Garmin shrinks Vesper product line. Will only Cortex remain?

Although it acquired Vesper Marine in January of 2022, even today Garmin’s VHF/AIS product pages only list the Cortex and its accessories. The entire WatchMate product line is conspicuously absent from the product list, and the Vesper name is absent from the Cortex items. In retrospect, these are telling ommissions, as today Garmin confirmed that the WatchMate XB-6000, XB-8000 and Vision2 have all been discontinued, soon to be followed with the Vesper brand name.

Specifically, Dave Dunn, Garmin’s senior director of marine sales, explained that the WatchMates were manufactured by a third party that can no longer source the components needed to build them. So the decision was made to cancel the product line. Also discontinued is development of the WatchMate app, which is not good news for the current owners of Vesper WatchMate hardware.

However, all is not lost in terms of Vesper’s innovative AIS presentations. Garmin is committed to the Cortex AIS/VHF/monitoring system — which may have been too much, too soon in Vesper’s hands — and there is good reason to believe that Vesper features will appear in future Garmin AIS and VHF products. Especially if we make some noise about it.

An original Vesper WatchMate

But before that discussion, let’s pause for a moment of silence for Vesper’s ground-breaking WatchMate family. Ben Ellison first wrote about the original WatchMate in 2008, almost fifteen years ago! That very first AIS display — initially with no AIS radio at all, subsequently with a receive-only radio — offered better options and more effective filtering than many MFDs do today. Ironically, I find Garmin’s default alarm about everything AIS behavior among the least evolved of all the manufacturers.

For more than a decade, Vesper’s SmartAIS units paired with their WatchMate app have provided best-of-breed AIS interfaces. Their highly configurable alarming, radar scope-like presentation, and advanced anchor alarm set the bar high enough that no one ever reached it. Fortunately, the Cortex Onboard app includes all of the goodness to which WatchMate users have become accustomed. Unfortunately, Cortex is a more premium product coming in $600 (street price) higher than an XB-8000.

Although the writing has probably been on the wall for some time for the XB-6000, XB-8000, and Vision 2, it’s sad to see them go away without a standalone AIS replacement with their outstanding collision avoidance, filtering, and target prioritization capabilities (even richer today than when Ben E. raved about them in 2013). Also missed will be the advanced AIS MoB beacon handling, the still great anchor watch feature, and the way these transponders could multiplex boat data for benefit of the WatchMate app as well as most any good navigation app.

But all three WatchMate units are, or were, carrier-switched class B transceivers and haven’t been updated to the more recent SOTDMA B+ standard. Cortex uses a SOTDMA B+ radio, but, as I mentioned, it is a premium AIS, VHF, and boat monitoring product wrapped into one. For now, the only replacement in the Garmin catalog is their AIS 800, a fine, if undistinguished SOTDMA B+ AIS unit (that’s also back ordered with pretty long delivery dates).

Understanding that the WatchMate line has been discontinued, I think the natural question for existing users is, will the app continue to be supported? Unfortunately, it sounds like Garmin doesn’t plan to continue development of the app. Dave Dunn said they don’t plan to remove the apps from app stores, but no further development would take place on them. That means that as Apple and Google advance iOS and Android, it’s likely that at some point the apps will stop working on their respective platforms. It’s hard to say when that will happen and it’s not likely to be very soon.

I don’t think that all hope is lost for Vesper users and those who appreciate the advanced capabilities they brought. Garmin has been clear since the acquisition that they bought Vesper for their intellectual property and skill in AIS and VHF. It’s likely that Garmin will use the IP and the development team they now have in-house to develop future AIS and VHF products. Hopefully, we will see Vesper’s capabilities integrated into these future products. But, if you’ve come to rely on the excellent safety features of Vesper’s products, I’d encourage you to help Garmin understand the value of what they bought.

Cortex was an ambitious product and as user feedback has shown some users are frustrated with issues they’ve encountered. Garmin is working to address some of the issues we’ve seen raised. They have gobs of experience managing hardware quality. I expect we will see improved versions of the hardware to address some of the handset cord issues and maybe improve the cradle mechanism’s robustness. It is my understanding that the core team that engineered and built Cortex is still there so hopefully we will also see some of the missing VHF features added and some of the user feedback incorporated into future releases. Now, I just hope Garmin realizes what a treasure trove of features they got when the bought Vesper and that those features are incorporated into a new, standalone AIS transceiver to succeed both the WatchMate line and the Garmin AIS 800.

Ben Stein

Ben Stein

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

72 Responses

  1. moose says:

    ive loved the XB8000, installed many many of them, mostly for the easy to set up app and not needing to lug laptops around on boats. i was cautiously sad when i heard about the buyout and had hoped by now we woudl see a sleek garmin intergration with it… maybe miami?

  2. Peter Geise says:

    I was fascinated and heartened by Panbo’s early description of the Vesper line and wondering what Garmin would do with it. Thanks so much for this explanation; can’t imagine where else we would get this clearly presented and comprehensible information .

