA to better implement initiatives that will extend the organization's influence at home while furthering its global reach.

Setter of standards

The NMEA works with manufacturers and government agencies, such as the Coast Guard and the Federal Communications Commission, to develop standards for VHF radios and other marine equipment. It developed and controls the open-source electronic language that allows a chart plotter, radar, VHF, GPS and sensors to exchange information over a network. There are two NMEA standards - NMEA 0183 and its successor, NMEA 2000. Savvy electronics consumers know that products certified as NMEA 2000-compliant can be networked with NMEA 2000-certified products from other manufacturers.

The NMEA also has developed a thick book of standards describing how each type of marine electronics should be installed. The NMEA tests and certifies technicians and installers who use that certification to advertise their proficiency to the boating public. Hayden says the NMEA is going to take that role a step further with its new Master Dealer program and a far more stringent testing regimen for certified marine electronics technicians. Both go into effect next year.

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Contending that the current program "has grown stale and has been abused by some of our members," Hayden says he has worked with the National Occupational Competency Testing Institute to expand the pool of test questions from 300 to 1,000. Only a portion of the questions are on any one test, but they are combined differently each time, making it unlikely that two tests will have identical questions.

Master Dealers

A company that wants Master Dealer status must have NMEA-certified installers and technicians on its staff; the number depends on the size of the dealership. "He applies for master dealer status, goes before the committee, gets interviewed. We look at the qualifications of the staff and, if it all looks good, they're a Master Dealer," Hayden says.

Why the NMEA chose to go west Rather than Sanibel, the venue this year was Seattle as the National Marine Electronics Association held its fall conference somewhere other than Florida for only the second time. This year, however, marked the 605-member group’s second recent trip west. In 2008, as the Great Recession took hold, the NMEA broke tradition when it met in San Diego. Geography is destiny under the leadership of NMEA president David Hayden, a native of Great Britain, who says the West Coast venues reflect the membership’s growing diversity. “Since I’ve been on board the last three or four years as president of the association, I’ve tried to embrace all members,” Hayden says. “That means coming out to the West Coast, whether our Florida dealers like that or not. We do have a lot of members out here that we’ve ignored for many, many years.” Florida traditionally was chosen as the conference site because its electronics dealers dominated the membership. As San Diego and Seattle demonstrated, the decision to meet in Florida is not automatic anymore. Today the largest block of members, 20 percent, is from outside the United States. Foreign membership has been growing at the same time membership in Florida has dropped, the state’s marine industry having been hit hard by the poor economy. In fact, the Southeast, which traditionally had the highest percentage of membership among the regions, is barely holding on to second place, at 19 percent. Now nearly as many NMEA members hail from New England, despite its short boating season. — Peter Swanson

A Master Dealer must agree to a consumer-friendly program to resolve boater complaints within 60 days. Disputes that cannot be resolved at the dealership level will be mediated by the NMEA, which can strip an uncooperative dealership of its Master Dealer status.

"We're trying to educate the public to get away from - forgive the expression - the dock runner, the trunk slammer that operates out of the back of his car," Hayden says. "We're trying to get them to go to a qualified dealership that installs marine electronics per the NMEA installation standards."

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A second initiative involves a sister organization, the International Marine Electronics Association. This group - a 501(c)(3) foundation "for scientific testing for public safety, literary, educational purposes" - is eligible for grant money from government agencies or any person or entity that seeks to further education and training in marine electronics. Private donations are tax-deductible and could be used to further NMEA programs.

"As we speak, the IMEA is a shell company. That is, it exists but it doesn't have a board of directors yet, but that will get revisited this year - meaning 2011 - when the economy improves," Hayden says.

The IMEA comes after a succession of milestones, including the recognition of NMEA standards by the International Electronics Commission and the Lloyds of London insurance collective. Also this year, the NMEA formed partnerships with the British Marine Electronics Association and the Korean Maritime Institute, which are promoting the NMEA curriculum on their continents.

You might say the NMEA has striven to conquer the world of marine electronics; the industry does an estimated $3.6 billion in annual sales. And that, Hayden says, will mean recruiting boatbuilders.

Recruiting builders

At the NMEA's annual meeting, conducted over breakfast during the conference, the organization's officers made a point of noting that the percentage of boatbuilders in the membership was precisely zero, even though NMEA has trained and certified about 30 technicians and installers at Viking Yachts. Although many electronics dealers see the factories as competition, Hayden says boatbuilders should be brought into the fold because they will continue to install electronics.

"The vision I have for the NMEA is that we would be a global education and training center for marine electronics and that we become the third rubber stamp on the transom of every boat that's built in this country, i.e., certified by the NMMA, ABYC and NMEA," Hayden says. "Now the electronics on that boat are certified by no one. Who knows if they are correctly installed, if they meet safety standards?"

This article originally appeared in the November 2010 issue.

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