Vesper Cortex update: Boat Networks, squashing bugs & more
Vesper Marine’s Cortex AIS, VHF, and monitoring system is the most innovative marine electronics product I’ve tested in a long time. But Cortex is also a serious challenge to review properly because it has so many useful capabilities — some of which look and feel strikingly different from their antecedents — and it’s also a system designed to evolve.
That’s the justification for this update, even though I recently wrote at length about testing the Cortex M1 Hub and haven’t yet attempted to fully describe the H1 handset/VHF portion of the system. It’s also why I’m delighted that others are now reviewing Cortex on their own boats, and often having different experiences with the details (as I’ll discuss at the end of this entry). It may take a village to help a studious skipper thoroughly understand Cortex, even after making the serious financial investment.
The major recent change to the Cortex hub is its new ability to join a boat’s own WiFi network and then deliver its AIS and GPS data — plus other boat info it gathers from its NMEA 2000 and 0183 connections — to apps running on other devices also using the network. For instance, whenever I climb aboard Gizmo these days, my iPad automatically logs onto its “M/V Gizmo 5G” network and if I open a navigation tool like TZ iBoat, it’s automatically displaying all sorts of useful info streaming from the Cortex hub (as illustrated above, with the NMEA Connection setup only shown to illustrate what’s happening behind the main nav screen).
This means that I can also use the Cortex Onboard app while the iPad (or my phone) is still enjoying other benefits of Gizmo’s network, like detailed Victron power monitoring. And, yes, it’s possible that one day I’ll be comfy in my berth streaming Netflix (or doom scrolling Twitter) while the excellent Cortex anchor watch runs in the background ready to literally tell me if something goes amiss.
Configuring the Cortex Boat Network feature using the Onboard app is quite straightforward, as suggested by the iOS and Android screens at the top of the entry. It’s also nicely unusual because the app can actually switch the WiFi network your tablet or phone is using — to, or from, the M1 hub — when you toggle that Boat Network switch. Note too how the setup page shows the IP address — in my case “192.168.1.6” — where the Cortex data can be found on Gizmo’s network. That’s what you need to set up nav apps like TZ iBoat and many others (along with the “39150” port address that Vesper has used for years).
A Cortex H1 handset can also connect to the M1 hub via a boat network, and that seemed to work fine when I tried it. But the only reason to do this, that I can think of, is if a direct WiFi connection to the M1 doesn’t work as well. In fact, Vesper recommends that at least one handset on a boat have a direct connection because the Boat Network feature does add a possible point of failure that’s likely also less robust than the Cortex modules.
Note that the Cortex Hub can connect directly to as many as 5 Cortex handsets, and simultaneously to 5 more handsets or app devices via a boat network. And that Vesper is saying the next feature up is intercom between handsets.
Meanwhile, my original M1 hub review did not cover its NMEA 0183 output mainly because I was blaming myself for not getting it to work correctly. Well, lo and behold, the problem was actually a typo in the Cortex manual — now long fixed — and what you’re seeing above are the nifty results of the Cortex feeding the HS 0183 port on Gizmo’s FloatHub monitoring device. The FloatHub sends AIS (and other) data to my private FH web page over WiFi and then forwards it to Marine Traffic (and other AIS websites), so my volunteer MT mobile station is happily back in action (and I receive valuable MT subscription privileges in return).
Actually, I wrote about FloatHub’s easy AIS forwarding ability in 2018, when a Vesper XB8000 was the source. And while I’m glad to have it back, those screenshots are also demonstrating how Cortex can still receive AIS even though Gizmo is now deep inside the windowless all-steel storage building you can see behind the JEM travel lift in this Google Street View (and that huge door is rarely rolled up these days). In fact, extremely difficult GPS reception inside that steel box is probably why my real-time FloatHub web widget shows Gizmo at anchor off The Bitter End Yacht Club right now (with the onboard air temperature at a decidedly un-tropical 40 degrees).
I know it’s a weird test, but isn’t it impressive that Cortex AIS, GPS and cellular radios have all been working much of the time inside what is essentially a huge Faraday shield? I did detach the main Shakespeare antenna from the tilted mast to get it standing upright, but I’m also hearing reasonably clear VHF conversations in about the same full Rockland Harbor range seen on the FloatHub AIS display. On the other hand, a GPS fix takes a very long time if I reboot the Hub — though I consider the month of tracking shown above quite good in the circumstances — and the cellular monitoring connection has been broken a fair amount in recent weeks (snow on top of the steel roof?).
