NMEA® was founded in 1957 by a group of electronic dealers who got together at the New York Boat Show to discuss how to strengthen relationships with electronic manufacturers. Little did these dealers realize the impact such an association would have on the marine industry.
In the beginning, the association concentrated on improving communications with manufacturers and gradually invited manufacturers to be part of NMEA® activities. During this same time, NMEA® developed close ties with the FCC, Coast Guard and RTCM. Interaction between these groups has led to a number of significant policy changes.
NMEA® created the only uniform interface standard for digital data exchange between different marine electronic products back in the early eighties.
In 1964 the first Product Award was presented to Everett Sarratt of Enac in recognition of his development of the DX Navigator Loran. This award was part of a program designed by Nancy Merriam and John Koleda to recognize the highest standards of excellence in marine electronic equipment. Today, this program continues to be a strong vital part of NMEA®.
After the incorporation of NMEA® in 1969, the association began to lay plans for the production of an association newsletter. With the help of Don Burns as editor/publisher, the "NMEA® News," was born in the early seventies. Burns was instrumental in the early growth of the NMEA® and upon his sudden death in 1977, his wife Susan assumed the responsibilities of the magazine. The magazine continued to prosper under her direction and later she was elected Secretary of the association. Her contributions to the association proved to be invaluable and she was bestowed a distinguished service award. Upon Susan's untimely death in the late eighties, the association began publishing the "NMEA® News" and it continues today as "Marine Electronics, the Official Journal of the NMEA®."
In addition to products being recognized for excellence, the Fessenden Award Program was initiated by Sid Konisberg and Bob and Nancy Merriam. This award was designed to recognize individuals for their significant contributions to the marine electronic field. In 1979, Jack Cain of Lorain Electronics, was awarded the NMEA® Fessenden Award for his development of an integrated VHF Radio Communications Network in the Great Lakes. The Fessenden Award is not an annual award but one that is given when warranted.
Dr. Robert Freeman, an autopilot manufacturer, was responsible for much of the early work on the standards. The NMEA® 0183 Interface Standard is widely accepted by manufacturers and through Frank Cassidy's efforts is recognized by maritime agencies worldwide. Frank Cassidy was instrumental in having the standard adopted as the basis of an international standard by the International Electrotechnical Commission in Europe. The updating and expanding of the protocol and development of future standards is continued today by a committee of NMEA volunteers under the direction of Steve Spitzer, NMEA® Technical Director.
With the help of Don Derryberry in the early eighties, the Certified Marine Electronic Technician Program was created. The purpose of the CMET Program was to assure the consumer that the technician working on his vessel had more than a basic knowledge of electronics in general. With this certification, the technician demonstrated a competency and familiarity with marine products. The CMET Program continues today as the ever-increasing need for such a program exists.
Along with these important aspects of NMEA®, the association continues to provide a forum for its members through frequent communications from the national office, regional meetings and its annual conference.
As the association continues to improve services to its members, it will focus on educating the public in safe and proper use of marine electronics and strengthening the association's presence in the marine electronics industry.