2 new Garmin VHFs, remote mic too

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Sep 30, 2008


Even if it was pretty predictable (I got it half right), Garmin will indeed add (“2nd Quarter, 2009”) fixed VHF radios to its ever-expanding marine line. Here’s the press release, and here’s a bigger image of the VHF 200 model above, including the GHS 10 full-function remote mic that can optionally wire to it. The second mic possibility is why you see “INTRCM” as one of the soft key choices on that 3.2” display, and it—along with the 20 watt hailer and a NMEA 2000 data interface—are about all that differentiate the $400 VHF 200 from the $250 VHF 100 seen below.

What we can see of the user interface looks quite straight forward, as promised, but wouldn’t you like to see what the Garmin VHF design team would do with a color screen? I’m still impressed with how well the Uniden 625c’s little screen conveys information, and a color VHF in Garmin grays surely would look extra snappy alongside the company’s instruments and new pilot, perhaps part of an all-Garmin helm. But a new product line has to start somewhere, radio performance is arguably more important than user interface (and hopefully Garmin did well in that department), and maybe color will be in the next model. (As we know, and will see more evidence of soon, Garmin never sleeps.)
   Something else I hope to see is more VHF radios with NMEA 2000 interfaces, which will make proper DSC installation and system-wide DSC plotting and calling easy. But the developers of NMEA 2000 MFDs need to get with the program too. My initial experiments with the Lowrance LVR-880 indicate that while it nicely handles even redundant N2K GPS inputs, neither the lab’s Garmin 5212 nor the Raymarine E-120, nor even Lowrance’s own LCX-113 yet understand its purportedly standard N2K DSC output. Yet.



Ben- Garmin makes me crazy. This is a GPS based company that has moved into other market areas by purchasing products made by others and branding them as Garmin. They may be making minor additions here and there to help distinguish the product, and most likely conttributing software to add brand name features. But the heart of the product did not come from Garmin engineering and manufacturing. That product has to be FCC certified and meet detailed performance requirements for adjacent channel interference, transmission spectrum purity and on and on.

The Radar they market in the Aviation world is a warmed over product they bought from Honeywell, the marine radar is a branded radar purchased likely from Koden as others have also done, with special software to make the product their own.

I have no idea what they are doing with instrument displays but I suspect the trend is the same. It should be clear that the constant line of "almost" ready products is the result of this same methodology, with over taxed software teams struggling to get the user interfaces up to speed. Purchasers of Garmin stuff should be ready for a constant range of teething problems and the need for possible software upgrades etc etc.

Garmin is infamous in the Aviation world for promising WAAS certed capability only to require hardware recalls to make the upgrade possible. Then the entire production line of a new aircraft manufacturer had to be stopped when Garmin could not supply the nav and flight displays promised to them due to internal faults. The list goes on and on. They are remarkable but for some reason the market gives them slack for forcing customers to accept developmental problems as they strive to stay with or ahead of the market or enter new markets. To me they are spread too thin and buyers should beware.

Posted by: DaveV at September 30, 2008 10:36 AM | Reply


I see some soft keys on that display. Did Garmin put them to good use in making the DSC features much easier to use so that you don't need a manual ? Is there still room for improvement ?

a) How likely is it that the average boat user could configure a phone book and use DSC to contact another boater from the phone book, without opening the manual ?

b)How likely is it that average boat users would find it troublefree to setup an MMSI group of boats they are traveling with on a short cruise ?

Although the display is unimpressive (did they even spend 25 cents ?) ... maybe the next big leap in VHF radios is a quantum improvement in the user interface ... and maybe there is something behind a softkey driven VHF user interface worthy of a mention in Sail magazine ?

Posted by: Dan (b393capt) at September 30, 2008 11:42 AM | Reply

I disagree with a lot of your suppositions, Dave. I think Garmin has an army of engineers, and that its marine radar, multi-purpose instruments, N2k sensors and radios were designed in house. And if they did procure the basic technology elsewhere, so what? I haven't seen the VHFs yet, but everything else works together very smoothly, as if it's all designed to a master plan. For instance, Garmin definitely bought marine autopilot technology, but it redesigned the TR-1 dramatically. And it's sure not just a GPS company any more.

I do agree that Garmin often puts out products that aren't really done, but so does most everyone else.

Posted by: Ben at September 30, 2008 11:48 AM | Reply

Ben ... your not done evaluating yet, eh? I just re-read this and realized you don't have one in hand.

I still think the UI might be the first thing to look at when you get it, I feel of any functional area, that leave the biggest room for improvement over past products in this category.