Also, note that the free 90-day Cortex Premium Monitoring trial is long over on my test system, so what I’m experiencing now is the free-for-life Monitoring Lite. And it’s not bad. NMEA 2000 boat data is still visible from afar, though only updated twice a day, and the same for analog sensor inputs like the one watching Gizmo’s door. Those values are also roughly logged and graphed, and I think that the battery bank screen above — though actually it’s the power measured at the hub — could be quite useful, especially when the boat is stored. (As to what’s going on there with Gizmo’s Firefly bank, sad story to come.)
So Cortex continues to impress me, but that now includes how tiny bugs can impressively slip through rigorous testing of complex systems. Besides the early NMEA 0183 manual error already mentioned — which was essentially just “+” and “-” signs transposed — doesn’t the M1 WiFi password entered on my H1 handset above look correct?
I didn’t have to manually enter that password anywhere until November because the Cortex V1 kit comes already paired and the QR code works great for the app devices. Also, the handset pairing never failed until I joined the Cortex beta program, though manual pairing will be necessary if I get more handsets. And it drove me nuts until a Vesper representative wondered if it could be a zero versus capital O issue, although they’d eliminated both characters from passwords early in the Cortex roll out.
Well, I not only received an early Cortex, but had also faithfully entered what I thought to be a zero, many times, until that prompt got me to notice how CORTEX is printed near the password and realize that Vesper had also used a compressed font. As Homer Simpson would say: DOH! Or Cortex manual style: D0H!
Of course there may be more serious Cortex bugs than I’ve encountered so far, but encountering them can depend on the particular install, usage, and location. For instance, toward the end of Steve Mitchell’s thorough Cortex review, he describes losing parts of VHF conversations due to what he thinks is over-aggressive squelch. That’s not good, and apparently Vesper intends to provide more squelch control, but in the less VHF busy area where I’m testing, Cortex’s automated squelch seems nearly perfect as is and I’ve rarely even used the two settings besides Normal.
Then again, I have had noise problems on channel 68 that Cortex squelch won’t fix, but then I realized that there’s also some un-squelchable noise on the Standard Horizon GX6000 using the same antenna, though on 67 instead, and that Ben Stein’s Cortex channel 68 is working fine in Florida. So it seems like a Gizmo problem.
And while the AIS MoB Test Alerts on/off switch is a bit hard to find in the Cortex menu system, I certainly understand why Kees Verruijt might think that an annoying bug after installing his Cortex in a Caribbean harbor where 48 cruise ship lifeboats test their AIS MoB devices weekly. I also learned from Kees that the Cortex monitoring on his U.S.-sourced system does not work in Aruba and can not be changed over for European cellular when he sails back home in the near future. That’s disappointing, though I gather that Cortex monitoring will eventually learn to use other shore connections that might be available via Boat Network.
I’m hoping we’ll hear how Cortex performs during Kees’ Atlantic crossing (and highly recommend his recent Panbo PodCast). I also appreciated Chuck Batson’s Cortex review, and am quite baffled about how his Instrument screen can show depth in feet and inches, let alone 9′ 12″. That’s what I mean about different reviewers experiencing different Cortez quirks, and probably niceties too. The more reviews the better, I think, and I’d also like to see more videos of the handset in action, sound included. Which is my excuse for the rather crude attempt above.
I’ve had a Cortex since I could get one. I really didn’t need it but trying different technologies as I hope to cruise a lot more on the future. I recently had a situation where post upgrade the cell link stopped working. Vesper was great trying to fix the problem. They are sending me a new M2 so they can diagnose the issue back it the labs. Reason I am posting to the commend the great support I have received.
I am the Build Manager for North Pacific Yachts, so I have been enthusiastically suggesting Cortex to our new boat buyers. For context, the Cortex system is a $350 upgrade from the less integrated items we have been installing (including the AIS8000). A no brainer IMHO. I am so glad that Vesper is just making this better and better. And that sites like Panbo are giving context for its use. In other news, I am close to justifying a Cortex on my own boat! Question: Why get the wired handset? The Vesper rep says that wired only means power.
Thanks, Bill. I can confirm that the H1 tethered handset cable only attaches to 12 or 24v DC power. So there’s very little difference between it and the H1P portable, except maybe that the latter’s charging cradle could fail or you could misplace it because it is portable (and hopefully that doesn’t mean overboard). But I haven’t tried the portable and haven’t seen any independent reviews yet.
I have both the wireless and wired handset; I’ve just swapped them so now the wired handset is in the front cabin next to our pillows, with the wireless in the doghouse ready to take outside (… with stern warning from the Admiral not to lose it!)
One thing I would like is the ability to automatically switch the handset off when it is in the cradle and I shut down the power on the circuit (now it starts alarming, which is okay; and I understand Vesper’s decision to do it this way — it means you will be notified if battery power cuts out accidentally.)
