Garmin Buys Vesper, will the innovation continue?

New corporate siblings, Vesper Cortex and Fusion Apollo, mounted side by side on Gizmo

It’s no secret that Ben Ellison and I are big fans of Vesper Marine. As a small company out of New Zealand, Vesper has punched above its weight class by delivering numerous innovations. Well before getting involved in the marine electronics industry, I’ve been impressed by Vesper’s ability to deliver easy-to-use products that make boating safer and more relaxed. Vesper’s anchor alarm functionality (first covered on Panbo over a decade ago!) remains more capable than any MFD anchor alarm I’ve seen. So, it was a big surprise this morning to see that Garmin has bought Vesper. What will this mean for the scrappy little company and its track record of innovating?

Vesper’s Cortex is a pioneering product. It combines VHF, AIS, and boat monitoring functionalities into an integrated, modular product. Cortex is also a fresh look at a VHF radio and how it should operate in a world of integrated electronics. As a category, VHF radios have seen incremental user-interface changes but not much more. As a result, many advanced functions are clunky and frustrating to use. Cortex aims to change that, but it’s an extremely ambitious product for a small company with limited resources. Some resulting frustration has shown up in comments on our Cortex coverage, usually expressed by owners who feel that basic features are still missing. Vesper intends to add these features, and more, but it’s taking a while.

Cortex hardware updates are semi automated with Cortex Onboard app

So, what will Garmin’s purchase of Vesper mean for boaters? I certainly hope it will mean greater resources available to accelerate Cortex development. There are incredible capabilities in Cortex’s hardware and software-defined radio approach, but there’s lots of software development needed to leverage those capabilities. Plus, it seems natural that Garmin will work to integrate Cortex’s user interface into their MFDs.

On my boat, I’ve found the Cortex handset’s display adequate for most tasks but there are certainly times it would be nice to display on a bigger screen. It would be a meaningful improvement to Garmin’s already excellent MFDs to have Vesper’s superior collision avoidance functionality.

It will also be very interesting to see if technologies like Garmin’s ANT wireless features make their way into Cortex. Could we see even further integration with an MFD with full AIS and VHF capabilities? It’s certainly possible and the marriage of Vesper’s specialist expertise and Garmin’s product catalog, engineering talent, and resources make almost anything seem possible.

It’s certainly early days of the acquisition and my crystal ball is foggy at best, but there is some precedent from Garmin about what to expect. In fact, Vesper will become part of the business unit created when Garmin purchased Fusion back in 2014. Garmin continues to operate Fusion R&D out of Auckland and also continues to fully support competitors’ products.

In addition to producing VHF, AIS, and monitoring hardware, Vesper also operates Vesper Guardian. Guardian is an asset protection service using AIS to alert vessels to vulnerable undersea assets like pipelines. From the wording of the press release, I don’t think Vesper Guardian is part of the purchase, but I certainly could be wrong.

Garmin has purchased a lot of companies in the time I’ve been covering marine technology. Each acquisition always comes with some trepidation that it will be bad for the users of the product, competitors, or the industry as a whole. For the most part, I haven’t seen those fears come to pass and I doubt we will with Vesper. In fact, I’m optimistic that Garmin’s resources will allow Vesper to deliver even more innovation to the industry.

Ben Stein

Ben Stein

Publisher of, passionate marine electronics enthusiast, 100-ton USCG master.

23 Responses

  1. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    I think that this acquisition will turn out to be a good thing for lots of boaters. Wouldn’t it great, for instance, if some or all of Vesper’s excellent AIS collision avoidance features replaced what Garmin currently offers on their MFDs?

    Of course I also hope that Garmin can help Vesper to develop Cortex at a faster pace and my mind boggles trying to picture what Cortex will be like if and when fully integrated with a Garmin MFD system.

    • Sven says:

      I would be happy with just a better set of icons on the Garmin MFDs. I care much more about the 300’ ferries doing 15+ knots, giant container ships doing 15+ knots, and people ferries doing 30 knots than I do the 32’ sailboat doing 4 knots. Right now they all look pretty much the same in Garmin land. Basic plan for me is to “activate” all the ferries in the AIS menu so they at least show up differently. Container ships are usually in the lanes, but lately it is more common to find them in “alternate” anchorages.

