Vesper unveils Cortex – combination AIS, VHF radio and boat monitor

Vesper has cemented a reputation for high performance, well-thought-out, feature-rich products. So, when they tease that “The future is coming” as they have in their recent promotional material it’s worth paying attention. It turns out Vesper’s take on the future is about continuing their track record of innovative features while expanding their capabilities to VHF radios and boat monitoring.

Today at the National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA) expo and conference in Norfolk, VA, Vesper announced Cortex, VHF, AIS, and Monitor. Cortex is a modular system with a base unit, handsets, and mobile app. Cortex systems can start with just an M1 base unit which provides AIS and monitoring capabilities. Adding an H1 or H1p handset enables VHF audio functionality.

VHF

Vesper describes Cortex as “VHF Re-imagined” and goes on to say that Cortex’s VHF functionality was developed with a “focus on what people use and need most.” A few minutes with the handset in your hand shows what they mean. The functions you might want to access are almost always right on screen. On the AIS target information screen, there’s a button right on screen to call them. This makes a big difference when compared to the sheer number of button presses required for many features on a typical VHF radio. I’ve tried to use DSC station-to-station calling on several radios only to become frustrated by the number of button presses required.

To enable VHF audio functionality at least one H1 or H1p handset must be connected to the M1 base unit. Vesper explained that there are quite a few regulatory requirements for VHF handsets that preclude them from using a mobile device with the Cortex app as a VHF handset.

Most radios on the market today use a two channel VHF radio with one channel dedicated to DSC and the second for all audio. So, if you have a priority watch set to monitor channel 16 but are listening to channel 22a the radio will momentarily tune to channel 16, check for a signal strong enough to break squelch and then change back to 22a. This can be heard in the form of a momentary break in audio on 22a while the check of 16 is performed.

Vesper is using an 8 channel radio in Cortex affording them a lot of flexibility and capabilities. At launch Vesper is using two channels for VHF audio, one for DSC, and two for AIS. This leaves 3 channels available for future functionality. But each channel is dedicated to only one function, so no matter which functions are enabled there’s no pausing, etc.



Currently dual watch — monitoring 16 and one other channel — is the only priority watch feature supported. Vesper says they plan to implement additional scanning modes in the future and will use another of the 8 available channels for scanning.

AIS

Cortex features an AIS B/SO transponder and retains all of Vesper’s excellent collision avoidance, anchor watch, and man-overboard safety features. The use of a B/SO transponder means more frequent updates for higher speed vessels and pushier behavior by the radio to ensure transmissions make it out in congested traffic areas.

AIS targets can be displayed in a birds-eye view, plotter view or text list. Individual target details can be viewed by clicking a target in any of the views. Plus, as you would expect, all data is output over the M1’s NMEA 2000 connections so you can use your existing MFD or apps to display full AIS information.

The combination of AIS and VHF functionality means that tasks like initiating a station-to-station DSC call to a vessel visible on AIS becomes as simple as clicking on an AIS target — perhaps one highlighted in red by Vesper’s strong collision avoidance UI — and then initiating a call via the “Call Target” button displayed on screen in the app or on an H1 handset.

Monitoring

Vesper has a strong track record of using the data their products collect to deliver very useful features. The poster-child for this has been their anchor alarm which makes use of the high-accuracy, rapid-update GPS receiver built into all AIS units. Previously Vesper products made this alarm via an external alarm attached to the AIS unit or via Vesper’s mobile app. But, the anchor alarm was only available while on the boat. Cortex includes a cellular radio making the anchor alarm available anywhere there’s cellular coverage.

But, they haven’t stopped with off boat anchor alarm functionality. They’ve implemented a boat monitoring and control system. The system can monitor anchor watch, GPS position, battery level, bilge level, temperature, shore power, security sensors, bilge pumps, heading, wind, depth, barometric pressure, and control lights and refrigeration — or anything else that can be controlled via a relay. Monitoring is accomplished by a mix of a five-channel, analog I/O port on the Cortex base and Cortex’s NMEA 2000 connection. The NMEA 2000 interface should make expanding the monitoring capabilities to other major systems like engines straightforward.

A twice-daily update of sensor status is included with all Cortex devices at no charge. Paid monitoring updates every five minutes, delivers real-time alarm notifications, and allows control of devices on-board. Paid monitoring is $10 per month when paid annually or $20 per month on a month to month basis.

Hardware

Cortex is made up of the M1 base, H1/H1P handsets, and/or the Cortex app running on your smartphone. Cortex’s VHF audio capabilities aren’t enabled unless an H1 or H1p is connected but all other functions work with just the base and a smartphone with the Cortex app.



Base unit

The M1 base unit is the core of a Cortex system. The strikingly compact — especially given all that’s packed inside –, IPx7 water-resistant box houses a dizzying number of modules built-in. The M1 has a WiFi and cellular radio, 8-channel VHF radio (for AIS, VHF and DSC), NMEA 2000 connection, GPS input, analog IO port (five channels used for monitoring), and heading, barometer and battery voltage sensors. Plus, the M1 has a no-loss VHF antenna splitter to allow sharing the VHF antenna with another radio allowing a single antenna to serve a total of two VHF radios and AIS.