I have found several Items I find annoying.
1. The menu to turn alarms on and off are only shown when on the plotter display, but not on the collision avoidance display.
2.When in some display modes you can’t get back to the VHF display using the VHF button on the handset without backing out of the current display or letting a display timeout such as adjusting display brightness. Since this handset is mainly a VHF unit that button should take priority over everything.
3.The touch and drag feature on display to change channels seems cool but it is too easy to end up with VHF on wrong channel and not realize it, can’t count the number of times this has happened.
4.Connections to my Furuno wifi network (wifi radar) seems to be problematic, ais gps and 0183 information not showing up reliably on iPad that is connected to Furuno radar.
#3 is one of my bigger complaints as well (on a system I basically love and would not part with). Yes, VERY easy to jump VHF channels, and a problem that it is so easy. I cruise several weeks a year where I am more or less in constant contact with other boats, either channel 68 or 71. The touch and drag feature makes it easy to change channels inadvertently because I’ve grabbed the handset quickly for a call-out to the group. Then, only to find I jumped channels and my transmission didn’t go through.
Ben, Have you done any testing with Coastal Explorer? I’m wondering if the Cortex could take place of the NEMO gateway and if would open the engine monitoring features of CE that are only available for display with the NEMO gateway.
Jim, I think that the NEMO has several unique features, as mentioned in part by Bill (below), but Cortex will definitely feed all the nav data it collects to CE. I haven’t actually tried it with CE on a PC, but I’ve used CE for years with all data supplied by a Vesper XB8000, at first via an Actisense USB gateway, and later via WiFi. Actually, CE is the best Nav app for seeing the details of what’s coming from a Cortex as shown at the end this recent bit about the CE on an iPad:
PS I think that NEMO can deliver engine info because Rose Point came up with their own way to do it from N2K engine PGNs. And I also think that NEMO, or NEMO2, may become one of the first NMEA OneNet devices that can put all NMEA 2000 data onto Ethernet/WiFi in a standard way.
Hi Jim! I’ve been told by Rose Point that the unique feature of the Nemo is it’s ability to duplex 0183 signals in addition to n2k. But this is done with some newer products now. The other element to the story is that any gateway needs to transmit all nmea information via 0183 in order for CE for iPad, for instance, to read it. I don’t have any 0183 transmitters aboard my older boat anymore. So the hardware connections provided by the Nemo aren’t needed in my case. So I bought a $200 Yacht Devices YDEN-02 to do the job, and it’s working great. As for Cortex, I think the question to ask Vesper is does it transmit all information in 0183.
I think you will find that the Cortex cant send engine data because it is limited to sending 0183 sentences over wifi and there are no 0183 sentances for transmitting engine data.
I think you’re right, Dan, plus Vesper only translates and distributes a limited set of common data from what it sees on an NMEA 2000 network anyway. This list probably also applies to Cortex:
A good feature for Vesper to implement in Cortex is the sort of filtering and source prioritization that Nemo can do. (I hadn’t heard of Nemo before today, but Steve’s writeup at is very enlightening…)
Cortex seems to favour its own GPS (fair enough) when sending NMEA0183 (over TCP port 39150) but it can’t handle my multiple depth and wind sensors. The latter may be peculiar to Merrimac being a B&G test vessel 🙂 The Cortex just writes out MWV and DPT sentences as it receives them on NMEA2000; at least it should use a different talker ID for different N2K sources; even better is a Web GUI to define which sources should be forwarded with which priority and which talker ID.
Oops, forgot the link to https://seabits.com/nemo-gateway-easy-nmea-networking-for-your-boat/
Cool! My AIS collision alarm video will soon be outdated, because the calm sounding lady will soon be more specific with her alarms, as in “collision alert, starboard bow.” And there are more new features (I hadn’t heard about) coming soon in update 1.5:
Also note that Cortex is so advanced that this news was published on Feb. 13 😉
Very exciting news that a loud hailer might be coming. As I expect Vesper reads these – I’ll pass on that the most frequent use of my loud hailer is the timed fog horn signal in Maine fog. My current one also lets me set the tone of the horn (hz) to a nice low pitch so I sound like a bigger boat in the fog…..
Carl, I’m curious to know which VHF lets you customize its fog horn tone. I’ve experienced how effective it is to sound like a much bigger boat than you’re actually on.
The comment on your Firefly bank has me a bit worried having just installed 6.
Ray, they will probably work fine for you, but do keep a close eye for possible problems with individual batteries. Also suggest you check out the many Firefly threads on the Cruisers Forum, like this one:
In short, many Firefly users are quite pleased with them after many years of use, but there are also some like me who have had problems. I do have excellent Victron data on the last six months of my four G31 bank and hope to do some forensic analysis with OPE. But I’m shopping for a lithium solution now.
