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 Panbo.com, passionate marine electronics enthusiast, 100-ton USCG master.

47 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.

      Changes:
      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.

      • Mario Diez Mario Diez says:

        Frustrating indeed. It is one of those technologies that I really wanted to work, but the hardware is not quite there. Durability is definitely an issue, but what really worries me the most is the WiFi link between the handsets and the base. It is not acceptable to think and trust that you are connected and monitoring ch16, to realize that you weren’t all that time because the link was lost. Coverage is suboptimal unless you are very close to the base, and network routing stability is also an issue.

        • Marc Slemko says:

          Agree. I’ve managed to get the connection to be more stable than it used to be (I think one of the firmware updates helped) but it still drops out sometimes. From a safety perspective my biggest issue isn’t that it drops, it is that it doesn’t *alert you*. I’d still be annoyed if it started beeping loudly every time but much less concerned. And it can partially drop, eg. drop VHF but not AIS/NMEA/etc or vice versa.

          Maybe they don’t want to do that since it would make it more obvious how often it drops…

          The only feature I “rely on” working is the anchor alert, and that is just because I don’t have another good option there that is more reliable.

          The radio silence (bad pun intended) lately on further updates isn’t encouraging.

          • Ray says:

            Anchor watch alerts won’t work if the handset loses connection (ask me how I know).

          • Mario Diez Mario Diez says:

            I requested that “WiFi connectivity lost” audible alert a while ago, but nothing so far. I’ve missed some critical calls at sea because of not being aware that my link was lost. Did extensive testing for Vesper to demonstrate that their WiFi hardware implementation was bad. I used to do R&D in this field, so I can tell that their WiFi implementation is bad. My fix so far has been a cheap USB WiFi thumb drive style router that I use as the “boat network”. That cheap router installed by the hub has better coverage than the hub itself, even with the external antenna!

  12. Hi Team

    Just an FYI to let you know that Garmin has indeed taken Vesper Guardian into the fold. You can check it out here:

    https://www.vesperguardian.com/

    cheers

    Duncan Richards
    Director of Sales – Garmin Guardian
    [email protected]
    Mobile +64 (0) 21 996 072

  13. Stephen Weiss says:

    I have given up. I just installed a RAM on my Standard Horizon in my helm on the flybridge for safety. Works so much better than the Cortex. This was a vaporware VHF product rom the start with promisesmade and never kept. I feel as if we were guinea pigs for the VHF and a class action law suit may be appropriate. The squelch issue (safety folks – can’t receive Coast Guard transmissions!), the wifi (jeez, 2.4 GHz only in this day and age!) and the poor build of the cables on the H1 wired headsets. And a hailer/fog horn as a priority before fixing the wifi, the squelch granularity and the absence of a weather alert. I am contemplating serious research into a class action law suit unless Garmin gets this fixed now. 2 years! I would like to hear from others interested in a class action law suit.

    • Ray says:

      We’re right there with you. Tech support is long gone except to close open tickets without resolving the issue.

      Several months ago we were told by tech support that 1.8 was a couple days away from being released and would solve several of our issues. Still haven’t seen it.

      The download link they sent me no longer works. That said, I have the file if anyone wants it.

  14. We are still here and remain committed to supporting our customers. We will reach out to each of you individually, make sure nothing has been closed off prematurely and work to find a resolution to the problems you are experiencing. The Cortex Software 1.8 update does include improved squelch granularity and it is scheduled to be released this month.

    Cortex Team.

    • Mario Diez Mario Diez says:

      For what is worth, even if my comments here are negative, my experience with your customer service and warranty replacements have been very positive. I’m very worried about how that will change beyond the warranty period though, and about how despite the important investment that we all have made in this system, we can’t trust it at the level that a communications system in a vessel requires.

    • Ray says:

      It would be helpful if you communicated with your users. Many issues have been raised that impact the usability of the Cortex. These are not one off issues that can be explained away by install errors, damaged components, or individual glitches. Many of us are having the same problems.