      Radar view is the easiest for my brain to process if someone is going to pass in front of/behind me and by what margin.

  2. Stephen Weiss says:

    Time will tell. One potential problem that has scared a lot of us is how well integrated the VC will become with non-Garmin MFDs. That scared us with Navionics, but thus far, it remains available to non-Garmin MFDs. I have a heavy investment in new Raymarine Axiom+ MFDs with Navionics, and hopefully Garmin will keep the integration truly open for the VC, although as a business model, it is likely to not happen. Over my 40+ years of experience in the Railroad and Mass Transit Communications industry, we’ve seen many mergers of small innovative leaders, only to be gobbled up by the big fish. Cisco’s development strategy over the years has been just that; if there’s a better or more innovative product out there, don’t fight it, buy it. Cerent’s groundbreaking fiber optic mux was acquired and became the Cisco 15454 and morphed under Cisco into the hugely successful Multi Service Transport Platform, but the Cisco support culture was classically complex and horrible when compared to Cerent’s hyper-responsive entrepreneurial spirit. Cisco has consistently followed that model, most recently purchasing the more innovative Meraki wi-fi and dropping their own. Some companies (Example; Ericsson’s acquisition of Cradlepoint) have left the development team intact and the innovation remains on-going, for now at least. Others have not fared as well. We shall see if Garmin can get Vesper to get the SDR revs out in a more timely fashion, and accelerate, not stifle, the innovation for the potentially great, but not-quite-there-yet Vesper Cortex.

    • Ray says:

      What integration could be lost? Isn’t it just standard NMEA sentences being sent? There currently really isn’t any MFD integration on the Vesper Cortex.

      On our B&G MFD, we can’t control anything on the Vesper only view AIS info.

    • Sven says:

      With the Navionics acquisition, what I don’t see happening is the iPad app maturing to be an MFD replacement. I think outside of Garmin that would have been more likely, within Garmin the potential to eat GPSMap sales is less likely.

  3. Bob says:

    After positive experiences with Vesper’s technical support, and ahem, less than stellar support from Garmin, my greatest fear is that the Vesper service organization will become part of the Borg. I have no doubt that further innovations will be forthcoming. Let us just hope for a positive synergy on the support side as well.

    • Timo says:

      Indeed. The support of Vesper Marine was to my experience exemplary. I’ve heard many complaints on the Garmin support though from fellow sailors.

  4. Stephen Weiss says:

    HA! Resistance is Futile, Bob of Borg!

  5. Stephen Weiss says:

    Hi Ray. As previously mentioned in one forum or another, the possibility of displaying the full VC screen on any MFD would be very useful. Much more useful; a direct DSC VHF call initiated by touching the AIS target, generated from the VC, displayed on the MFD. This is not only possible, but my 12 year old retired Garmin MFD and retired Garmin VHF did just that. One touch on the AIS target on the old Garmin MFD initiated a fully automated VHF (DSC) call to the AIS target on the old Garmin VHF. That direct DSC “call target” can be performed on the VC handset now, but only separately from the MFD that displays the AIS target from the VC via N2K. However, this requires another distinct step distracting you while you should be busy navigating and watching the water ahead, not multiple screens. Presently such functionality (integration) is not available on any MFD connected to the VC via N2K. That degree of integration, performed 12 years ago between Garmin MFDs and Garmin VHFs, would be most useful and welcomed on the VC, particularly if it were available to any MFD, not just a Garmin MFD.

    • Ray says:

      Ah, gotcha. The concern is about the potential for future features being limited by MFD manufacturers.

      I will note that I can fully control our Fusion stereo system (owned by Garmin) on our B&G MFD.

  6. Paul says:

    Looks like some Vesper employees are jumping shipping:

    Dear Milltech Marine customer,

    I wanted to let you know that today, January 3rd, I am proud to announce that I have closed on an agreement to sell the Milltech Marine business and its assets to Jason Young.

    Jason is an industry leader with over 15 years of experience in marine electronics and technology spanning global management, sales, and service capacities with top marine industry corporations. Most recently Jason was the Global Sales Director for Vesper Marine Ltd. where he managed the global sales channel including the sales team, distributors, and dealers. Jason also oversaw Vesper Marine Inc., Vesper’s North American subsidiary, and was a key contributor in the development and success of the revolutionary Vesper Cortex.