Ouch. I’m another Firefly user. So far, so good. But I’m in the process of having a new cat built and she will have Lithium batteries. While I recognize that batteries are a little off the traditional Panbo topic, it might be a good extension to your tests as so many of your readers are tackling this new territory. There appears to be a sea change going on where the LiFePO4 banks with cells separate from the BMS (Lithionics) are being overtaken by the drop-ins. The “old guard” are adamant that the drop-ins are not as good but they seem to be loosing the battle to the much lower cost (and 8-10 year warranties) of the drop-ins. The large sailing cats have been routinely installing 1200-1800 AH banks of drop-ins for several years with few problems (of course, you need an installer who knows what he’s doing). In my own case I’ve been consider Battleborn, Relion, but especially LifeBlue that comes with bluetooth and an app that reports status and history from the BMS on each battery. And new drop-in brands are appealing regularly.
I’m looking forward to reading the details of your findings. We’re full-time cruisers and have 1000 watts of solar and 800 watts of wind so this bank rarely gets below 75%. Most morning we wake up to over 90%.
We got caught out in Florida a couple months ago with a dead AGM bank and were on our way to the Bahamas so we didn’t want to spend the time switching to lithium. We do have BB or Relion in our future but that will come with big changes such as all electric galley to take advantage of the batteries. Big job that’s now set to take place after the FF have lived their life.
Ray, I’m going to continue my Firefly comments on the more appropriate thread:
But rest assured that you’re using them in a much kinder way than I did!
Cortex software improvements continue at a nice pace and here’s one I’m especially pleased about as previewed in the latest Beta release:
The collision profiles have been extended on and the naming convention has been changed. The Anchored and Marina profiles are for when you are not underway. Harbour, Cruising and Offshore are for when you are underway. In the future we will use these definitions of underway and not underway when Cortex automatically prompts you to change your profile when it senses you may want to. To change the settings that each profile uses, go to Alarm Settings. The settings selected will be saved against the current profile. ”
They’ve also redone the overall alarm presentation and configuration in ways that sound easier to understand and manage. And, mind you, the collision profiles and various alarms were already well beyond the norms.
I was wondering if the Cortex monitoring would work in the Bahamas where Vesper doesn’t offer a monitoring plan. Ted Dixon responded to my email that the upcoming 1.5 update would:
“…… be able to connect the Cortex to an onboard cellular router if you have one on the boat, which is already connected to the BTC or other cellar providers in the Bahamas. With this connection you will be able to monitor the Cortex monitoring systems”
A great solution.
I own 2 units, one on a sailboat and one on a motorboat. I must say that I’m very disappointed by Cortex monitoring capabilities, robustness and software quality. It loses the cloud connection frequently, and while sailing for one week I had to restart the hub every day to even connect the Onboard app. Aside from buggy apps and firmware, I see the following shortcomings:
– DSC calling via chart plotter is not supported.
– Can’t reliably measure batteries > 12V
– No SOC measurement
– No CZONE support (Sentinel, Siren Marine and other monitoring products have it)
– Not enough I/O ports to be useful for switching
– Handset UX difficult to use under stress
I would recommend to wait until the product matures. They seem to have a very small software team as updates come slowly and at best fix a few bugs but introduce others.
I’m in the Cortex beta program, and yesterday just enabled a new feature whereby the Cortex monitoring can use its connection to a boat WiFi network if its own cellular isn’t working. Gizmo is a great test site for that as she’s in an all-steel building with a very shaky cell signal but pretty reliable WiFi to a boatyard hotspot. And the new fail over feature works great, at least so far.
It should be easy for Vesper to add N2K derived SoC to Cortex monitoring but I don’t think it will ever be a complete substitute for what Siren, Sentinel, and others are offering, but then again I think that the AIS/VHF features are so good, and have so much room to grow, that the monitoring can be seen as a nice extra if you can use it. By the same token, though, the handset is unfamiliar to all of us, though I’m also seeing some good UI improvements in the latest beta, and am about to write about others they just previewed to the press.
In short, I don’t think you’ll regret your purchases in the long run, and I know that you own one of the most beautiful and technically sophisticated vessels I’ve ever been aboard 😉
Latest Cortex Issues:
1. Hub failed to connect to Cell after an update. Worked with support resolve, but they ended sending me a new unit. Works fine now and no connection issues.
2: Wired Handset wasnt turning on, power to unit by no joy. Sent back to factory and waiting on reply.
3 Wireless Handset not seating properly. I have put a “wedge” behind the upper part of the handset to get connections to work and charge. They sent 2 new cradles but same issue. Not sure if something on handset or what – still waiting on what they can do for me..
