Em-Trak’s premium Nexus VHF AIS MOB system will compete with improved Garmin Cortex & Icom M510 EVO

Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now pleased to have Ben Stein as a very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Please don't regard him as an "expert"; he's getting quite old and thinks that "fadiddling fumble-putz" is a more accurate description.

13 Responses

  1. A few years ago I installed an emtrak ais transceiver and a float hub remote monitoring system on a boat I have now sold.

    But I could get neither of them to multiplex the way I thought they should. The ais unit had both 0183 and 2000 network connections and I thought I should be able to see 0183 data passed through to the 2000 mfd device. Sadly, that never happened.

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      Nick, Em-Trak / SRT did seem quite slow to adopt multiplexing despite the fact that it became a fairly popular feature of Vesper AIS about a decade ago. So I was glad to learn at METS that it will not only be included in Nexus but was added to all of Em-Trak’s B900 Series in a fairly recent firmware update, as detailed toward the end of the manual:


      There are few 0183 to 2000 conversions — mainly Heading and autopilot messages — but the 2000 to 0183 data that also goes out over WiFi (and Bluetooth) is pretty much all most nav apps can use besides the GNNS and AIS info that has always streamed. B900 Series owners can find update info here: https://support.em-trak.com/hc/en-us

  2. I would be more impressed if Em-Trak published actual RF specs for those radios. whiz-bang features are nice, but if you are in an area with lots of RF, you will appreciate NOT hearing all the intermod and assorted gronks and buzzing noises that poorly designed receivers pick up. I removed my SH GX1600 several years ago and replaced it with an Icom 506 for exactly that reason!

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      Well, Hartley, I’m hoping that SRT will post lots of Nexus detail when they’re ready, and note that while they have tons of AIS RF experience, Nexus will be their first audio VHF. Kind of like when Vesper developed Cortex. But I don’t think that SRT is messing with the SDR technology that took so long to optimize in Cortex.

      For instance, Nexus scanning will be quite conventional, as in: “tri-watch is supported (even more so, the third channel doesn’t have to be the 2nd priority channel / 9) and channels can be favorited for a custom scan list”. And the only Rx recording will be “a short (30 second) skip back feature in the app to Replay Last”.

  3. Jon says:

    The development of radio systems is fantastic. However, I would really like to see a system that puts the AIS first with a simple, dedicated moving map display like the discontinued Vesper Vision2 (and its anchor alarm), then packages all the other radio functionality around that display with fixed mics like the Icom HM-195/229 Command Mics, and options for additional phone handsets. Putting AIS data on a plotter or tablet is great and very useful, but a clean, quick glance display next to a radar is very useful, simplifies watchstanding and makes it easy to decide when to pick up the handset and make a call or understand immediately why you are being called. I would even be happy with a dedicated accessory display for these radio systems that provided the AIS display and visual anchor watch without becoming another plotter or MFD.

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      Thanks, Jon. In my experience, even the original Vesper Vision had a lot going for it… https://panbo.com/hands-on-vesper-vision-class-b-ais-superstar/ … but when I moved to testing the XB8000 and eventually Cortex, I was satisfied just to get Vesper’s outstanding target prioritization and alarming on an iPad running WatchMate and now Cortex Onboard near the helm. In fact, I think that even the relatively small color screen on the Cortex handset does AIS target tracking surprisingly well. But in all cases a simple Vision-like background map could sometimes add valuable context, especially if I didn’t have a chartplotter with cruder AIS plotting nearby.

      At any rate, I don’t know of any company working on the AIS-plotting-centric integrated VHF device you desire (but glad you spoke up here). On the other hand, I can picture how the next Cortex — the first under Garmin ownership — might put Cortex’s excellent AIS plotting on Garmin MFDs. Maybe they’ll even create a dedicated collision avoidance window in which good AIS target graphics are optionally underlaid with a simple base map and/or overlaid with radar. And Garmin has long had a simple way to place DSC calls to AIS targets if a Garmin VHF is on the same NMEA 2000 network: https://www8.garmin.com/manuals/webhelp/gpsmap7400-7600/EN-US/GUID-29FE4E9D-81AB-49E4-93B2-A9622AFED756.html

      Also, major MFD companies like Raymarine and Furuno have improved their AIS plotting in recent years, and may have AIS/VHF integrations in the works, or may be checking out what’s possible with OEM versions of Nexus.

      In other words, you might get the AIS plotting utility you’d like but not in the form you want.

  4. Great to see an uber VHF like the Cortex with a fixed mount display and fist mic. The Cortex handheld was a “nice to have” for niche situations but was less of a fit for many as a primary interface, they needed a fixed mount version with a fist mic.