  3. Joe Casey says:

    Not a knock on Vesper product, rather I am puzzled by the need for a separate physical device to display information — in this case AIS data in either text or graphic form. I have used OpenCPN for years and the integrated charting, navigation, and AIS makes much more sense.

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      Joe, it’s not an either/or situation. In fact, one of the beauties of the XB8000 — and Vision, and now Cortex — is that they can stream much more than AIS data to a PC, tablet or phone running an app like OpenCPN. Like Depth, Wind, STW, etc coming to the WatchMate AIS transceiver either via NMEA 2000 or 0183. More details here, including Vesper’s high recommendation of OpenCPN:

      There are several current Class B AIS devices that can multiplex other boat data into their WiFi streams, but in my experience, none come close to what the WatchMate devices could do (and the Cortex M1 can still do). And part of that is having the WatchMate app to easily set up and customize the WiFi streaming (as well as general installation, as Moose mentioned).

      So if a WatchMate owner is satisfied with the AIS target plotting on their main navigation screen, there’s no need to use the WatchMate app for that. But they still might appreciate the app to display AIS or use the terrific anchor drag feature when not underway, especially as having these features built into the AIS hardware means very little DC power overhead.

      Finally, I’ll note that I had an XB8000 on my boat for nearly a decade and many thousands of miles. It fed AIS and sometimes other data to all sorts of good nav screens. But when things got challenging — like transiting New York harbor with over a hundred AIS targets, some going every which way, and fast — nothing approached the WatchMate app for emphasizing the real dangers and nicely deemphasizing the rest.

  4. Ted Arisaka says:

    It’s a great product suite, including the excellent companion app. I knew Garmin discontinued the Vision2 after I contacted Customer Service about a screen delamination issue and they could offer no remedy either as a warranty claim or as a paid repair. Very different from the excellent customer service I had received previously from Vesper or other companies like Furuno.

    • Chris says:

      I am going to guess this has more to do with the inability to get replacement parts as that has become a more consistent issue for everyone.

      Furuno and Raymarine marine who have government contracts have a certain timeline they are required to be able to keep them parts on hand for repair often times for a life span of seven-ish years from start of contract.

      Conversely most product cycles these days seem to be “legacy” by the five year mark and with good reason seeing how fast electronics keep advancing.

  5. Joseph Pica says:

    I was very sadden by Garmin’s acquisition of Vesper. I am a huge Vesper fan. Such a solid well supported multi featured and innovative product.
    Garmin has an unfortunate legacy of obsolescencing products that still have great functionality and not supporting them.

  6. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    It’s timely that Garmin just introduced an updated Fusion product as the Vesper / Fusion contrast is interesting. My thoughts in comments here:

  7. Jason Young says:

    Very well said Ben and Ben.
    Garmin is a great company, I don’t think anyone can argue with the positive impact they have made, and continue to make in the boating world, especially in marine electronics. That being said there is something special about a small group of passionate people going up against Goliath while at the same time truly having purpose beyond profits. As the Sales Director for Vesper having to compete with the likes of Garmin, Navico, Raymarine, etc. on a daily basis was the uphill battle of uphill battles but at the same time was a labor of love.
    My standing joke that I would make was “Garmin has more janitors than we have employees,” and by all accounts that was not hyperbole. The purpose of that statement was to illustrate that while we could not compete with their marketing, sales force, or resources, what we had was a small team of dedicated people that are focused on saving lives and making the very best AIS. At the same time was responsive, nimble, open to feedback, and would bend over backwards to support the products we made and our customers.
    The customers, specifically enthusiastic cruisers active on forums, were our not-so-secret weapon and instrumental in the success of Vesper. That was never lost on me and I revelled every opportunity to chat with customers at boat shows that were enthusiast or early adopters who just felt compelled to come by and share their love of their WatchMate or bring a buddy by and say, “This is the one I was telling you about that you need to get!” It meant something, it was personal to them (and me), so much more than the advanced software, alarms, silicon, and blue plastic.
    I have no doubt that the team of engineers who stayed on through the acquisition, including Carl Omundsen the CTO and co-founder of Vesper, will continue making amazing new products and advancements in AIS and VHF technology. But Vesper will always be special to so many of us and I am beyond thankful to all those boaters, enthusiast, journalist, dealers, and distributors around the world that made Vesper what it was. “Never for money. Always for love”

  8. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    I think that Garmin should change its mind and commit to supporting the WatchMate apps for at least the next three years. Isn’t that the right thing to do for customers who recently purchased a Vision2 or an XB-8000, not to mention the many distributors who currently have XB-8000’s in stock?