Anyone else having issues with wireless handsets?
Yike! But — largely because I’m in the beta program — I’ve been through about 10 updates of my M1 hub and H1 handset without anything permanently breaking. I have had situations where the update ground to a halt forcing a candellation, or the H1 failed to connect afterward, but reboots all around always solved the issue (and now I try to remember to reboot the hub before an update).
Meanwhile I’ve had no trouble with wired H1 power, though I shut it down every time I leave the boat. And I don’t have wireless handset, though I’m hoping to fix that before summer on the flybridge. But Ben Stein has one and may chime in regarding the cradle fit.
I’ve been using a cortex H1P handset for over a year and find that its charging cradle is very unreliable and only connects part of the time. I’ll try the wedge idea next time I go to the the boat
The ability to make it part of an existing WIFI network is important, great to hear it is coming. I forgot to mention two other misses: it is impossible to be connected to more than one boat at the time, and only one app can connect to a hub – resulting in a strange 1:1 relationship between a phone and a boat. You have to decide whether the boat keeper or owner has access – why not both? And the boat keeper usually manages several boats in a marina. Both Sentinel and Siren Marine handle this.
Re linking to one boat….when they replaced my HUB, it was a pain to get the app back to the new Hub. Took several emails back and forth and some magic on the backend to get the “system” relating the new hub back to me and my monitor app
I’m looking to get one of these units and a couple handhelds to replace our B&G VHF (that keeps failing) and the AIS.
A couple questions if someone can help.
Our current B&G radio has a loud hailer on the mast and I read that Vesper has a firmware update that includes a hailer function. Has anyone used it yet?
I’m currently using Signal K connected to the B&G GoFree wifi unit to track basic sensor data. We are getting ready to add additional sensors for environment, engines, tanks and Victron charging. Will the Vesper unit repeat all the NMEMA 2k data to other clients? I would like to go down to only one wifi point on the boat if possible.
Vesper says that Cortex will eventually have a hailer function, and there are even wires for it, though unlabeled. But I think it’s fairly far along the development roadmap as they recently previewed some amazing scanning, recording, and squelch features that they’re working on now.
However, the Cortex hub includes an antenna splitter so that maybe you could keep the B&G radio for VHF backup and hailing. I have my test Cortex set up that way, so one antenna is handling Cortex VHF and AIS while a Standard Horizon is still able to do VHF and AIS receive (and hailing if I had one attached).
But the Cortex is not an Ethernet switch like your GoGree WiFi module (if I understand what that does correctly), and there’s a lot of confusion about what happens when NMEA 2000 data is bridged to Ethernet and/or WiFi anyway. An unofficial default standard has evolved in which core N2K data messages (PGNs) are translated to NMEA 0183 and then send out over WiFi so that various nav apps can get GPS, Heading, Wind, AIS etc. from the boat. Vesper has been doing that for a while, as a nice extra feature of its AIS transponders. And Cortex follows suit.
But there are many N2K PGNs that Cortex does not translate plus many for which there is no 0183 equivalent. By contrast, Signal K is designed to handle the raw N2K data stream, and even GoFree was designed with modes beyond the “translate basics to 0183” technique.
At any rate, I think that Vesper will expand the N2K data it can read because now it can bridge that info to its remote monitoring system where much more than basic nav info is useful. In fact, I suspect that some of the offboard monitoring will eventually work with the Cortex handsets so that we could be told in a nice but insistent voice that, say, a bilge alarm had been triggered.
But I think that you should stick with your current Signal K setup or explore other ways to get an SK server on your boat. There seems to be activity on that front recently, as seen on the Digital Yacht blog and the CPN site.
Hopefully others will chime in if I made mistakes or they have more add. How’s life in the lee of Long Island, Bahamas? I have fond memories of that area from back in the 70’s.
Thank you for the info! I was going off a Vesper press release regarding the hailer https://www2.vespermarine.com/news/cortex-q121/
Regardless, we really don’t use the hailer much except for last hurricane season when we decided to sail in New England.
The Signal K stuff is really amazing, I just need to be careful to not go overboard on sensors.
We’re enjoying Long Island. We spend a a couple weeks in the Raggeds and had a great time! We’re slowly making our way back to the US where we plan to spend the summer before, hopefully, heading to the Pacific.
Cortex Release 1.5 is official and also nicely documented:
As mentioned above, I’ve already experienced many of the improvements and new features as part of the Beta program (though limited to a boat still in storage). I like all of them.
Bummer, I don’t see hailer listed.
Since Vesper likely reads these – I also am looking forward to the hailer – especially as an automated fog horn – with user selected timing and hertz. That was the most frequent use of my previous boat’s hailer.