Handset

To enable VHF audio at least one H1 or H1P (The P version is the portable version with a rechargeable battery) must be present in the system. Up to 10 total handsets can be connected to an M1 base. All handsets, with or without a power cord, communicate with the M1 via 2.4ghz WiFi. I had reservations about the use of 2.4ghz WiFi when I installed the Ray 90 VHF but haven’t had any troubles using them onboard.

The handsets feature an optically bonded full touch screen covered with Gorilla glass that Vesper says will work with gloved and wet hands. It’s clear and bright with excellent off-angle viewing. The handset snaps into a cradle that both holds it securely and charges the non-corded versions. The battery should last more than twelve hours. In addition to the touchscreen, there are six, back-lit, buttons on the face of the handset that surround a rotating wheel with a select / enter button in the middle. Volume and power buttons are on the right side of the handset, the transmit button is on the left, and the protected DSC distress button is on the back.

Upgradability

Vesper emphasizes the upgradability of Cortex through software. At launch there are some advanced features not yet available. These include scanning, recording or buffering of audio, weather alerts, hailing / fog-signals and intercom between handsets. Though they weren’t specific about timing, Vesper did say that they’re working on quite a few additional features to be released after launch. If their AIS units are any guide it’s likely they’ll cover any missing features and give us some features we didn’t know we were missing.

Alerting

Alerting has long been a Vesper strength with the ability to notify you of anchor drag, dangerous targets, and MOB alerts received via the WatchMate App, a connected alarm and on screen for the Vision line. But, now, thanks to the monitoring capabilities of Cortex, the number of alerts has expanded and importantly the way they’re delivered has gotten clearer. Alerts are now spoken through the 85db speaker built into each H1, and displayed on screen, plus, if you’re on the boat — or off the boat and have a paid subscription — alerts can be delivered to your phone as well.

Hands-on

I’ve had the opportunity to try out Cortex demo systems a couple of times recently and I think Vesper is on to something. They’ve done a really nice job understanding how a boater will use the device and making Cortex simple and intuitive. The handset feels good in the hand, is well balanced and seems easy to use with one hand. I haven’t had a chance to test a working system installed on a boat, but I’m looking forward to that opportunity.

A couple of the missing features are important to me. I certainly want hailing, weather alerts and scanning capabilities. But, because of the built-in splitter, Cortex can be installed alongside an existing radio that can help bridge any missing functions while they’re being implemented.

Pricing

Pricing for Cortex depends on the configuration you want. A bundle of one handset and the base unit giving you AIS, monitoring and VHF functionality is $1,800. Just the base unit will be priced at $1,300 which will provide AIS and monitoring. Additional handsets will b $600 and can be added to the M1 base at any time to enable VHF.



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Ben Stein

Ben Stein

Publisher of Panbo.com, passionate marine electronics enthusiast, completed the Great Loop in 2017.

61 Responses

  1. Tom Irwin says:

    The vesper XB 8000 uses its wifi to transmit its ais info to tablets etc , I can’t see that the Cortex does this except through nmea2000 .

  2. Looks powerful, Ben S! I’m wondering if they are suggesting antennas to accompany those WiFi, Cell and GPS inputs? (VHF we know about :))

    • Ben Stein Ben Stein says:

      Hartley,

      Sorry for the delay is responding. I checked with Vesper and the answer is that the GPS antenna is required (with the usual requirements for a clear view of the sky, etc) while the WiFi and Cellular are optional. There are built in WiFi and cellular antennas so these ports are only if your installation requires it due to placement, vessel construction, etc.

  3. AM says:

    Am I an idiot? It looks like you have to use a combo AIS/VHF antenna? Or can it take separate antennas? And if it has to use a combo antenna, what are your thoughts on this with a Sodtma setup? Worse or better than using the same setup (i.e. a splitter) on an “old-school” AIS?
    Not that it is a deal breaker, it certainly isn’t, but I’m keen to know.

    • Ben Stein Ben Stein says:

      I definitely don’t think you’re an idiot and I think you raise an interesting question. I’ve had the antenna manufacturers stress the improved performance from an antenna tuned for AIS’ frequencies versus a standard VHF antenna. I don’t see a way to connect dedicated antennas. I’ll ask the Vesper guys and see if they have wisdom to share. Thus far it seems like they’ve thought through most of these questions but let’s see.

  4. AM says:

    Thanks, Ben!
    I thought it was just me missing something because I too have read all the manufacturer’s arguments about why you should use a dedicated antenna, so I thought I was just missing something here.
    It would be great if they can give a satisfactory answer to this. Hopefully something that will convince someone as knowledgeable as you.

    • Ben Stein Ben Stein says:

      I had the opportunity to ask Vesper’s CTO, Carl Omundsen, about antenna choices. He confirmed that you’re thinking of it correctly,

      Vesper made a decision that the approach their using serves the broadest population of users well. They point out that a single well placed antenna with good cable and connectors in good shape is better than multiple antennas (even if those antennas are perfectly tuned for their frequency range) where positioning is compromised to find room for multiple antennas (something I’m guilty of myself on Have Another Day).

      The trouble they describe is the frequency with which an AIS antenna is installed later on a boat and as a result clamped on a stern rail or somewhere similar. The gains from the narrowly tuned antenna are more than lost by the lower placement with multiple objects in the way.

      I think it’s also important to remember that there isn’t a splitter in use for the single antenna to serve both AIS and voice VHF. The 8-channel radio has a single antenna connection so there’s no splitter or cabling loss.