    Of course it would also be a nice gesture to the many boaters who have had a WatchMate for years and are still quite happy with its performance. Moreover, the app is quite mature and just keeping it working as the iOS and Android operating systems change is really all that’s necessary. In fact, that’s pretty much all that Vesper has been doing, as indicated by this recent iOS Version History:

    2.5.1919 Apr 2022
    Bug fixes and updating the app for iOS 15+.
    2.5.1810 July 2019
    Added ‘Received’ time to target details screen
    This version introduces stability and efficiency improvements.
    Ready for iOS13.

    More than 2.5 years between bug fixes indicates that there aren’t many, and I encountered none.

    • Tom Henderson says:

      An alternative, if they won’t support the apps, would be to open source them so that the user community can maintain them. My 8000 is a few year’s old, but I’ll begrudge replacing it for a year or two yet and will sorely miss the anchor watch if the app ceases to support current versions of iOS. I’d be really unhappy if I’d bought one in the last few months, without a commitment to at least 5 years of support. Personally this attitude to supporting existing customers will probably result in me not buying anymore Garmin kit (despite a very positive support experience with a Fusion radio last summer).

  9. I’ve found the XB6000 and XB8000 to be very reliable GPS transceivers, even if not using with an app or external display.
    nmea 0183, 2000, and USB connectivity have been handy. USB plugged into a computer is about all you need to get nav and AIS target information.
    The connector layout was also very unique and practical; I can look and see what’s plugged in and tight.

  10. Peter Nielsen says:

    OK, business is business, but Garmin’s decision to drop support for the Watchmate app is a slap in the face to the thousands of us who rely on our Vesper products to make our passagemaking safer. I suspect that when it comes time for Vesper owners to upgrade other electronics, Garmin will drop a few places down the wishlist.

  11. For two years from the original purchaser’s date of purchase, Vesper guarantees that the marine products listed below will be free from defects in material or workmanship.

  12. Ian Threlfall says:

    A terrible shame what has happened to Vesper. The Watchmate products are still the best of breed. My 850 is my favourite instrument – I use it every day and wish now I had bought a Vision to update.

  13. Nick Burrell says:

    My XB-8000 has been a great product but the associated app suffered from a couple of minor bugs which could have been very easily fixed. It was clear that all work on the app stopped several years ago.
    I recall there being mention in the early days of the product about publishing the API, if Garmin were now to do this now it could reduce some frustration from existing Vesper user base.

  14. Jim Garner says:

    I am a new user of the Vesper Cortex. An amazing step forward in integrated VHF and awareness technology.
    I trust that Garmin will continue to develop it.

  15. DeWayne Enyeart says:

    The XB-8000 on my trawler has worked flawlessly for the past 5 years. I use the WatchMate app on my iPhone during every cruise and prefer it to the MFD when in heavy Puget Sound vessel traffic. I was concerned about Garmin”s commitment to the XB-8000 and the WatchMate app when the Garmin purchase of Vesper Marine was announced. My concern has turned into profound disgust with Garmin’s decision to drop support of the XB-8000 and the WatchMate app. At the very least, Garmin should announce a commitment to supporting the app to keep up with changes in the iPhone OS and Android OS.

  16. John Harries says:

    Hi Ben,

    I think it’s reprehensible that Garmin would stop supporting the app, given that they were selling units that rely on it up until a few weeks ago. As you point out, it is likely the app will stop working sooner rather than later as the device operating systems are are upgraded. Not good enough.

    I have to say that I’m also disappointed that you did not call on Garmin to behave better in the above article, although it is good to see Ben E. doing so. That said, I would suggest that 10 years, not three, of app support is the right thing to do. Decent companies who care about their customers support their gear for at least five years after the last unit is sold, and great companies make it at least 10.

    I have written about this over at AAC and encouraged my readers to write to Garmin expressing their anger with this un-defendable move.

    To be clear, I’m referring to the discontinuation of the app, not the product line itself.

    • Ben Stein Ben Stein says:

      Sorry, not sure I’m tracking. I presented the information and suggested people get in touch with Garmin to express their concerns. I do indeed have a balance to strike, though it’s not based on advertising. It is based on maintaining working relationships with the companies I cover. Part of the reason I have access to information and the right people is because I am fair to all sides of a story.

      I felt there was a story to tell here and word to get out. That’s what I did. I also encouraged people to help Garmin understand the value of what they bought when they bought Vesper. I feel I’ve been fair to all sides and stand by my coverage.

      -Ben S.

      • Marc Slemko says:

        Ben: An idea for a future story, maybe in a year or two once there are some more examples: compare and contrast how different companies are supporting their more technically advanced products over time and discuss the various concerns and options.

        This will be a growing industry wide challenge.

        • John Harries says:

          Hi Marc,

          I agree completely. This consolidation trend is not going to a good place for us consumers. Brunswick buying everything is probably the worst situation. A dealer for many of their products tells me that customer and dealer support is already going to hell.

        • jason philbrook says:

          Yes.. I suspect there will be some unsupported incidences of “spare parts not available” too soon after discontinuing the sale of a product which will be blamed on old covid supply chain problems.