Ben – thanks for the excellent information, as usual. I have recently installed the Vesper Cortex with a Morad VHF/AIS antenna, and I also have a Standard Horizon GX2400 tied into the VC antenna switch. Some observations, some of which you have discussed:
1. Fabulous product, synched into my NMEA 2K and Chart plotters seamlessly, but needs software upgrades, especially in the VHF, both as discussed in your article and below.
2. I have confirmed that with the VC completely powered off, the antenna switch keeps my GX2400 fully operational – eliminating the concern that a power failure in the VC will not impair my backup GX2400.
3. Because of the poor granularity of the squelch on my VC, my GX2400 will receive VHF voice traffic that the VC will not when they are both on the same channel side-by-side. The poor squelch granularity of the VC is a big negative – I find myself using both radios in parallel to be certain I do not miss important radio traffic. VC customer support stated to me that an “improvement” in the squelch is coming as a future release – but missing radio traffic, especially on the flybridge where the VC is my only radio, is a serious problem.
4. AIS targets in the “Directory – Far or Stationary” are listed alphabetically, not by distance – this is problematic – what is needed is a list by distance – nearest target, I do not have interest in scrolling to search for the nearest vessel, even if it is stationary.
5. Big Issue – No weather alert! VC customer service says “it’s on the list” – my $45 off the shelf portable weather radio has that, and my GX2400 has a phenomenal weather alert – another reason the GX2400 has to be on at the same time as the VC! Frustrating.
6. I totally agree with you on the channel scanning – dual watch as presently implemented is almost of no value. Another reason the GX2400 stays on when the VC is on, so I can monitor 9 and 16 at the same time.
These deficiencies will, I am certain, be fixed in software over time, but it is disappointing that Vesper, as advanced as they are, did not take a major brand off-the-shelf VHF radio, such as the GX2400, and say to themselves “…let’s make certain the VC does EVERYTING an off-the-shelf VHF radio can do…”
Hopefully our united chorus will encourage Vesper to speed up the software releases addressing these and other issues, after proper pre-release regression testing.
I think I agree with all the shortcomings you’ve identified but I don’t agree about how disappointing it is that Vesper released the product before they’d reached parity with long-established radios. Cortex is an incredibly ambitious product and it does a ton. I think Vesper made the choice to get the product out when they felt they had a viable product.
I certainly understand that your definition of viable and Vesper’s might differ but, I also think there’s a mindset shift that needs to take place. Because of how much Cortex does in Software, it’s not like releasing a traditional VHF radio. Vesper can (and has in major ways) add functionality, tweak things, and generally improve the radio long after it leaves them. It’s much more like what Tesla is able to do with their cars long after they leave the factory.
Because Cortex is so heavily software-defined, many of the software development terms come into play. The one that rings the loudest for me is MVP (minimum viable product) and it’s the software industry’s term of art for, it’s good enough and if we just keep polishing we will never release.
Reid Hoffman, co-founder of LinkedIn has a great quote that goes something like “If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, then you waited too long to launch.” It’s another version of one of my favorite concepts, don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good. At some point, Vesper had to launch and deal with issues as they arose. For a small company, they have to balance gaining some revenue and traction from a product that surely cost them a huge amount to develop.
From my seat, I applaud Vesper for the courage to launch a revolutionary product and I’m willing to give them a pretty long leash to make it even better.
A few years ago Vesper sent me an email saying that they would upgrade my four year old Vesper Vision to the substantially better new Vision 2 for a small fee. They even sent me a box and DHL label for shipping to New Zealand and back for $50. It was back in a week. I’ve never heard of any marine electronics company doing that! They earned a lot of rope from me.
I mentioned some of my weird issues. There support has been great. I’ve heard some hardware issues that they have been good about solving. As of this week all is working as expected with both wired and wireless handsets.
As stated before, I own 2 units on different boats (sail & open console). Aside from lack of some critical table-stakes features, I experienced VHF problems and general reliability issues requiring restart or had updates failing. I love the hardware, but am increasingly disappointed with the software quality.
I’ll be honest, reading all this as I prepare to install this unit makes me a little nervous.
I’m trying to decide where to mount the charge cradle for the cordless handset. It really depends on how long the battery lasts. Does anyone have info on how long the battery lasts? I know it depends on how much you transmit but I’m just looking for a range.
We use the portable handset for two weeks now and off course we have a lot of ‘display’ time getting used to the Cortex. We also have wifi issues. Just a few feet.
Battery will last about 5 or 6 hours the way we use it now.