      Vesper does sell a mid-point tuned antenna (https://www2.vespermarine.com/shared-ais-antenna) that strikes a compromise between the frequency ranges.

      • AM says:

        Wow, that was quick!

        Okay, but on my boat with no mast to fit an antenna up high (not a sailboat) as opposed to their scenario (the dual antenna would be on the coach roof regardless), it still seems the only advantage is when comparing the setup to one where the VHF antenna is placed up high and the AIS on a pulpit.

        I guess I’m not satisfied with that reasoning from them. Even on a pulpit the better antenna should be better, and if up the mast, the dedicated antenna should also be better. Only in the special circumstances they lay out where the only option is having the AIS on the pulpit as opposed to a combined antenna will the combined antenna be better, if you see what I mean. If there were two connections, at least one had the option to choose between scenarios depending on actual circumstances. Yeah, the box would probably need to be (slightly) bigger, but it’s a black box.

        They basically aimed this at sailboaters who will only have AIS on their pulpit if they couldn’t combine things. It’s an expensive product, so I think they calculated wrongly on that design decision.
        I take it they will now stop selling dedicated AIS antennas for the rest of their product line-up as well, ha, ha.

        Honestly, I’m a bit disappointed with this and his reasoning.

        • Ben Stein Ben Stein says:

          I understand the desire to get the best possible performance but I don’t see Vesper’s decisions the same way.

          There’s a couple of reasons for this and ultimately I think it’s very possible you will see it differently and I fully respect that. We all have to evaluate the products for how we’re going to use them and decide what’s best for our use on our boat.

          First, I probably should have mentioned some of the other cases where antenna location can hurt. On my own boat I have several antennas close together, likely too close and I suspect this might hurt VHF performance. My own suspicion (which I’m planning to test) is that mulitple antennas too close together is hurting performance far more than an antenna tuned for wider frequencies. I don’t think this is a sailboat specific design or consideration. It’s a reality of the pain and/or expense of running additional coax cables and then properly terminating them.

          Antennas are regularly used to cover very wide frequency ranges — think about the antenna on your cell phone which is coverage several hundred megahertz — and in fact the range of VHF voice (156-158) and AIS (162) are very close.

          I think Vesper is taking the correct gamble that a much greater percentage of people will appreciate the lack of need for a splitter (and the multiple connections it brings) or new antenna than will be turned off by the inability to use two separately tuned antennas.

          Lastly, given the radio design I’m not sure multiple antennas could be easily achieved. This is an artifact of how Vesper chose to implement their radio, but it’s those same choices that have given them a lot of flexibility to implement what I strongly suspect will be some exciting features.

          • AM says:

            It’s not so much that I object to. It’s the performance of the VHF while using AIS and especially the performance of the AIS while using the VHF to transmit.
            That said, I’m not sure it’s a dealbreaker for me, but I was hoping one could have set this up for an “ultimate” setup. I have three things “up top”: An active radar transponder (Echomax XS) an AIS antenna in one corner, and a VHF in the other corner.

            I may very well still get this setup – as I really like the entire system, including the VHF. Without the VHF handset, it will just be a black box Sotdma – although a good one considering it is from Vesper.

          • Jeff Robbins says:

            Something to note when discussing the single antenna… Cortex continues to transmit AIS even while you are talking on the VHF. It “interrupts” the VHF transmission with the regularly scheduled AIS transmissions (~27ms so not noticeable)

  5. Robert Brown says:

    I may have missed something here. am i correct that this is set up to use a single dual AIS/VHF antenna, and is not set up to use 2 seperate dedicated antennas (one for AIS, and 1 for VHF)? and 2. am i correct that the second VHF port is a loss less splitter to use the same combo antennae?

    IF so than what is the point of the lossless splitter if your pushing everything throu one combo antenna?

    yes it is tru you should have a dedicated antennae for the seperate funcions, but that doesnt nessesarily physically translate well on many boats. Specifically on a sailboat without an arch or bimini to put a dedicated ais antenae such as mine. When i pulled my mast a couple months ago i added an additional coax cable to the upper spreader to install a seperate AIS antenna, however in this position the mast shields or disrupts signal in its shadow. so far all of this has been choosing the best comprimise, as a arch mounted antennae doesnt have the range a top of the mast antenna does. So I am all in favor of this setup, and more so since it does not seem to cause performance loss in this equipment. the second port with low loss splitter is intreguing (why is it there?) as it sounds like i could hook up a 2M ham radio to this for a three way Antennae. what is the max wattage to push through this unit? I will only be using the 2M while anchored/moored ect but if this is correct it could easily clean up my cable runs and simplify my antenna arangment

    a combo AIS/VHS where you just push a button to call an AIS contact is the feature i have been looking for. this ease of use feature will keep the every day boater using thier VHF on a regular and that only benifits us all. this is one of those game changers that changes industries.

    V/R

    Robert

  6. I have mixed feelings about this product.

    On one hand, I’m glad to see Vesper finally releasing a SOTDMA Class B AIS transponder, although it took some time. I love the fact that they are releasing something that takes what were separate systems in the boat monitoring, VHF, AIS, and splitter world, and trying to make a game changing solution. I think software-izing VHF in particular, and giving us an alternative to the big three, which really haven’t had any innovation in years, is an amenable goal.