          We know different manufacturers have different ideas of what a product’s lifetime should be, especially for support/parts after it’s been normally replaced due to newer products doing the same/better thing. That would be good to verify and compare as well.

      • John Harries says:

        Hi Ben,

        I sympathize with the need to keep lines of communications, and sources of free products for use and evaluation open. Still, this situation is so bad that I think a little more indignation on your part would have been more appropriate. Being called out by respected journalists in the press has long kept companies honest, and is a good thing, although increasingly rare. I have come down hard on a couple of companies that have been good to me, when they have behaved badly, and in the end I was able to preserve the relationship too.

        • Ben Stein Ben Stein says:


          I guess the thing about genuine indignation is that it’s typically an emotional reaction, not one calculated to try to please a reader. As I said before, I saw a potential issue, and I reported on it.

          -Ben S.

    • Marc Slemko says:

      This seems like a bad sign for the future of the Cortex as well, as the handset is running a now pretty old version of Android. Perhaps one day we’ll hear “sorry we can’t update the Cortex app for current Android versions any more even though we are still selling them because it will break compatibility with the handset”. Or will it be one day they announce a new version of the Cortex and just stop supporting the old one entirely?

      Sadly nothing surprising here, par for the course for the handful of products I’ve owned that have been acquired by Garmin.

      It isn’t like it requires a full product team to continue to maintain the WatchMate app, that should be one of the easier things to contract out assuming there are no wacky IP or other licensing issues involved.

  17. Don Parker says:

    So glad I replaced my lower helm VHF with an Icom M510 last year! We enjoy using our iPhones as wireless mics and controllers for it, and I’ll no longer wonder whether I’ll ever have to find an extra pocket for a narrowly useful Cortex LOL.

    The XB8000 has been an invaluable system for us. I’ll substitute Icom’s SOTDMA B+ compatible AIS transponder to feed the M510 & Plotters when it becomes available. Meanwhile I’ll continue to relish using the WatchMate Apps’ Anchor Watch, etc. It is an excellent benchmark for Icom’s engineers to use as they expand the usefulness of their RS-M500 smart device App.

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      Good point, Don. But note an important (though somewhat subtle) aspect to how Vesper WatchMate / Cortex works: all alarm calculations — collision avoidance, anchor dragging, etc. — are done in the transceiver, not in the companion app. Plus the hardware can activate a simple external buzzer. In short, Vesper designed the system to alarm you even if the phone or tablet you set the alarm on is not currently functioning.

      At any rate, I think it would be nice if Icom or another AIS manufacturer adds Vesper-style features, but it will take more than a companion app to do it well. Meanwhile, I’m hoping that Cortex will get developed to its full potential and also that Garmin builds an AIS-only Cortex transponder that includes the AIS portions of the Cortex Onboard app. That would essentially be a Class B+ XB-8000 and would likely do very well with the boaters who appreciate the WatchMate series.

      • Don Parker says:

        Thanks Ben. I’m aware of that as I’ve used the XB-8000 since it was introduced. What I’m driving at is that the XB-8000 can be replaced by a similar unit. Icom doesn’t presently offer an SOTDMA B+ compatible AIS, but no doubt will. I’m urging them to approximate the smartphone control we’ve enjoyed with the XB-8000. Open the App, and change status to anchored; take the dinghy to dinner using AquaMap on the iPhone R/T; Check anchor watch before going to sleep; upon waking use WatchMate to see if your friend’s MMSI is getting close to rendezvous, etc. Then use the same iPhone to check condition of batteries, etc., before browsing email. What I’ve never been able to understand is why I would buy a narrowly Cortex handset, when thousands of engineers are improving smartphones every day.

        If Icom doesn’t fill the Vesper vacuum Garmin has created, I’ll urge Furuno to do so with their FA70 AIS. I’d like our iPhones to have additional Furuno software rather than just the WiFi radar App we’ve been enjoying. Our iPhones also offer sat comm’s, now. It’s a wonder Garmin doesn’t buy Apple 😉

  18. Sven says:

    I am kind of unsurprised that garmin is abandoning support for pre-cortex Vesper. The cortex is why they acquired the company. Garmin is also pretty good at abandoning its own products (76xx doesn’t get new Navionics maps for example, but competitors of the same era do).

    Regarding the comments that those upgrading from Vesper will look elsewhere as a result – the question is where. The Cortex isn’t the greatest VHF, but it’s AIS has great range and some of the smarter alerting out there, the anchor alarm is top notch (combined with the handset that actually goes to the berth with you), and the remote monitoring is pretty good as well. There is nothing that comes close to all the non-VHF features the cortex brings. The latest squelch update makes things better, but still not ICOM/Standard Horizon good. The ICOM 510 is a great radio, but the app is kind of sad when compared to what the Vesper app does (the ability to listen/talk on radio via phone IS a standout on the M500 that vesper hasn’t been willing to do).