      What are you doing about the following:

      * Unusable wifi connectivity
      * Clipping caused by squelch
      * Wires that easily fall apart on the corded headset
      * No weather alerts
      * MOB alerts that require a complete reset to clear
      * No audible alerts when connectivity is lost

      For us, this was a leap of faith investment in a safety device that we made after a long discussion with your staff at the Miami boat show. We feel like we’ve been suckered.

  15. Stephen Weiss says:

    Mario, even at 2:22 a.m. eastern time, you are spot on. Safety and reliability. That’s what this boils down to, and the Cortex, as a VHF, is simply NOT now, nor has it ever been, a safe, reliable radio product for the marine environment, no matter how innovative it may be. I agree Vesper customer service/support has been good (I can only attest to pre-Garmin), but the proof is in my Cortex software and VHF radio hardware – I cannot leave my vessel’s safety in the hands of an unreliable, poorly implemented product that cannot receive critical VHF safety related traffic. Period. Perhaps DHS/Coast Guard and the FCC should be involved in this dialogue here in the U.S. as well. After all, they got type acceptance from the FCC pre-market, did they not?

  16. Gregory Yount says:

    Okay, you’ve made your displeasure known. Let’s see how they respond with the promised update.
    On the other hand, the tendency to create a techpalooza of a boat seems contrary to what a prudent mariner should do.
    Keep it simple, stupid still remains sound advice. Especially for early adaptors.

  17. Ray says:

    Today we lost VHF and I got a notification from the Cortex Monitor App that it was offline. All the lights were green on the hub but nothing would connect. Had to dig into the cabinet and unplug the power to reset it. This is not the first time this has happened.

    Again, bye bye anchor watch without warning on the handset.

  18. Sven says:

    Sadly, the Vesper Anchor Watch is about the best out there. 1) the act of setting it makes sense 2) having the wireless handset means I can take it with us into our room, and adding a wireless charger there is a plus 3) it does a decent job of off-the-boat alerts.

    I tried all the apps, but worried my phone will mute, update, etc… and drop the anchor alarm. Not great options for off the boat monitoring and alerting that I have found.

    Siren does OK, but adjusting the geofence is pretty buggy and unusable. The app doesn’t report depth. Remote alerts seem to have some substantial delays.

    Garmin on deck (have not tried) only has a 15-30 minute polling interval and misses the greatest opportunity to integrate with the built-in anchor watch on our chart plotters.

    Thus far the best option seems to be to install a GPSMAP 743 in our stateroom and network it to the helm.

    Sadly – our experience with the overall cortex system and VHF was pretty garbage, so we sold that. The potential is there for this to be pretty amazing – but sadly falls flat. It’s not that the VHF market is setup with amazing options. So there is plenty of room for disruption between AIS/ VHF/Monitoring that they aren’t executing on.

  19. Ray says:

    Firmware update is available.

    Release Notes

    New Features:

    Improved squelch control and responsiveness – tunable from the click wheel
    Handset will play an audible alarm on a lost WiFi connection
    Play announcement over the external speaker when an external alarm silence switch is activated
    NMEA data source management available from iOS Cortex Onboard app
    Production service release
    Improvements and bug fixes:

    Dual Watch no longer automatically disables on a channel change
    ATIS mode will no longer receive rouge DSC messages
    Improved Hub WiFi stability when no client devices are connected
    Cloud connectivity improvements
    Fix Hub external speaker sometimes clipping the end of a VHF call
    Fix spurious AIS SOG data
    Improved NMEA 0183 and 2000 invalid character handling

  20. Stephen Weiss says:

    Well get out the AED! Update 1.8 just hit, and the squelch seems to be finally fixed. A completely different approach than previously teased by pre-Garmin Vesper, the new squelch control uses the click wheel to seemingly allow an almost continuous squelch adjustment, vastly improved over the prior 3 level only squelch. I just installed it and as listed above, it includes several needed improvements. I will be running the squelch, wifi and other systems fixes through the gauntlet and shall report my findings. I could neither wait, nor did we have any assurances that the fixes would come, so I did install a RAM for my Standard Horizon on my flybridge. If the Cortex fixes prove to be what they claim, it will restore my faith in the product as a viable VHF radio. Time will tell. Thank you NZ (I hope!)