    However, their track record in the last few years is one of market leader, which often times causes other issues — not being terribly nice to their customers, nor admitting or fixing some of the bugs that people have had to deal with on the XB-8000. I hope that was because they were all diligently working on this product, and that we will see that aspect of things change.

    I am ALWAYS in favor of new ideas, and new innovations, and this one definitely could stand on that ALONE with the VHF piece – having multiple radios in a single black box with a software defined radio interface is game changing in and of itself. I can’t wait to see what they do with that part of the product in particular. Throw in one of the best AIS transponders, upgrade it to Class B SOTDMA, and then put a splitter and other features in it, and you have a solution that should be the industry standard for all future radios/AIS transponders.

    I have a penchant myself for boat monitoring, and have talked, written, and installed so many I can’t even count any more. Having that as well in this makes me giddy, and it is a very logical place to put it and allow you to control and interact with it from. Adding the remote monitoring is the cherry on top. Unfortunately remote boat monitoring is still a nascent technology area, and all of the big players have varying pros/cons and options that don’t make it easy for a single choice to rise to the top of the crop. Perhaps having it part of your AIS/VHF solution will help propel that.

    I think if Vesper are able to deliver this in a timely fashion and are prepared to rapidly iterate during implementation and software bugs, they will have a whole new market and a fantastic product that will set the standard for interoperability of these once disparate products.

    • Ben Stein Ben Stein says:

      Steve,

      I’m curious to hear more about the mixed emotions you have. I’m not aware — which certainly doesn’t mean they don’t exist — of any unresolved bugs within the XB-8000. Can you tell me more?

      I certainly agree that a software-defined radio implementation is pretty exciting given the stagnation we’ve seen in the category for a long time. I’m excited about what Vesper is going to do in this area and I think Vesper’s talents and track record make them a good fit for maximizing the potential of the category.

      It’s funny, I’m possibly least excited about monitoring, at least as it’s implemented now. It has the same capabilities of several other products but doesn’t push the envelope as much here as I think they have or can in the other two categories. I hope they will in the future and also have to admit that just getting their anchor alarm off the boat is a big win for all of us.

      Based on my conversations with them I believe it’s likely they will iterate but also think you’re right that the speed with which they deliver on potential is going to be critical.

      Ben

      • Ben,
        There were a few bugs in 2015-2016 with the XB-8000 around stability. Most of those were addressed in 2016, but there was one that Vesper blamed on improperly setup NMEA 2000 networks for over a year. In 2017 both Ben S and I contacted Vesper with the same symptoms – the unit disappearing off of NMEA 2000 networks, which meant that chart plotters and other devices suddenly lost all AIS targets, if this was the single source of AIS. It also meant you couldn’t interact with the unit until it was power cycled.

        This particular bug lingered for a long time. I knew of at least 10 people locally having the same problem. Eventually in late 2017 Vesper released a fix, and it worked better, but I removed my XB-8000 and switched to another product as it still locked up. I was talking with three boaters today who still have to restart their XB-8000 more frequently than anything else because of this.

        Being in the software world myself, I know it takes a long time to fix those last 10% of bugs, but the way this was handled was “blame the user” for at least a year, and really was disappointing to see from such a wonderful company with a great product.

        With the Cortex being several orders of magnitude more software-complex, that is where my mixed feelings come from. I am hoping that the experiences I had were related to the heads down work to deliver this new product.

        • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

          Steve, I recollect that bug quite differently and an email search seems to confirm my recollection. The XB8000 was not disappearing off my boat’s N2K network, and I don’t see you mentioning that behavior either in our joint emails with Carl.

          What we were reporting was that when the XB had been running for quite a while, it often did not automatically join the boat’s N2K network when it was powered up. The fix was power cycling the XB after powering the N2K network, or just before. It was an annoying bug, but not nearly as bad as having the transponder drop off the network at random times. I would call that a critical bug and I would have hollered about it.

          Actually we did all discuss this startup bug on Panbo (because I mentioned it in an otherwise unrelated entry):

          https://www.panbo.com/lessons-learned-by-causing-a-false-ais-mob-alert/#comment-24381

          • Jeff Robbins says:

            Steve,

            I also reviewed this situation and found the same issue Ben referred to. It took some time for us to reproduce it and get to the bottom of what was happening and it wasn’t dropping off the bus. Rather, in certain circumstances it wouldn’t rejoin the network when bus power was cycled while the XB-8000 was left on. It was continuing to operate normally otherwise. The workaround was to cycle power on the XB-8000.

            This was fixed in an over-the-air update a few years ago. We’re not aware of any other current known N2K issues so if anyone knows of an existing problem or has difficulty, please contact our support team.

          • Hi folks,
            My mistake – the 2016-2017 N2K bus issue was what Ben and I were communicating with Vesper on originally. A firmware update around the end of 2017 did correct this.

  7. william says:

    I too had the opportunity to see this radio at the NMEA conference and it is very impressive. I’m very excited by the opportunities presented by the radio.
    As far as not having a dedicated AIS antenna, people make too much about loosing range. Yes, a dedicated antenna tuned to the correct frequency, and not sharing a job will work better. But how much better?? The masthead antenna on my sailboat going to an Icom M506 AIS receiver picks up targets to 40+nm all day, on a regular (non ais) antenna. That’s absurd! Height wins. It is cool to receive that far, and would be cool to transmit that far, but its not at all needed, even on a fast boat. Also in busy areas it just clogs up time slots for boats that don’t need to see you or be seen.