    • Sven says:

      Sadest part of this for us is it looks like the offices are moving to NJ as a result… Having someone in Port Orchard was one of the strengths for us with Milltech.

      • Jason Young says:

        Hi Sven, I certainly appreciate your concern but I just thought I would mention that Milltech’s logistics/inventory remain unchanged. Literally the only change is the psychical location of the office and since Milltech hasn’t had a retail presence in Port Orchard in many years I am hoping that we will be able to continue, if not exceed, your expectations.

  7. I’m less sanguine about the Vesper acquisition. Will Garmin leave Vesper to its success, as they did with Fusion, or really mess them up as they did with Navionics and ActiveCaptain?

  8. Eddy Lekens says:

    Three months on and not a single Vesper product available in Belgium and the Netherlands. Garmin distributors now oblige us to include their entire Garmin range in our assortment.
    Not good prospects in my opinion. All local stock will be shipped from the UK from now on.

  9. Ray says:

    I was just notified that all support requests will now go through the Garmin support network. I’m hoping that the several issues I have open with Vesper tech support is addressed but it’s been very quiet for a couple of months.

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      Ray, there’s a new Cortex beta test out that may deal with your issues (?), and hopefully is the prelude to “new VHF functionality for v1.9”

      “Cortex Onboard 1.12.0 (3) is ready to test on iOS.

      This is mainly a maintenance release with many improvements and fixes under the hood as well as allowing us to release future hardware models and focus on new VHF functionality for v1.9. The following changes and fixes are present:
      The iOS app now allows the user to update data sources.
      Improved remote diagnostics for NMEA data sources and VSWR measurements.
      If you configured the GPIO button to silence alarms, you will now get an audible confirmation over the external speaker that it has been silenced.
      Dual Watch is sticky, so when you change channels it remains.
      Fix the clipping of VHF RX on the external speaker.
      Fix issue where some AIS targets were shown to travel at high speed.
      Fix issues relating to some NMEA 2000 devices sending invalid characters.
      Fix issue where the WiFi would no longer allow connections when no devices are connected.
      Many other fixes and minor enhancements.

      • Ray says:

        Tech support just let me know that the wifi disconnect issues I’ve been having are addressed in 1.8. Also, they clarified the MOB not clearing issue I’ve been faced with.

        The only MOB alarm that can be cleared from the handheld are MOB waypoints.

        AIS test MOB’s clear themselves after 15 minutes.

        The ONLY way to clear a non-test AIS MOB is by rebooting the hub. <— I really hope they change that.

  10. Stephen Weiss says:

    VHF fixes (netter granualrity for squelch, etc) were promised by New Zealand tech support for 1.8 pre Garmin. Sigh. I guess that’s now a Garmin issue. Still waiting…almost a year. I’m getting closer to buying another stand alone VHF for my flybridge ever day.

    • Ray says:

      I wonder how much of the clipping and other VHF issues could be related to their poor implementation of wifi? It really is crazy how bad the wifi connection is.

  11. Mario Diez Mario Diez says:

    Great articles about the Cortex system, Ben, thank you. They were very helpful in my selection of this system for my sailboat. I am surprised though, about how little there is about issues with this system. I’ve been dealing with Vesper support about a series of issues with little resolution to date, which makes me think that there are unresolved issues by Cortex. The issues I am experiencing are related to connectivity limitations where I was forced to install a dedicated boat network to maintain headsets and hub connected at short unobstructed distances; network instability where the Cortex loses IP routing capabilities and needs to be power cycled to work again; headset buttons getting stuck; and the latest, a headset stopping charging. All this for a year old system, used carefully and never under rough conditions or exposed to weather. I am an electrical engineer, so extensive debugging, testing, and problem solving makes me conclude that this system has hardware design issues that somehow are not being reported.

    • Ray says:

      You aren’t the only one Mario. I just notified them about the handset not charging (one of many issues I’ve been trying to get them to help with) and I was told that I must have moved the handset on the cradle and messed up the charging contacts. I didn’t.

      They also do their best to gaslight us by saying we are the only ones with some of these issues.

      Today, we noticed that the wires on the wires handset were coming out of the handset. Likely because of how much we’ve mishandled this “durable” piece of, um, equipment.

      We’ve now begun our shopping for a replacement.

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