    IF Garmin sorts the VHF squelch and handset durability out, the new Cortex will have a few miles on the competition, and so anyone looking to “upgrade” will only have one option. Consider me cautiously optimistic.

  19. warnercons says:

    Garmin did the same with Blue Chart. It was a good ios charting program that many ipad/iphone users loved. I will never buy a Garmin product based on Garmin’s total lack of committment to its customers.

  20. Evan says:

    I have been very happy with the Vesper XB-8000.

    I am disgusted with Garmin’s predatory business model of buying a competitor’s superior technology only to mothball it.

    I hope that Garmin appreciates how many mariners will be deliberately avoiding the Garmin brand when it comes time to replace their Vesper AIS or any other instruments for that matter.

  21. Don Parker says:

    During the 1980s I was continually pressured to incorporate additional features into our computer-communication products to justify higher pricing/profit objectives. Garmin’s attempt to obviate the need for the Airmar Heading Sensor as depicted here ( is a familiar mistake IMHO and leaves Cortex vulnerable to competitive performance embarrassments. Consider the relative performance of Satellite compasses, e.g.:

    After 35 years of formal Product Development/Management experience, I find Cortex to be the product of bonehead fantasizing. Except, perhaps, that Vesper’s shareholders’ exit strategy may have been to create enchanting megalomaniacal bait that would sucker big company suits, as happens quite often.

    The trend of integrating smartphones with marine electronics sensors and systems has been gathering plenty of steam as often reported in Panbo. Here is an available example of substituting a Digital Yacht Class B+ AIS for an XB-8000:

    Pity the naive who fall for the Cortex concept. Now either Ben can scold me for not bending a knee to Garmin brainwashing.

    • John Harries says:

      Hi Don,

      Very perceptive. I particularly like your guess as to what Cortex was really about. That explains it!

      After five decades at sea, one of my rules for building reliable systems is:

      The chances of problems with a given piece of kit are proportional to the cube of the number of functions it is sold to perform.

      • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

        Don and John, sorry to find you guys so cynical about the intentions of a small developer with a long history of passionate innovation. I’m confident that “create enchanting megalomaniacal bait” is the only fantasy here. Besides, combining AIS and VHF and even off boat monitoring makes sense. Just like combining chart plotting, radar, fishfinding etc makes sense on most boats these days, though that too took a while for general acceptance.

        At any rate, my guess about why Vesper was sold is the opposite of yours. I suspect that their all-in-one passion exceeded both their budget and market willingness to try a new concept. Meanwhile, many of us really appreciate Cortex as it is, though very hopeful that it will be developed to full potential.

      • Don Parker says:

        I don’t have your enviable five decades of outfitting/use experience, John, but I’ve certainly engineered my two bluewater sailboats’ systems with a version of your MTBF precaution in mind. As a EE & manufacturer I crave to minimize the number of power supplies, level/protocol converters, etc. BUT I strive for triple redundancy because when one fails I’ll only have two remaining. My spare laptop is stored in a grounded metal case.

        Most of us who have been with Vesper from their start have enormous respect for their superlative talents. The proprietary handset aspect of the Cortex concept especially triggered my puzzlement. Why would they champion proprietary handsets when smartphones are being prominently adopted and further destined to control Furuno AutoPilots & Radar, Versatron NMEA Gateways, Icom VHF interfaces, etc., etc., Moreover, smartphones are obsoleted/upgraded every three years or so? Will Cortex users be similarly obliged?

        As an investor, I’ll reject the product strategy and the Management team.

    • Ben Stein Ben Stein says:


      Like Ben, I prefer facts to fantastical speculation. I don’t for a moment believe that Vesper’s investors or management developed Cortex as a way to prop up the value of the company to sell for more money. In fact, I can make an educated guess that quite a bit of investor money was lost between the funding round to capitalize Vesper for Cortex’s development and the eventual sale.

      Further, I’m sorry to hear a product and project as ambitious as Cortex described as “bonehead fantasizing.” Rather, ambitious projects, sometimes even too ambitious, are the stuff of true innovation. I’m pleased that passionate individuals develop the products they believe are needed and will sell. Even if that means stepping out on a limb.

      As for Garmin’s master plan to render Airmar’s heading Sensor obsolete… I’m confused about why you picked on Cortex’s inclusion of a heading sensor, a move made long before Vesper was acquired, and not Garmin’s inclusion of heading in their recent GPS products including the GPS 24xd ( and MSC-10 ( both of which include heading. To say nothing of satellite compasses from Furuno, Simrad, and more.

      -Ben S.