    The Cortex has an input with a spliter to allow it to be used as a black box AIS with existing VHF without adding antennas.

    The NMEA 0400 standard on VHF antennas is that they should be no closer than 4ft. to each other. Also, you shouldn’t mount a VHF antenna within 2ft. of any other obstructing object.

    Now, the real question is can it get FCC certified. They seemed very confident, but we’ve seen that before, and that design had multiple antenna ports. I hope this radio does make it to market.

  8. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    I agree that Cortex is cool! And so did the NMEA judges who gave it the first-ever Best New Product Award despite some serious competition (that Ben S and I also got to see up close and will be reporting on soon).

    Meanwhile, Raymarine ClearCruise Augmented Reality — which has evolved a lot since it was first introduced last fall — received the NMEA Technology Award. Explanation of the awards here:

    https://www.expo.nmea.org/content/awards/awards

  9. AM says:

    (I couldn’t reply under the original post):

    “Jeff Robbins September 21, 2019 at 7:37 am
    Something to note when discussing the single antenna… Cortex continues to transmit AIS even while you are talking on the VHF. It “interrupts” the VHF transmission with the regularly scheduled AIS transmissions (~27ms so not noticeable)”

    Ah, that is good. Isn’t this kind of making the case that they were full of it when they said you should get dedicated antennas due to those “interruptions” – for years and years on end?

    Anyway, it’s great to know. It means I don’t have to worry as much as I thought.

    • The documentation for the SP160 splitter seems to indicate that VHF radio transmissions have priority ? No mention of the AIS interrupting. Unless perhaps the AIS and VHF connections could be reversed so that the AIS would have priority?
      A few other questions I have regarding the RX: Will the Coretex unit continue to receive while there is a VHF transmission in progress ? How about the SP160 ? And what about the case of separate antennas ? Are they still able to receive with a full power VHF transmission nearby ?

      • AM says:

        Ah!

        Damn it!. So much for that. I hope they will track this down and ask for documentation of these things, or run some tests when it is available for purchase.

      • Ben Stein Ben Stein says:

        I don’t think the functionality of the SP160 is indicative of much about how Cortex works. Cortex is using a single 8-channel VHF radio. The SP160 allows to totally separate radios to share a single antenna. The use case is different and the level of control is very different. Vesper can much more tightly control the behavior of the multiple channels of a single radio versus externally making the antenna available to one radio or the other.

        It’s also worth noting that Jeff Robbins is the founder of Vesper. I have a high degree of confidence in the information he’s giving us.

        • AM says:

          Oh, he is?

          I never knew this. Okay, that changes things. If he says it only interrupts (27ms) to send/receive the AIS data, I believe it.

          • I think it unlikely that it will RECEIVE any AIS activity while being used as a voice transmitter, since it would have to interrupt the transmission for a LOT longer than 27ms to do so. Simultaneous reception and transmission is unlikely in the extreme for these frequencies, especially for the size of the unit.
            That it interrupts the ongoing voice transmission to SEND the AIS beacon is a very good thing, however, as it means others will continue to see you.

  10. AM says:

    Okay, that’s a lot of up and down for me, and all because of a design decision to go with a combination antenna on this new unit. I ndidn’t think of reception while transmitting, but now that you mention it, it is obvious it will have to listen for much longer for AIS broadcasts from other boats.

    So, if I want the Cortex VHF unit integrated with AIS and have separate antennas that can receive and send while transmitting and have them share info on the VHF/AIS display, I would have to somehow get a second black box AIS (Cortex or another) in order for this to be the ultimate setup where sending and receiving AIS won’t interfere with the VHF and vice versa.

    • Unless you have a very large vessel, or incorporate some significant filtering, I think it’s unlikely you could get an AIS receiver to hear much of anything on 160 MHz while you are transmitting with 25 watts (or even 1 watt) on 156/157 MHz on an antenna on the same vessel. The effect is called “desense” – the very strong signal on a relatively nearby channel (3-4 MHz counts as “nearby” for VHF) will cause the AIS receiver to become quite “deaf” while the transmission is taking place.
      The isolation between masthead and aft rail might be enough (on a sailboat) but on a powerboat it would be difficult at best. Yes, a filter could be built to accomplish it, but it wouldn’t fit in the case size shown for the Cortex.

      As an experiment, try listening to a distant (noisy) NOAA WX channel then key up your VHF (main or handheld) on an unused channel to see what happens. NOAA WX is on 162 MHz, so a couple of MHz further separated than AIS.

      The AIS transmitter won’t bother the VHF reception as it is on the air for only that 27ms – you might hear a “tick”, but that’s all.

      • Robert Brown says:

        i think the advantage of a SDR radio is that this isnt nessesarily an issue. the SDR reciever digitizes the signals and manipulates them, sending the correct signal spike data stream to the correct reciever in the 8 channel reciever. so it can theoretically recieve everything without any real issues. i guess like other radios you can have bleed over from a loud and close signal.

  11. William says:

    If the hardware is properly built then there will be no problem with transmitting and receiving simultaneously with one antenna. I’m not an expert in the design of SDRs or antenna duplexers, so I can’t speak to the size requirements of such design. I can tell you that it is absolutely possible to use one antenna. This is exactly how thousands of ham radio repeaters work all over this country. They are separated by about 3-4 mhz. They receive a signal and simultaneously transmit it back out on different frequency on same antenna, and with much more power than 25 watts.