Posted by: Dan (b393capt) at September 30, 2008 1:06 PM | Reply

Other than the N2K DSC interface, it's kinda "so what"?. Do their plotters recognize the DSC PGNs? Will they let you directly place a call to an AIS target?

This area is ripe for improvement, especially since an Icom rep recently told me not to expect any changes to the M604 for awhile.

Lots of opportunity out there for somebody.

Posted by: Russ at September 30, 2008 2:39 PM | Reply

I asked Jason Kennedy of Standard Horizon about AIS calls via NEMA just a few months ago.
I have a CPV350 which has a built in GPS/Chartplotter and VHF radio. They are working on it as we speak. That will be a great enhancement to an already great unit.

This Garmin unit looks nice... More manufacturers need to start using NEMA 2000 with VHF. NEMA 0183 is just a real pain in the butt to use.

Posted by: Boats at September 30, 2008 11:06 PM | Reply

For Dave V - I have to disagree sharply with your assessment of Garmin. Though I've just chosen all Furuno NN3D for nav (and Furuno AIS) on my new boat and all Icom for both VHF and HF/SSB comm - I have just updated the electronics in my airplane with all Garmin equipment.

Garmin, in its short history, has come to utterly dominate general aviation avionics - not thru hype and or by stealing or buying obsolete technology. True, they have bought technology from time to time - some of it (your radar example is correct) dated. But their dominance is a function of an extraordinary record of innovation in both technology and user interface.

Concerning WAAS certification for their GNS-series avionics, it did take much longer - years longer - than they'd planned. And because the certified unit did require lots of new processing and much enhanced graphics, they did charge for the upgrade of old GNS-430 and 530 units to WAAS certification (though I'm not aware they'd ever said they wouldn't charge; they'd just said that the units would be WAAS upgradable). In fact, I waited to do my upgrade until they'd completed the certification and I installed (among other things) their GNS-530W as primary nav and comm. Its extraordinary, as are their transponders, etc.

In short, in my opinion Garmin is a real innovator, both technically and in terms of UI. They do acquire technology but always then enhance and expand its capability until it becomes theirs. They constantly add functionality. They are product application leaders and effective marketers as well.

Their aviation comm equipment is highly regarded, highly reliable and robust. I'm confident their marine comm equipment will achieve similar stature. And it will become part of their growing, well-integrated suite of marine electronics and will push all their competitors to work hard and innovate or fall behind.


Posted by: Richard O at October 1, 2008 12:15 AM | Reply

It is nice to see that GARMIN has been testing their new radio in the Arctic. An LCD display that works well in the marine environment at 82-degrees North latitude should have no problem with cold weather boating in Michigan.


ASIDE: I would like to hear more about the LVR-880 problems in integrating with NMEA-2000 devices. Is there a thread on that?

Posted by: Jim Hebert at October 1, 2008 9:31 AM | Reply

Garmin does good work, but where are the wireless mics ala Uniden? We have a Uniden 625c and we use two of the WHAM wireless mics with it. I could substitute a wired mic for the helm, but we use the other one walking around the boat! I would love to see Garmin add a color screen as well as wireless mics... and throw in Class B AIS while they are at it too ;)

As a pilot I fly with a 530/430 combo with the WAAS upgrade, XM radio and NEXRAD weather... great stuff!

Posted by: Phil Koken at October 1, 2008 11:12 AM | Reply

For Richard and Ben-
There is no question about Garmin domination of the Gen aviation industry with GPS and GPS navigation systems. I am also impressed with their constant development of new products, whether completely internally developed or via upgrades to purchased technologies.

My sole point here is that due to Brand Name Cache they are given a free pass on being allowed to "trial" new products on Customers as a way to gain early entry to market. I don't appreciate this tactic as an owner of Garmin Marine products that have failed and behaved poorly.

I recently tested a Garmin Marine Radar against a new Radar technology that I am developing. The Garmin system showed only limited blobs and failed to detect several nearby major structures while the new radar system provided detailed mapping of the area. We have data for similar excellent performance by a Furuno Radar in the same area. What good does the Garmin Chartplotter(UI again) do for a limited capability radar system that was also purchased by Garmin?

No matter how neat and nifty the UI may be, if the RF technology that actually gets the work done is only average, Your fantastic UI cannot make up for limited voice intelligibility or receiver sensitivity or target detection reliability etc etc.

There are great market examples of companies that have developed BOTH excellent RF technology and UI capabilites, with Furuno being a great example. While Furuno has had problems producing products once demonstrated and promised (NN3D delays) they have provided real advances in underying RF performance with much improved UI as well.