  22. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    I don’t think either of us is involved in brainwashing, Don, but I do care about facts:

    1. Neither Vesper or Garmin has made any “attempt to obviate the need for the Airmar Heading Sensor” The modest quality Heading sensor built into Cortex is used for some useful features within the Cortex system, but does not output to external devices. In fact, Cortex uses external Heading when available, and actually promotes Airmar as a source. More details here:

    2. The Digital Yacht AIT5000 is closer to an XB-8000 than many AIS transponders, but it’s still not very close. For one thing, it does not filter AIS targets inside the transponder, let alone alarm possible collisions, AIS MoBs, or anchor dragging that can then activate audio alarms and/or push clear notifications to the Vesper companion apps.

    The AIT5000 also doesn’t multiplex NMEA 2000 data to 0183 or vice-versa, like the XB-8000 has been doing for over decade. So while Depth and Wind may be on your N2K network they will not show up on any app using the AIT5000’s WiFi (unless you add DY’s iKonvert – NMEA2000 to NMEA0183 Converter). You can also add DY’s “AIS Life Guard” but again that functionality is already built into the XB-8000 and Cortex.

    Incidentally, the XB-8000 and Cortex have supplied rich data to my iPad’s Furuno-related Timezero iBoat app very well over the years, and iBoat recently got a nice anchor drag feature. But I still flip over to the WatchMate or Cortex Onboard app when AIS intrepretation gets complicated.

    • Marc Slemko says:

      Small technical correction that doesn’t change your point: Unless I’m very confused, the Cortex heading sensor can now optionally output heading information, I think that was added in the December 20, 2021 Cortex v1.7.27 release (Hub version 1.7.2439), at least over N2K, but do not 100% recall. The release notes call out “N2K internal sensor output”

      Agree it is modest quality and not to be trusted too much, but very useful for vessels that don’t have any other always on heading sensor for one reason or another.

      FWIW, the heading sensor being there for fallback when nothing better is available is just what I expected based on the marketing before I purchased it, and one place where they have delivered additional functionality since release.

      • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

        You’re right, Marc. Thanks. Now I see in Cortex Onboard that it’s possible to output the M1 Heading data to NMEA 2000. But the configuration default is Off, and clearly the Heading is there so your boat displays correctly on other boats’ AIS screens, the anchor drag screen, etc. even when you’re not underway and the main nav systems are off.

        Come to think of it, the Cortex M1 is the only AIS transponder with Heading built in, but hopefully not the last.

  23. Sven says:

    Cortex having a heading sensor makes sense. Look at any marina and see the crazy 500 which ways parked boats are facing because their AIS isn’t reporting heading. At first this was for cortex-only use to prevent the above, but the user base requested the option for that to go onto the network, and they accommodated. Interesting this comes up now – but I haven’t seen “its heading isn’t as good as a $1000 satellite compass” as a valid complaint, or even something Vesper/Garmin pitched the M1 as a valid replacement for.

    Most of the AIS-VHF combined features make total sense, as the communications industry is largely switching to Software Defined Radios (SDRs) and Software Defined Networks (SDNs). This does mean it is hard to get SDR/SDN engineers as demand outstrips supply. Hopefully big G can help here. Once you have a good processor, a radio, gps, heading, and nmea2000, the monitoring functions are a pretty natural progression.

    So I don’t agree that any of the features are a fool’s errand, or even worry about a decrease in reliability as a result. Just as no passage maker would not only have one VHF, you wouldn’t run just one M1. My biggest concern is really the roadmap. Some of the features they spun on vs making the M1 a great VHF with great squelch control wouldn’t match my idea of ideal prioritization. Maybe that’s because the people they put on those features didn’t have the skills to do the SDR work on the squelch, or maybe it was an attempt to just do too many things given limited engineers. Until the M1 Global or M2 is proven to be a good VHF, I’ll sit out on the sidelines – but if it is proven to be good, I’ll probably put them on 2 of four antennae on my boat – despite my lack of love for most things Garmin.

    • Nick Burrell says:

      I’m not so sure that bundling a heading sensor into a AIS-VHF unit is such a great idea – whilst it may be relatively cheap/easy to do and appear to provide useful extra functionality, it also opens up a whole host of issues regarding siting of the unit. Installation of heading sensor/electronic compass is often tricky given the myriad sources of potential interference on boats.
      Possibly safer to install a dedicated small heading sensor carefully and network heading data to the AIS.

  24. Larry Olson says:

    I was right on the edge of buying an XB8000 and find this disappointing. So, what’s a good choice in an AIS unit? Is it too risky to just buy an XB8000?


    • Don Parker says:

      Patience. World class engineers/manufacturers are looking at the vacuum Garmin has created.

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      Larry, I doubt that an Android or iOS update will break the WatchMate app any time soon, plus I remain hopeful that Garmin will change its mind about supporting the app. But even if the worst happens, it will likely be possible to run WatchMate on an older device (or one that you don’t allow an operating system update on).

      In fact, I just pulled out an old iPad AIR running iOS 12.5 and it was able to download WatchMate fine. I’m pretty sure the app will now work with an XB-8000, and may be able to confirm that this weekend.

      • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

        I can confirm that the WatchMate app installed on an old iPad Air (that can’t be updated beyond iOS 12.5) connects easily to an XB-8000 and seems to run fine. The app even runs on a really old iPad Mini stuck at iOS 9.3.5, though it loses some valuable features like AIS target filtering and anchor watch.

        I also successfully loaded and ran WatchMate on an old Samsung Note 4 phone that’s maxed out at Android 6. I wasn’t very familiar with the Android version and am impressed with how good it looks even on the old phone. Note too that it has some nice capabilities on an Android tablet that aren’t in the iPad version:

        At any rate, it seems like a good idea for XB-8000 owners to get WatchMate set up on an older tablet or phone just in case the app is removed from the app stores and/or can’t handle an OS update on a current device.

  25. Ben Stein Ben Stein says:

    I met with Garmin representatives at the Miami Boat Show and discussed this thread and the concerns. Garmin reps are reading this thread and the feedback has been heard. Time will tell what the impact is of being heard. In the meantime, Garmin also provided this statement and asked me to post it:

    “Although the WatchMate line has been discontinued, Garmin remains committed to supporting WatchMate customers. Garmin has not removed the WatchMate app from the app stores and has no plans to do so for the foreseeable future. While no new feature development is being prioritized on the WatchMate app, we will continue to keep it in the stores for as long as we can. The Cortex M1 smartAIS Transponder and the Cortex Onboard app replace the XB-8000 and WatchMate app in our product line up, providing all the WatchMate series functionality and more.”

    -Ben S.

    • Shane says:

      FWIW, we’ve long delayed adding AIS -although waiting for the ‘next version of XB-8000, I’ve continued to watch Cortex mature to a state I’d be comfortable with. Not yet. We just bought an XB-8000 (knowing it was discontinued) because it still appears to me to be the best product for our needs and allows us to separately decide on preferred replacement VHF/DSC options.

  26. Ian Threlfall says:

    I’m a long time owner and user of a Watchmate 850. I have always said it was probably the best bit of electronics I ever put on my boat. The lack of Bluetooth and therefore inability to access to the app was my only disappointment. I nearly upgraded recently to the Vision. I have always thought that a fixed screen on the device was a big advantage … and was one of the reasons I was disappointed with their implementation of the Cortex functionality. A good ‘base unit’ with its own screen showing the ‘vesper’ only functionality was a must in mind – then an app for smartphone handsets for comms and remote view. In my mind they made a mistake in not adding VHF voice functionality into the Vision form ‘package’ . I’m sad that the industry has lost the input from this great little NZ company. The Watchmate products are still the best out there!

  27. Super sad, but not unexpected. This is what almost always happens when a big company buys a small and innovative company. Garmin engineers have no concept of what it is like to sail across an ocean. (To be fair, that’s not their market… they much prefer to sell to the gazillion powerboats in marinas.) However, as a blue water cruiser for over 20 years, I appreciate products that are designed by sailors who actually know the conditions out here; Vesper was one such company. We still use our 850 and will continue to do so. One reason: no touch screen. No one who has been in a 40 knot squall on a pitch dark night will tout the benefits of touch screens. The button and menu layout on the Watchmate is easy and intuitive and you don’t have to look at the screen to use it… you can feel the buttons and just press. And it works when your hands are wet and cold. Garmin has created some great products but they have a history of removing or forgetting features that really made a difference for people at sea. (One example is their handheld GPS which changed the display to night mode automatically at sunset… why don’t their sailing instruments do that?) As long as engineers sitting at their desks, and marketing departments, make design decisions, we will be presented with products that don’t work well at sea.

  28. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Happy to add here that many hoped for Cortex improvements just got real with the release of the v2.0 firmware update:

  29. Ted Arisaka says:

    Looks like I’ve stumbled upon a “bug” in the Vision2 N2K to NMEA0183 WiFi gateway at least for the PGN128267==>DPT Sentence. It generates the standard precision format of the sentence with both DEPTH and OFFSET truncated to the tenths decimal place (meters). In my case my N2K Depth was 2.08m with a 0.487m Offset (verified with Actisense NMEA Reader) but was generating DPT with 2.0m depth and 0.4m offset. That’s a 0.2m (0.66ft) error. I’ve asked Garmin if they could ROUND vs TRUNCATE or generate the precision format for DPT. I’m not too optimistic, but let’s see. I’m just trying to get my setup as precise and accurate as possible as I’m working with Robert Sherer (Bob423), Waterway Guide, and the Aqua Map team on their crowdsourced bathymetric data collection project with NOAA.

    • Ted Arisaka says:

      Heard back today from Garmin stating they cannot fix this. Not surprised. Looking forward to testing my Actisense W2K-1 gateway.

      • Vaughan Bunge says:

        How about the Ocean Signal AIS unit? Any comparisons vs the XB8000?
        Seems very similar?