I haven’t tested battery life due to my issues. Will need to do that. The good thing is they sent me a couple bases when trying to sort out my charging issue. So now I can mount in 3 locations. Lower and upper helm. Maybe the master stateroom for the anchor watch.
I think I’ll order a second charging base for the helm.
The wifi signal to the handsets is very bad! I’m 2 feet away and have a sliver of a signal. I think I’ll try to add a cable to the wifi antenna and move it outside of the compartment.
My boat is only 34’ trawler. Base is under flybridge and haven’t had any signal issues. Although I haven’t tried a distance test. Are you connecting to the Hub or via boat WiFi?
I’m on the hub. I tried it on the boat wifi and it works much better! I’m in a marina in Miami and 2.4 is pretty busy. It doesn’t look like there is a way to change the channel the hub uses.
I have another Vesper question but please let me know if there is a better online resource for these questions (I haven’t found one).
Is there a way to have the VHF off but still hear alarms? We would rather not listen to VHF traffic all day when all we want is the anchor alarm.
You can mute the VHF radio calls and the alarms will come through after one escalation.
Vesper customer technical service support, accessible from their web site, has a form for technical questions. They are very responsive, but remember, it is in New Zealand, so the response is typically next a.m. in U.S. east coast.
We have two antennas so questioning installing the cortex. In the past we’ve noticed having an AIS antenna tuned for AIS and a VHF for VHF is the best, mid-band antennas were a compromise. How does that compromise work out here?
We have a Garmin chartplotter and Vesper Vision2, so debating going to the Vision2 or just a Garmin VHF to allow the easy DSC hailing that supposedly works between chart-plotter and VHF. The Garmin radio would allow separate antennas to be used.
Sven, I’m seeing good Cortex VHF and AIS performance from a Shakespeare Phase III 6500-WB Broadband 4-footer:
But you already have a lot of great Vesper features with the Vision2 — some hopefully improved as they’ve evolved Cortex features — and I believe that Garmin VHF’s do a nice job of setting up DSC calls with AIS targets, as I saw back in 2009:
DSC hailing between Cortex and Chartplotter does not work yet. It’s a feature one would expect but it is not there and there is no date by when it will be available.
Thanks, Stephan, but I think that NMEA was slow to create a standard N2K PGN for setting up VHF radios with a target MMSI. That’s why the feature is usually only seen with same brand VHF and MFD. But then again, Cortex combines AIS target plotting (and transponder) with VHF so it’s easy to place a direct DSC call to an AIS target vessel from within Cortex, right? (I think I only tried it once, but worked fine.)
Option 1: Sell iCom 604, install Garmin 215 or 315. Plus: use chartplotter for DSC calling which is probably more natural. Separate radios. Con: 2 watts, no message 27
Option 2: Sell iCom 604, Watchmate Vision 2, install Cortex. Plus: gain anchor watch/remote monitoring to some degree, 5 watt SOTDMA AIS with message 27 so maybe picked up be satellites in remote regions, cons: still some bugs, no hailer support
Option 3: Sell Icom 604, Watchmate Vision 2, install both Garmin VHF and Cortex, best of both worlds? Cons: $$$$
I have a VC and SH GX2400 (via the antenna switch in the VC) both connected to a single Morad “broadband” VHF voice/AIS antenna, and I get excellent coverage, notwithstanding the VC squelch adjustment granularity issue. In this arrangement, VC AIS coverage is superb, SH GX2400 VHF voice is excellent and VHF voice on the VC is adequate, but the lack of squelch granularity in the VC does result in lost radio traffic reception that is received by the SH GX2400 (which has a continuously variable squelch, unlike the VC) on the same Morad antenna.
Thanks, Stephen. I’ve seen some screenshots showing how Vesper intends to improve the Cortex squelch function and it looked spectacular.
A direct DSC call via the VC does indeed work, but the inability (at present) to perform a direct DSC call via the VC from an MFD in my thinking conflicts with one of the basic premises behind an MFD; all functions from a single user interface. Juggling between devices at the helm takes valuable time, is awkward and distracts from focusing on essential navigation tasks while underway. Will I hit that crab trap while fumbling between multiple user interfaces on different devices? My ten year old retired Garmin MFD did direct DSC calling from an AIS target on the MFD via NMEA 2K to the 10 year old Garmin VHF. My brand new Axiom+ network linked by NMEA 2K to either my VC or SH GX2400 cannot yet do the same. Another item that hopefully VC will update in software with multiple MFD vendors.
That’s good news on the squelch – anxiously awaiting the upgrade!
Does anyone really use DSC for calling? My chart plotter and VHF are linked but I gave up using it after I found that both recreational and commercial vessels respond much more frequently to just hailing them on ch 16 or ch 13 using their name.