Enough said - I don't want to prolong the discussion. I don't want to appear to be a Garmin hater. My points relate to being careful about ASSUMING overall RF operational quality due to a neat UI with LCD and buttons. I won't raise these points again.

Posted by: DaveV at October 1, 2008 2:15 PM | Reply

I have only had experience with Garmin products since May, but it has not been good. I bought a Legend Cx as a backup for a transatlantic crossing, and although the GPS functions worked, the mapping functions did not. I eventually got it fixed here in France, after 2 months of emails and telephone calls with Garmin US, but Garmin France replaced the unit with one that wiped out the US basemap system, which is one of the reasona I purchased it. Now, I have to wait till I get back to the US in January before I will receive a replacement that provides the functionality that I purchased.

I find that Garmin seems to be more interested in marketing than in providing customer service, so when I have to replace the electronics on my boat, I will probably stay with Raymarine (or whatever they become), rather than going to a Garmin system, no matter what sorts of functionality they promise. When it is this difficult to get good repair service for such a simple device in a foreign country, it makes me nervous about buying something critical for the boat.

Posted by: rxc at October 2, 2008 3:55 AM | Reply

If you get a chance to corner a few people at National Marine Electronics convention & show I would like to know:
1. Does N2K have PGNs for all AIS functions, and enough bandwidth to handle 100 targets while moving all the vessel's other data?
2. Will Garmin allow us to make a VHF call by selecting a target on the MFD?
3. will Airmar be selling N2k versions of their more popular 'ducers? Will they provide different frequencies to avoid cross talk among multiple depth transducers?
4. Will XM open markets in Central and South America, and will those reporting areas be available to US subscribers? How about Europe and mid Ocean areas?
5. Is phased array radar coming to the recreational market soon?

Posted by: Sandy at October 2, 2008 2:32 PM | Reply

The flat-plate antenna used on today's modern radars can be considered, in my opinion, as a "phased-array" antenna in the sense that the beam shaping is done by antenna electronic design rather than by a physical parabola with a feedhorn; of course, no beam scanning is provided by this rather basic level phasing. (Of course my opinion is prejudiced by a youthful experience in the USAF working on high power search and height finder parabolas, some first designed in the late-40's, so anything flat plate is phased-array to me.) But as to a phased-array setup that would replace the 360 degree mechanical drive motor? I can't imagine a phased array 360-deg scan radar coming to the low-cost marine market in the forseeable future. I would imagine the complexity of such a scanning system would drive the antenna and supporting circuitry cost way beyond affordability.

Once designed, though, I would think the production line cost per unit could be reduced compared to the mechanical alternative, and even more so for systems that are gyro-stabilized. Reliability would increase dramatically due to absence of mechanical parts and an overall low parts count.

Posted by: Larry Brandt at October 3, 2008 10:35 PM | Reply

Larry Brandt has it right WRT Phased Array antennas. Creating a system to compete with a mechanically scanned slotted waveguide antenna (open array) or microstrip patch array (18 - 24inch radomes) is exceptionally costly. We have been trying to move Electronically steered phased arrays into commercial aircraft weather radars for years. Its likely that electronic scanning will be limited to elevation scanning and all az scanning will be done in mechanically for cost and technical reasons. Marine radars don't need vertical scan - so mechanical they shall remain.

Posted by: DaveV at October 7, 2008 3:49 PM | Reply

DaveV; I think your criticism of Garmin is misinformed and self-promoting. Granted I am biased towards Garmin, perhaps evangelistic. I have owned 14 Garmin GPS's running the gamut from the 45 to the 4208, from the foretrex to the 3010. I have never had a bad experience with a Garmin product except for a single card reader, which may be one of the very few products not manufactured by Garmin themselves. As I do every year at this time, I spent a good while at the Garmin exhibit at the boat show, had every question answered honestly, courteously, and knowlegeably, by people who obviously cared about customer support. Unfortunately, I experienced one of those events at public places that challenge every one of those virtues. A fellow member of the American Public chose to make a scene, ranting about some obscure, one of a kind problem, and wouldn't even listen to the careful answers he was getting. I was embarrased, and angered by his abuse of the courtesy he was receiving. I wish I had the name of the gentleman he was attacking because I would like to tell Garmin management how impressed I was with his patience and restraint in dealing with a clearly unreasonable and belligerant antagonist. I don't know for sure, but I got the impression that Mr. Wrath-of-God was an NMEA-affiliated installer, who gets up in the morning mad at a manufacturer who by-passes the sanctity of a professional installation, and talks directly to common customers.