  21. Stephen Weiss says:

    One other interesting tid bit. The 1.8 update is only listed on the Vesper Cortex web site, not the Garmin Cortex support web site that claims to be the site to go to for all things Cortex. So the Garmin takeover is not as smooth as it should be, as some had predicted.

  22. David John Shepherdson says:

    I have downloaded version 1.8. I was hoping that wifi signal strength might be improved but that is not the case. I have a weak signal when the handset is at the helm which is only about 10 feet from the hub. I have to say I am pretty unimpressed with the cortex as a VHF radio and would not purchase again knowing what I know now. My concerns include – weak wifi, occasional loss of gps and wifi requiring a reboot, non intuitive radio functions for someone used to a conventional VHF (if skipper incapacitated for example), very limited translation of NMEA 183 to 2k (need to use an actisense gateway), long start up time, flimsy power connector for handset, and inaccurate heading sensor. I have tried and failed to get any help from Garmin. Fortunately I kept my old VHF as a back up. I may end up having to upgrade my old VHF and relegate the Cortex just for AIS and emergency VHF backup.

  23. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    So is the new squelch control in Cortex v1.8.26 solving the problems some users were having?

    I never had any squelch issues, so for me the new version works like the old one, which is to say I get very clean audio with no known lost transmissions or clipping.

    Note that the new squelch knob emulates a traditional squelch knob, and is almost as accessible. Just tap the settings “gear” icon lower right on the VHF screen and then the wheel control can rapidly increase/decrease squelch in about 20 increments.

    • Marc Slemko says:

      My testing is limited so far as there just isn’t a lot of radio traffic up in Haida Gwaii where I’m cruising, but so far the squelch setting seems to be a big improvement, a baby step but appreciated. As noted by others it doesn’t “break” as easily as a traditional VHF but I have no opinion yet on if that is a good or bad thing.

      It is still much harder to tweak than a knob on a traditional VHF, but I have no particular suggestions on how to make that better given the form factor.

      I have not yet seen the “Handset will play an audible alarm on a lost WiFi connection” feature activate even when the connection has been lost, however perhaps it is on a delay.

  24. Stephen Weiss says:

    The new squelch worked for the 1st day after loading the new software, breaking squelch worked like a regular VHF radio, based upon where the rotary dial was adjusted when the squelch menu was open. But now, 2 days later at dock, just checked it on multiple channels in response to your inquiry, and I cannot break squelch with the rotary switch adjustment, on either of my two wired handsets! The only way to break squelch is to turn squelch completely off with the soft on/off switch, which kills the rotary adjustment and brings up a notice to turn squelch on to use the adjustment. Will dig into it some more later to see if it is a setting I may have incorrectly set. More frustration…

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      Thanks, Stephen. In my testing, I’ve usually had to turn the wheel to zero or close in order to break squelch, but I don’t recall it not breaking on any channel. I will test some more, also with another VHF on the same frequency and antenna to see if Cortex is missing any transmissions. Not being able to hear static on a channel doesn’t necessarily seem like a bad thing, but missing audio does.

  25. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    I emailed Vesper Marine co-founder Carl Omundsen to ask if the new squelch control in Cortex v1.8 is a step en route to the advanced graphical and customizable-by-channel squelch he’d previewed to electronics writers in April 2021. The answer is Yes. In fact, I learned that v1.8 already contains the “nuts and bolts” underpinnings advanced squelch that will come to the user interface in future updates.

    Carl — who is now titled “Garmin Engineering Manager – Marine Communications” — expounded upon how development momentum had slowed through 2021 until the ownership transition. Joining the Garmin Marine team in Auckland, the dev team has moved to a state of the art facility and purportedly gathering steam again, with VHF functionality a key focus.

  26. Ray says:

    The squelch issue is resolved for us and we’ve been full time cruising since the update.

    However, we get frequent wifi disconnects with both handsets beeping at us (at least we know now) and the reconnect button seems to connect them back up. I’m not sure but it acts like it won’t automatically try to reconnect unless the reconnect button is pressed.

    I’ve sent Vesper a log file so hopefully they’ll find something.

    We’re using our boat network because the internal wifi doesn’t work even when inches from the hub.

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