    All this talk is just speculation until Vesper gives us details of the internals.

    • William, of course – but the duplexers used to make this work are VERY much larger than the package size we see for Cortex. Amateur VHF repeaters use a 600 kHz “split” – the smallest one I’ve ever seen was about 18″ wide, 4″ thick and 20″ deep (not counting connectors). For the 4-5 MHz “split” between AIS and regular VHF channels, it might be possible to cram a duplexer into perhaps a .5 cubic foot box, though it would be fairly lossy. The big problem with trying to duplex the regular VHF channels and AIS is that the regular channels span from 156.05 up to 157.475, while the two AIS channels are 25 kHz above & below 162 MHz. This means that the AIS receive path through the duplexer has to reject an almost 1.5 MHz range – a difficult thing to do without incurring losses on frequencies only 4.5 MHz away. Yes, a high-pass filter would do it, but it would need to be fairly high Q to pull it off. It would be less lossy if you used a pass filter element, but this raises the required volume up to a larger size.
      FWIW, I’ve built MANY amateur VHF and UHF repeaters 🙂

      73 DE Hartley W1OQ

  12. Tom says:

    Ben I enjoy your site greatly and was one of the first to comment about cortex but for some reason I am getting dozens of email notices of comments posted about Vesper Cortex and I can’t see how to stop them I probably checked or didn’t check something.

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      Tom, there should be two links at the bottom of each comment notification email that read “Manage your subscriptions” and “One click unsubscribe”. Either can unsubscribe you from notifications about this thread.

  13. Philip says:

    New question. The blurb describes the product as having an embedded ‘heading sensor’. Is this a magnetic type that works within a steel hull? If not can it be augmented with an external signal of some kind?

    On a separate note I entirely agree with Vesper’s logic around the single antennae. One well located antennae at masthead, even if de-tuned slightly to cover a broader bandwidth, is going to outperform two more tightly tuned antennae but with compromised locations everytime.

    I’m now planning on two identical Vesper VHF/AIS tuned antennae, one located at the masthead and the other on the bimini arch as a spare/backup. This gives maximum flexibility and the option to run two completely parallel systems if I want. Also in the event of a threatening lightening storm I can disconnect the masthead antennae and switch to the lower bimini mounted antennae if I need to keep the system running.

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      Philip, I recall Vesper explaining that the Cortex definitely prioritizes external heading sensor input on the presumption that it’s more accurate. Also, the internal heading, derived from a 9-axis sensor, is not output over NMEA 2000.

      What it’s there for is those times on a vessel when AIS is running but the rest of the navigation network is shut down, which is a lot of the time on my boat (and many others). Then the boat’s AIS target will be properly oriented even when it’s on a dock or anchor, and also the anchor watch will look and work better. (Because an AIS transponder already knows where its GPS antenna is relative to the bow, it can do precise anchor math if it also has heading.)

      I think the Cortex heading sensor is self-calibrating, but I don’t know if it can overcome metal hulls.

      • Philip says:

        Appreciate the reply. That makes sense and it certainly isn’t a showstopper from my perspective.

        It’s the SDR concept that really cranks my handle; that is the future of radio and it will interesting to see where Vesper take it in future revs.

  14. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Regarding dual or single antennas for combined AIS/VHF radios: I smile a bit knowing that when the Standard Horizon GX6500 was announced, the main reader complaint was the two antenna (or external splitter) install requirement…

    https://www.panbo.com/standard-horizon-gx6500-a-loaded-vhf-radio-also-integrated-with-class-b-ais/

    …but now that Vesper offers a single antenna solution, some of the first complaints are about not being able to use two antennas!

    And readers may be amused to see how I defended the GX6500 design, presuming that dual antennas were both better and required by regulation. As AM phrased it, I was apparently “full of it” 😉

    I still think that well-placed, including well-separated, dedicated AIS and VHF antennas with quality cabling are ideal. But also that a single antenna can work quite well. I also think that the distinction may be overblown because most of us don’t transmit on VHF very much, and much of that transmission happens close to marinas etc. when AIS is not as important.

    By the way, there is a two antenna combo AIS Class B/VHF available now, though it’s gotten very little attention (including Panbo’s):

    https://www.panbo.com/announcing-the-simrad-rs40-b-the-first-vhf-radio-with-ais-transmit-receive-capability/

  15. AM says:

    “And readers may be amused to see how I defended the GX6500 design, presuming that dual antennas were both better and required by regulation. As AM phrased it, I was apparently “full of it” ”
    I was talking about the manufacturers saying that you had to have two antennas to do it properly, and more than insinuating that using a combined antenna was sub-par.
    Now, it seems the reverse of that – at least from Vesper’s side.

    I don’t know if you’re a manufacturer (I don’t think you are). You’re just a very knowledgeable tech geek (I mean that in a good way).

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      AM, I’m Ben Ellison, long-time editor/publisher of this site (now Senior Editor), total boat nut, and while I know many of the manufacturers well, I speak for fellow marine electronics consumers. I really did mis-presume the regulatory requirements for combination VHF/AIS transponders, and I own it.

      https://www.panbo.com/about-panbo/#Ben_Ellison

      • AM says:

        Well, in my book, you’re forgiven. I don’t expect you to know the intricacies of the law with these things. To me, you’re a tech geek (again, meant as a positive), and this is the reason I come here. 🙂

  16. Dan Corcoran Dan Corcoran says:

    Does Vesper have any plans to have a non-touch microphone, more along the line of the ICOMS level of functionality? And, maybe wired for power?