I write this because so many complaints I hear about Garmin are founded less in fact and more in the David vs. Goliath confrontational mode. Its wrong. Yes, Garmin's on top. No, they didn't cheat to get there. They did it with good engineering, good marketing, and good aftermarket support. And good, courteous people who don't demean the competition.

Posted by: Sandy at October 12, 2008 11:57 AM | Reply

I apologize if my comments even remotely resemble those of your example "Mr Wrath of God". I would agree completely with your perspective on the example situation you gave.

My intention was not to demean the competition or be self serving (though I sure those conclusions can be drawn) - my low level rant if you will - was to simply reign in automatic approval and sanctification of new products before that level of acceptance is justified. There is no doubt that Garmin will evolve the new VHF line with courteous support etc etc as you have mentioned.

But I'm concerend about jumping to conclusions about ANY product (not just Garmin) like "The Wizard" antenna that got IBEX awards before anyone has been provided with measured performance data by an accomplished lab that actually properly establishes real performance relative to the norm of dipole / monopole antennas for example. We have no quantitative or qualitative data on the new Marine VHF radio from Garmin - so it would be nice to have some to base our evaluation of that product.

So While I apologize for any appearance of being demeaning of a specific vendor - I ask your consideration for establishing a standard of approval at this very important website that can be trusted to provide the best possible accurate technical information based on actual accomplishments for ALL products.

Posted by: DaveV at October 14, 2008 1:42 PM | Reply

What a courteous reply, Dave! And I stand in complete agreement with you in regards to snake-oil salesmanship. But I can't see much chance of there being dramatic qualitative differences between VHF radios. They are really a commodity product now. Any surprises from Garmin in that arena will probably have to do with integration, and they needed to have these on the market for a while so they won't be scary new when the curtain rises on something else.

I mentioned the VHF-AIS-MFD Push-to-talk idea to one Rep and he actually wrote it down. Maybe he was just toying with my emotions!!?!

Posted by: Sandy at October 14, 2008 3:25 PM | Reply

I would like to clear up a couple of misconceptions I have read in the previous posts. In the interest of full disclosure, I am an employee of Garmin, and I have never posted in any blog, marine or otherwise.

First, to answer Dave that our radar is built by Koden, it is absolutley,positively not! We designed and built all of our radars from the ground up. Yes we did study and tear apart our competitions products, but we build it ourselves.

The same holds true for our VHF radios, we did not buy them from someone in China or elsewhere. Remember, we have been in the communications business for many years with aircraft. The reason we added these products is because that is what our customers asked for from us. They want us to have VHF, radar, multifunction instruments. Yes, we did buy TR-1, but have a newer better product using the best of the Gladiator delivering soon.

We have also embraced NMEA2000, and are using it along with our Garmin network to give the end user the most advanced products in the marine industry. We have some of the best and brightest engineers in the marine industry. We have never won an award from the NMEA, but we get our reward when we can count 20-30 of our competitor's engineers in our booth at the Lauderdale and Miami shows taking pictures and congratulating us on our products.

Thank you for letting me take up some of your time.


Posted by: Rick at October 14, 2008 5:59 PM | Reply

Rick- Thanks for the info. Wish you had weighed in sooner. So I stand corrected on the source of the designs for those products. My hats off to the rapid development of so many products.

Now that I have been so humbled (between sandy and yourself) I hope I'm still allowed an opinion. My simple opinion is that the Marine Radar needs some help.(I've tested it) Given its a totally "new from the ground up" system with no lineage that's probably understandable. By comparison one assumes your Marine VHF has an aviation heritage.

I just wish you hadn't mentioned studying and tearing apart competitor products.

Posted by: DaveV at October 15, 2008 5:19 PM | Reply

Dave, thanks for your reply, in fact it is common throughout the industry for one competitor to take another competitors product,tear it down,and see what makes it tick.

Posted by: rick at October 15, 2008 8:33 PM | Reply

I wouldn't want to buy something from a company that had not studied their competing products...

Posted by: Phil Koken at October 17, 2008 10:13 AM | Reply

The Garmin press release was ambiguous when it mentioned the microphone. Comparing the Garmin "What's in the Box" pages for the VHF100 and the VHF200, the the VHF200 comes with a "Hailer NMEA 0183 cable" (what's that?) and a "Removable Speaker Mic". But the in the photos both are shown with a mic, the same mic.

Posted by: norse at November 4, 2008 12:39 PM | Reply

I recently purchased a Garmin VHF 200 and after using it for a few weeks I have to say that I'm very happy with its performance, but I have one very big issue with this radio that for me is quite annoying.