  30. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Vaughan, I’m glad you pointed out the Ocean Signal ATB1 as I think its features are more similar to the XB8000 than any other Class B transponder on the market (excepting the Garmin Cortex), and other readers may be interested:

    For instance, the ATB1 can multiplex NMEA 2000 and 0183 nav data into its WiFi stream so that third party nav apps can get info like depth, wind, and boat speed in addition to the AIS targets, GPS, and Heading typical of other Class B transponders with WiFi. It also has its own companion app that looks good at configuration and can purportedly also calculate AIS CPA/TCPA Alarms and manage MoB beacons. In fact, it’s the same app that now works with the OS and ACR AIS PLB:

    I have not tested the ATB1 and info on the app is limited, but I don’t believe it has the sophisticated AIS target filtering and alarming that are so valuable in the Vesper XB8000’s WatchMate app, nor the excellent anchor drag feature. Also, the XB8000 does its alarm calculations in the transponder and thus can trigger loud audible alarms even if WatchMate is not running or the mobile has gone to sleep.

    Incidentally, I think that the ATB1 is sold in the U.S. as the ACR AISLink CB2 — — though its manual doesn’t list the multiplexing features, so best to check on that. And, finally, all the ACR and OS gear I’ve tested has been exceptionally well made and reliable.

  31. Garmin is having a fire sale on the “North American” vesper units, as they are being phased out. The new units are marketed as “global”. Apparently there has been a hardware upgrade involving the wifi? Any info on what’s new?

    • Sven says:

      I have the global version (-20). I would not say the Wi-Fi hardware is amazingly better. Boat network for the handset is still hit and miss and cortex network is better but still not perfect. There is an upgrade to cellular.

      My hope is they will release the part that is used on the neuro to just let me hardwire into my peplink router, which is just a few feet away.

      I purposely got the global hoping it has hardware fixes and hopefully more future proof cellular bands, but right now I don’t know that there is a substantive difference other than part number.

    • Sven says:

      I have the global. WiFi is not perceivable better on boat network nor cortex network. It does have newer modem tech for cellular, but that hasn’t been noticeable yet for us. I hope they just release the Ethernet adapter part sold with the Neuro (Remote Operated Vessel) version.

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      Roger, I have not heard of any changes from the M1 regional to the M1 global except for the cellular capability and that’s confirmed below by Jason Young, who knows this product really well. Also, his company Milltech has it at 20% off, which is a good deal even if you don’t mess with the VHF component in my opinion. But if there is even more of a fire sale available, please let readers know where to find it.

  32. Jason Young says:

    The difference is all in the built-in cellular modem used for the remote monitoring feature. The ‘existing’ North American version allows for cloud connection within the US and Canada utilizing the built-in sim card. Whereas the global version will have worldwide coverage, although there will still be some areas outside of coverage, see link below. That being said both units are capable of connecting to an onboard network through Wi-Fi that will utilize that network and cloud connection. So, if you have an onboard network, say connected to StarLink or some other global internet provider, you could use that as well.

    But again, this is just related to the remote monitoring feature, the VHF, AIS, WiFi, etc. will be exactly the same and work globally.

    • Thanks Jason,
      I won’t be using the built in cellular modem

      I was under the impression that some users had experienced problems with the handset losing connection to the hub via wifi
      and that an the wifi chip had been upgraded

  33. Sven says:

    Looks like a new hub version is out: 2.0.20

    Improvements and bug fixes:

    Fixed rare occurrence where WiFi is lost and Cortex is not responding.
    Enhance VHF reception on weak incoming signals and avoid audio clipping.

    Anyone able to update? From iOS I just hang with barely the littlest bit of green on “Uploading” – these both look like things I would welcome, so eager to get it loaded.

    • Sven says:

      Got it installed. The “audio clipping” is much improved. Sometimes the first syllable still gets dropped, but the rest of the transmission comes in smoothly, whereas before sometimes a distant/less than ideal every other syllable would get squelched. The iCom 510 still has a slight edge in reception where the vesper misses or still drops, but it is MUCH closer than ever before. Still need a bit more time for overall stability.

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      Sven, thanks for the head’s up (again).
      I can’t fully speak for the install as I loaded v2.0.20 a while back via TestFlight as part of the beta program (but that process leads to a normal-seeming upload via iOS Cortex Onboard, which worked fine).
      I also can’t speak to WiFi problems as I haven’t had them on my boat.
      But I’m definitely experiencing better reception of weak transmissions, and without clipping. Plus I think that the auto squelch is working better.

  34. Anthony Kotoun says:

    Just bought and installed a Cortex. Last way software was loaded before shipping and so far everything has gone great.
    My question to fellow readers is what is a good speaker to connect with the cortex? The VHF’s volume/projection is a little weak when running the JD diesel at 2200 rpm’s on my Downeast.
    Just looking for something to help when I’m at the helm station.
    Thanks in advance.

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