  17. Ben Stein Ben Stein says:

    Dan, I did ask Vesper about just this. I spoke of the fact that a good hand-mic on a hanger can be used without ever taking your eyes off the water. Vesper indicated they’ve thought about it but don’t have any plans at this time. I got the feeling they’re waiting to hear some feedback from users.

  18. Dan Corcoran Dan Corcoran says:

    Being this is so feature-rich, a feature suggestion for Vesper, find a field you can use in the AIS protocol and stick in the current VHF channel the radio is tuned too. Then in reverse, when you show the symbol for an AIS boat make it a different color to reflect that the VHF channel that boat is monitoring is known. Be sure to only send the VHF channel if the user has the radio volume set high enough to be heard (e.g. 7 out of 30 or better for example)

    That would have two effects:
    * In the short term, anyone with your new product can see the other vessels that are likely to be able to accept a DSC call before we even try to make one. (right now, a user could make 100 attempts, and reach nobody). This will save frustration just trying to use the DSC feature from your color handset.
    * Perhaps if the feature becomes widely adopted (e.g. MFD manufacturers start sticking the VHF channel in the middle of the AIS icon) boats not equipped with your advanced DSC call capabilities can reach boats that are, benefiting your users (i) Others can spot who is listening to VHF and on what channel, simply change to that channel, and speak. For example while I am sailboat racing, I may be on 68, 69, or 72 while racing. In the short term a commercial vessel can click on my AIS symbol, look at the (what is the field with the user message anchored, etc.?) field then switch to 72 and ask if I noticed their freighter a mile away. In the long term, the freighter can just see the 72 in the AIS symbol and call me.

    • Dan, I suspect “find a field in the AIS protocol…” might be the hardest part. Has anyone heard of any extensions of the AIS protocol that could be licensed? I seem to recall a number of AIS radios having big problems becoming certified (and therefore acceptable to the FCC/USCG) because of some pretty esoteric differences with the standard 🙁
      Personally, I would rather see a greater acceptance/use of the DSC feature, which gets around the “what channel are they on?” problem entirely. Specifically, I would love to see a feature where clicking on a box in the “AIS info” for a vessel showing on my MFD screen initiates a DSC call to that vessel (I know some newer stuff has this).

    • Robert says:

      I am confused at why you wouldnt be monitoring or also monitoring channel 16 anyway. most recent VHF radios are pretty easy to set to watch 2 channels, and the newest ones montor 16 as a standard.
      secondly since this vesper radio allows you to click a button and make a DSC call, the DSC connection is on its own DSC channel not a monitored one.
      im not saying this isnt a bad idea, i actually think it would be good and can think of a couple reasons this would be usefull such as your example of a race where a DSC call isnt the best . parade boat route, fireworks barge picket boats, military and other group activities could also use that feature.

  19. Dan Corcoran Dan Corcoran says:

    Don’t be so quick to diss this idea I offered (stuff the VHF channel number in a field) is valuable and practical to do, and enhances the whole idea the Vesper is evolving DSC calls so that boat operators can succeed at point to point conversations.

    It enhances it two ways. (i) The Vesper Cortex owner recognizes which operators have an evolved VHF setup and can actually accept a DSC call (ii) that Cortex owners can more easily be raised by legacy VHF owners, as non Cortex owners can recognize what VHF channel the Cortex owners are listening on and broadcast a query.

    Let’s face it, initiating DSC calls from the existing generation of VHF radios is very rare, to the point of non existant at least with recreational users. For the sender, it is too frustrating to use their VHF radio to initiate a DSC call. Then the operator receiving the call is unlikely to have the knowledge and practice to respond when their VHF radio chirps an inbound call. Add to that many ICOM brand radios were shipped in the default configuration to discard DSC calls! It is because this default two geeks like BE and I could not make it work on our last rendezvous in Maine.

    Should Vespers product change the behavior of boat operators to send each other DSC messages, it will leave out everyone with the past generation of VHF products, who for the most part, have not even made the investment of configuring their DSC VHF radios with an MMSI number and an nmea-0183 connection to a GPS, to be capable of sending a Rescue 21 message either.

    • Dan, I’m not dissing on your idea as much as the infeasibility of it. If Vester found an AIS “frame” – say message 8 “Binary data for broadcast communication” or message 19 “Extended position report for Class B…” and dumped the “current VHF voice comm transceiver channel setting” into it, would the USCG consider it still AIS compliant? I don’t know (because I am not going to spend the loot to look at the entire standard!) – but i suspect they would be concerned. In addition, how would it handle the situation of a receiver in scan (“dual watch” or lotsa channels) like many of us do. (I usually monitor 13 & 16 in dual watch in busy commercial areas).
      For a commercial entity, would they be worried because their AIS told the world (USCG included) that they were not on 13 & 16 at some point?
      There are always ramifications – and when it’s to address something that already resulted in regulatory action (DSC) the enthusiasm of both industry and authority might be limited.
      FWIW, I agree with you that nobody is using DSC like it should be used – I’ve received maybe 7 or 8 DSC distress calls over the last 4 years afloat – almost all of them USCG screwing around (for lack of a better term) plus two “inadvertent” initiations. I’ve never received a DSC call, and the hassle factor involved with scribbling down my “buddy’s” MMSI, then entering it into my VHF to call them means I’ve never even considered initiating one. If that process was easier (like clicking on their AIS symbol on my screen) I probably would – and I see this as the future. Maybe my NEXT radio/MFD/AIS combo can accomplish this 🙂
      Or maybe the gods of spectrum efficiency will strike the VHF Marine band, and we’ll all have to chuck out our current gear and transition to some narrowband digital mode that will make all of this discussion superfluous . Hopefully we’ll all still be alive to witness it! I’m still waiting for my flying car…