The Garmin VHF radios will sound an alarm (loud beeping) if the GPS position becomes more than four hours old. The alarm CAN NOT be disabled. It will sound every four hours if the GPS antenna is not powered up. Normally this wouldn't be an issue as our GPS is turned on anytime we are underway. However when we are at anchor we leave our radio on 24 hours a day. We feel that for our remote area that it is the prudent thing to do. We have been sailing the Caribbean for six years and have been at anchor for a year and a half. That is a lot of nights with the vhf radio on.

It doesn't matter if one is at anchor for a weekend, weeks or months. One might want to keep their radio turned on but there wouldn't necessarily be a need to have the GPS turned on, in our case that would be a waste of precious amps. Since this alarm cannot be deactivated that leaves us two options, keep the radio off at night or continue to have the radio sound it's alarm message every four hours throughout the night, waking us up. Quite annoying.

I'm very surprised that Garmin would not consider that there are reasons to have a vhf radio turned on yet not have a GPS turned on and connected. And what about those that have small boats in small lakes or other places that may not have any need for a GPS? Their radio will just beep every four hours too.

Aside from this one annoyance the VHF radio performance is good and the soft keys a great feature. The mic is heavy and feels robust. But if you're one of the boaters that wants to keep his radio turned on at night and wants a good night's sleep, it might be worth while looking at other options.

(Numerous emails with Garmin's technical support have been confusing as they originally said this alarm could be disabled but when I asked them for instructions they finally stated that this alarm could not be disabled.)

Posted by: Damon at November 24, 2010 10:09 PM | Reply

That beeping after four hours without a position sounds like a DSC feature. Have you entered an MMSI and thereby turned on DSC? Do other DSC VHFs do that too?

I'm not surprised Garmin tech support was confused, since it's ambiguous in the manual. The manual says you can "select IGNORE to disregard the alarm and turn off the alarm beeping". That could be interpreted to mean no further alarms, or it could mean turn of this alarm but not the following ones.

For a cheap simple solution, just get an old Garmin handheld GPS and a power/data cable (NMEA 0183). The battery drain is negligible.

Posted by: norse in reply to Damon at November 26, 2010 1:07 AM | Reply

I have been using a pair of Garmin VHF200 radios one with the smart remote microphone for over a year. It integrated well with my NMEA2000 network, my non Garmin AIS transponder works well in the network. I have never had a single GPS alarm issue as posted above. I had a self AIS alarm on my plotters that was fixed with a Garmin software update available over the Internet If you have a laptop with an SD read/writer. I have found Garmin to be very responsive. A few weeks ago I replaced an old 3205 with a 740 and the 740 has the self AIS alarm back. I'm confident Garmin will fix this problem. For now I simply turn off the AIS alarm on the 740 on power up. I still have the alarm function working properly through my 6212 or 4210 so this isn't a big deal to me right now.
Bill Lentz

Posted by: Bill Lentz at November 26, 2010 9:18 AM | Reply

The VHF200 I've been testing on Gizmo alarms every time I turn it on if I have not also powered up the NMEA 2000 backbone (with GPS), or if I shut down the backbone but leave the radio on. I don't consider it especially obnoxious because it shuts itself off even if I don't push the "ignore" soft key. But then again I don't leave the radio on overnight so I didn't realize it might wake me up every four hours. I think that other DSC VHF radios may behave like this, but I also think that many manufacturers, and especially Garmin, are guilty of over alarming. In fact, I'll add a comment now about what I found when I recently created a Garmin MFD network.

Posted by: Ben at November 26, 2010 10:44 AM | Reply

We have entered our MMSI number and we have the VHF 200 connected to our Simrad's Simnet (N2K) backbone. When we have the backbone turned on (including GPS antenna) we get no further alarms of either old positoin (after four hours) or missing data. The ignore button works well (or after a series of beeping it will without pressing ignore it will automatically silence the alarm). But even after pressing ignore the radio will again do it's beeping routing again and every four hours until it receives a position. Sitting at anchor there really is no reason to have the backbone turned on, it would just be a waste of battery amps. I would suspect a software update could include an option to turn off the alarm if the user wanted to. My beef is that its annoying to listen to it beep at night, especially to be woken up by it.

I have nothing against over-alarming if the manufacturer would allow the option to turn disable it. Adding an inexpensive gps to leave on all the time would work but shouldn't have to be considered a necessity for a good nights sleep by some users.

That one issue aside I like the Garmin VHF 200, very easy to use and it out performs my previously installed Northstar VHF 721 both in transmit and reception. The remote mic for the VHF 200 is also impressive in its ease of use and the rotary control knob is a big plus. I was quite surprised how heavy the remote mic was too, feels very robust.

Posted by: Damon at November 27, 2010 2:51 PM | Reply

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