Icom combo VHF/AIS, at least a concept


A month or so ago reader Derek Love (thanks!) wrote in about an interesting combination VHF transceiver and AIS receiver previewed by Icom UK at the London Boat Show. It got a little coverage plus there’s an Icom UK web page about it, though that page seems oddly inaccessible from the main site. I’ve tried to find out more and what I hear is that the prototype is a small board that can be added to Icom M505 and M603 radios, but preferably during manufacturing, not as after-market mod, because of the waterproofing.

An additional antenna would not be needed and, while the radio itself would not show any AIS info, the same two-way NMEA 0183 cable already used to pass DSC data could be used (at a higher baud rate) to carry the target info to a plotter or computer. In other words, here would be an AIS receiver that takes up zero room and is really simple to install. Plus I’m told that AIS versions of the IC-M504 and IC-M604—the US versions of the UK models— could be sold at a modest premium to the regular sets, and that Icom USA is “seriously considering” the idea. Cool!
   Mind you, though, that if these combos do become reality, they will only be a one-AIS-channel-at-a-time receivers. Those work pretty well with Class A AIS but may be confusing when used to plot Class B targets with their much slower transmit rates. Then again, who knows if we’ll ever see Class B in the USA? The subject didn’t even make the FCC’s Feb. 26 agenda, contrary to the hopes of many, and now the focus is on the next monthly meeting, scheduled for March 19. I doubt anyone is holding their breath.

Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

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

8 Responses

  1. Good idea. This is one of the few developments that would make me want to replace my IC-M601, which I consider to be a superb piece of equipment.

  2. Dan (b393capt) says:

    My thoughts: Ho, hum. Not enough to get me to upgrade.
    1) Gosh … if I am going to incure the expense of installing a second antenna, how about a two channel at a time AIS receiver at least ?
    2) How about features on the interface (NMEA 0182 or N2K), that would allow the radio to be remotely controlled by a chartplotter or a PC ? E.g. Use the DSC feature to hail a contact on my chartplotter (based on MMSI number coming from AIS), call a boat on my buddy list on a PC or chartplotter, etc? It seems that the DSC features of my radio are just not practical for my crew to learn, based on the difficulty using the limited number of buttons on the radio, and an GUI residing on a PC or chartplotter can make that a lot more practical.

  3. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Dan, The Icom VHF/AIS would not need a second antenna. As for the ability to initiate a DSC call from a plotter, that would be great and maybe it’s possible. Especially if there is, or will be, standard NMEA 0183 and 2000 messages to handle it.

  4. Dan (b393capt) says:

    Ben, pls delete my earlier message. I had misread the “would not” in front of antenna.
    This looks quite a bit more attractive now. It would fill the gap for me until an AIS / VHF combination that communicates with buddy lists, etc. is available and integrated into my chartplotter.

  5. Mike says:

    It be nice if there were upgrades available for older units. I have a not-so-old and perfectly usable ICOM 602 and love to be able to send it in to ICOM or a third-party service station and have the AIS board put and the unit retain it’s certified waterproofing!
    Does anyone know of any reason why that wouldn’t be possible?

  6. Russ says:

    Icom needs to make a huge improvement in their user interface before they contemplate more features. The existing interface renders the DSC functions (other than Distress call) essentially useless. Adding more features to already awkward system is not going to help.

  7. Dan (b393capt) says:

    Owning an ICOM-422 I would agree … but is that just an ICOM thing, or is it similiarly difficult to use the DSC features on most other popular radios as well ? Who has done the interface the best so far using just the handful of buttons available on a typical radio ?

  8. JesperW says:

    It will receive AIS data only when the AIS channels are included in the channel scanning.
    It will make a little noise every time the scan stops at an AIS channel to receive data.
    …two annoying points that make me a non-customer.
    Otherwise it would have been great.
    …dreaming of a single unit that has dual receivers and an internal antenna splitter….

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