      • Dan Corcoran Dan Corcoran says:

        I was thinking message 14 (Safety Related Message up to 156 characters), and make it 10 or less 6-bit characters so it is uses only 1 slot every 6 minutes. Some AIS units reportedly allow you to press a button and have a pre-programmed message go out, such as “anchored”, “disabled”, etc. Instead, it would be 69 (hmm, what else could that mean, LOL), for dual-band make it 69/16, or tri-band 69/09/16. Perhaps better would be VHF69, VHF6916, or VHF690916

        For a commercial entity, would they be worried because their AIS told the world (USCG included) that they were not on 13 & 16 at some point? Cool … the first concern/improvement on this idea I have heard in the 6 years since I posted on Panbo. I wrote about another AIS improvement in 2007, and it only took 7 years to make it to market. https://www.panbo.com/sorry-breeze-pleeze-a-yuletide-n2k-rant/

    • Robert says:

      This would be good for legacy applications, due to the ineffectivness of VHF radios when used for real world stuff. IE your contacted on 16, you switch channels as required. not all radios work well with this scenario. i have seen a few that drop both watch stations when you do this and you have to reset them afterwards. that means you are not watching 16 anymore for a little bit. if your watch channel is listed on your AIS info, someone could still get ahold of you.

  20. Dan Corcoran Dan Corcoran says:

    On a side note, I ALMOST received my first DSC call five weeks ago. Unfortunately, when the VHF radio chirped my crew was at the radio and didn’t look at the display to recognize someone was calling us. Instead they thought it was broke and wanted to “reboot it”. When putting my boat away for the night I saw in the ICOM display that someone had called. I wonder how many people that poor soul called before having a successful DSC call?

  21. Anonymous says:

    A new product with CONNECT-AIS function will be shown at METS 2019.

    em-trak B954 AIS Class B
    em-trak Marine Electronics Limited

    The world’s first & only high powered priority transmit AIS Class B with integrated VHF antenna multi-plexer & CONNECT-AIS technology with the lowest power consumption. The B954 is the pinnacle of AIS Class B performance, reliability, unmatched installation & connectivity flexibility providing unrivalled AIS data & complete freedom to use the data with any display or navigation APP

  22. Christopher says:

    Ben is my information, I don’t know I was not logged in when I sent this information.
    I read the information at:
    https://www.metstrade.com/innovation/new-products/

  23. Jeff Robbins Jeff Robbins says:

    Good ideas Dan. It would be ideal if it were in an existing standard message like 24 so MFD’s could do as you suggest. But it’s not presently. And we’ve been thinking about stuff sort-of like this too. I don’t think it would be appreciated to send periodic msg 14 broadcasts but we could do some private things to communicate between Vesper units to give you more info about other targets and perhaps some additional automation.

    • Dan Corcoran Dan Corcoran says:

      1) Yea, getting it into message 24 would be ideal. In the highly regulated telecom industry, we have gradually repurposed parts of fields in the original protocols to gain new feature functionality, the phase-in has taken years.

      Do we really need the six-character call sign for instance? How about sending the vendor ID serial number only once an hour or once a day instead of every 6 minutes?

      2) A Vesper-Vesper solution wouldn’t be enough. As the future potential owner of a Vesper solution, I would want a solution that reaches beyond the very few people with evolved/integrated AIS/VHF equipment.

      It would be great if the extremely few vendors in this field could get together and propose a repurpose the transmission and AIS display of targets so that:
      * Evolved/Integrated VHF/AIS systems could transmit the channels being listened too
      * Non-integrated VHF/AIS systems (Legacy) could recognize the repurposed field.
      * Owners of AIS displays (dedicated or inside MFD’s) of both Evolved and Legacy could see the AIS boat icon in such a way that the color or placing the VHF # inside the boat icon (or vhf # appearing after hovering cursor over the icon) ,could let the owner know that.
      (i) That the displayed boat on AIS is capable of receiving a 1-1 DSC call (Vesper – Vesper, or otherwise)
      (ii) That the displayed boat is more likely to receive a broadcast hail on the listed VHF #. (more likely = vhf tuned to channel and volume is well above zero or near zero)

      A Vesper-Vesper solution, such as using a different VHF channel to send an augmented position report, would fall so far short of what the industry could accomplish in the above, wouldn’t you agree?

  24. Joe Eckenrode says:

    Does this thing have Bluetooth and if it does will it integrate with the various MOB Bluetooth devices?

    • Ben Stein Ben Stein says:

      I asked this of Vesper and they don’t have any plans to implement support of Bluetooth MOB devices at this time. But, I believe there are Bluetooth radios in the device making that a possible enhancement if there’s demand.

  1. September 17, 2019

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