    I hope that the Nexus will have an RJ45 connector (or something fancy) for Ethernet, even if it is a flying lead. This was missing from Cortex. I am uncomfortable with a mission critical data link being a wifi client of a ships router. Most of our installs will have a router, sometimes with external antennas because of a carbon deck and hull. Making a device a client of the router is done all the time, but it is step that usually requires a tech to set up, not an owner. This is a liability. Also, more wifi is never a good thing if it can be helped. Not a problem when away from the marina, but at the dock, wifi can struggle with adjacent boats interfering. Wires are a good solution!

    Just to add to the carbon (sail) boat scenario… router is mounted aft to keep antenna cables short to external antennas with excellent performance on deck where it is needed, but weak performance in the carbon cave that is the nav station. This is of course an edge case, and we have ways to mitigate the below deck performance, but if my VHF now needs a SOLID signal 100% of the time, the ships network requirements get more complicated. A LAN wire from the Nexus solves this issue.

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      “I am uncomfortable with a mission critical data link being a wifi client of a ships router.” You make an excellent point, Eric, and moreover there is very little upside to using WiFi when the connected devices are fixed modules tucked somewhere in a boat’s complexity.

      I doubt that the Em-Trak Nexus will have Ethernet — especially since NMEA OneNet hasn’t really gotten off the ground yet — but that’s where SRT’s OEM business might come into play. So a big systems company like Navico or Raymarine could order up their own Nexus model with plug’n’play Ethernet connectivity to their own MFDs etc. It also seems probable that the next Cortex will have Ethernet that works well with Garmin systems, as Garmin as already done with some Fusion models.

      I don’t really know if or when such things might happen, but the results could be improved reliability and better access to “uber VHF”, AIS, intercom, MOB tagging, etc etc all around a boat.

  5. Dan Corcoran says:

    The MOB feature in the intro got me reading through to the end. I still think my ultimate MOB wearable is an inexpensive device that included a sound maker that squawks at a user once it moves out of range of the base station, so as to remind the user to return to the boat and return the MOB wearable. I figure that same sound maker can be used to confirm operation when first attached to the user. Absent that, a very close second is a wearable like a watch the crew is already comfortable with and wearing! Nicely done!

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      Thanks, Dan. It strikes me that Nexus being open to third-party Bluetooth MoB proximity alarms makes that feature more possible.

      (Also, for possibly confused readers, “remind the user to return to the boat and return the MOB wearable” does not reference an actual person overboard, but rather a crew person walking down the dock with Dan’s MoB alarm after they’ve tied up 😉

  6. Gordon Skinner says:

    Target price for the Nexus is 1,600 USD. ScanMarine’s Price is including 25% VAT

  7. Sven says:

    I bought the M510BB – an am running it through the Cortex Splitter. While things are much better than they used to be in cortex land, there are still plenty of ships that I hear on the M510BB that are silent on the Cortex.

    What’s unclear to me is what I want to do with my “normal” panel mount M510 and its CT-500M WiFi hub for NMEA. I’m 50/50 for replacing it with another M510BB or even upgrading to an “EVO” just to get rid of the second box and extra wiring/complexity. I do appreciate the ability to use a smartphone with it to take net calls from the salon, and the bluetooth functionality you call out is super helpful in the M510: taking cruisers net calls from the salon, monitoring the “Big” radio when I go to the head, etc… Having that directly with the device has me thinking it might be good in the tender and perhaps paired with the Sena Nautitalk headsets so we can chat over the sound of wind, waves, and I can still monitor the radio without having it at volume 10.

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      Thanks, Sven. Sounds like your boat qualifies as a modern VHF test center!

      I tested Cortex VHF reception versus good quality analog VHF a lot last season as the v2 firmware went through its many iterations. I have a Standard Horizon GX6000 attached to the M1 Hub’s splitter output and where the boat usually is in Camden, Maine, I can get 1 to 4 WX stations, some quite far away, but apparently sometimes receivable due to atmospheric conditions. The GX tags also correspond to the Cortex presets, so I can compare reception of more local traffic too.

      At any rate, at first the GX6000 did noticeably better at receiving distant WX channels and sometimes caught more local calls that Cortex missed. But once v2.1 came along, the difference became hard to detect. But of course that’s my Cortex and GX installs and my VHF area. VHF performance, especially the very unusual Cortex software defined radio, seems to vary.

      Also, glad to hear your enthusiasm about Icom M510 smartphone integration. Wouldn’t be cool if that got added to Cortex? The possibility has never been mentioned by Vesper or Garmin, but seems like it would be easy — especially for Android phones, since that’s what the handsets run — and a nice gift for the Cortex owners who have suffered frustrations during slow development.

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