Well, yesterday I started getting AIS error alarms and now today, the unit won’t pick up any GPS Satellites. Looks like these units simply are not reliable.
Ray, are you using the VC GPS antenna externally mounted with a clear view of the sky? Mine has worked flawlessly on position and you need GPS for AIS as well.
A laptop. It was a laptop killing GPS. How is this possible? It’s a pretty new Dell XPS.
Yes, I have it installed outside with a clear view. It’s been working great for a month then it just stopped.
The VC base unit and vhf handset use wifi that shows up with an SSID of CORTEX-xxxxxxxx and AIS Class B. Is it possible your laptop wifi was networked to these? Also the Cortex “Onboard” cell phone/tablet app uses CORTEX-xxxxxxxx from which many functions and settings of the Hub unit can be managed and be changed. Check your laptop wifi network settings, you may have “auto reconnect” of your laptop wifi set to network to the VC. It is also possible there may be an IP address conflict between your laptop and VC, check your network settings and compare the laptop to the VC IP addresses.
NEWS FLASH; new software update just hit my VC. Hub = 1.6.2229 and Handset 1.6.5. Will report on changes I see as soon as I can.
It was totally repeatable. Both the VC and the laptop were connected to the boat’s wifi. The GPS antenna was above where I was sitting with the laptop. I moved the antenna to the stern engine compartment (sailing cat) and now it’s fine unless I sit on the sugar scoop with the laptop.
Apparently this is Release Version Cortex v1.6.14 which contains handset 1.6.5 and Hub 1.6.2229. Details can be found at support.vespermarine.com support portal>resources>Firmware Updates. I was away for a few days, it was released on 22 June 2021.
Is anyone else a little frustrated with Vespers failure to keep their website updated with cortex release history
Ben Ellison – Curious about any update on the squelch granularity issue. It has been almost 4 months since we discussed the issue, which is still a significant problem forcing me to use 2 separate systems, the Vesper Cortex and an independent VHF radio. I don’t like giving my opinion to fellow boaters in St. Petersburg who ask about the Vesper Cortex, primarily due to the VHF squelch granularity issue and the lack of weather alert functions. It is a spectacular product, but respectfully to Vesper – where we have too many “pop up” thunderstorms and waterspouts, the weather alert is important – and the inability to hear USCG radio warnings on weather, etc. due to poor squelch control only compounds the problem. Honestly, I do not understand why a remote MMSI function, or an intercom, is considered more important than the ability to use the VHF radio reliably. We have all lived with the MMSI issue for years and we manage. I have just sent any email to VC tech support to inquire on firmware update status. I, and others, I am certain, are growing restless on these safety based deficiencies.
Can you provide any updates? Most appreciated !
Also interested to hear – I ended up getting the Cortex as I like having two radios. It seems the “monitor” app is broken as it won’t load. Also does not seem like it passes the DSC position report PGN 129808 to the chart plotter.
Also haven’t been able to see any satellite pings yet on Marine Traffic – maybe that’s because it knows it is in terrestrial range somehow?
Hi Sven, My Android Cortex monitoring app just updated to v1.71 and loaded fine, but the hub on my boat is shut down as I’m in the middle of a wiring project. And I do think that MT prioritizes reports from terrestrial stations over satellite. But I have not tried sending DSC position reports to Cortex yet, and don’t see DSC PGNs in the Cortex manual. I will look into that but maybe another user can chime in.
No update for iOS yet. I noticed that PGN is missing from the list too (after purchase). I like running two VHFs (one on 16, one dual watch on 13/14) so I will probably still upgrade the standalone to a Garmin with NMEA 2000. But at that point I start to wonder if I should have just gone class a for this, added one of the other monitoring solutions like siren or barnacle, and a separate second VHF. With software updates this will probably end up mostly superior and under cost compared to those which would ring in at ~3-4k.
Patience is a virtue I need to strive to grow in I guess
Hi Stephen, I’m discouraged about how Cortex updates have slowed down — https://support.vespermarine.com/hc/en-us/articles/360001904816-Cortex-Release-History — but then again what they’re trying to do is hugely innovative. That particularly applies to squelch, as suggested in this slide below from a Cortex roadmap preview last spring. The plan is individual signal monitoring and, if desired, custom squelch levels for every single channel including a visual history of what’s happening. But they made no promises about when this will happen.
Incidentally, though Vesper improved Cortex squelch in v1.8, the much more advanced squelch previewed above is still in the works:
Vesper just announced Cortex v1.7 firmware with hailer and foghorn support that look quite cool:
I like how the hailer function can be used on the Cortex Onboard app, as well as the handset, and Vesper says the same will apply to the intercom function coming next.
I know that some users are anxious for improved squelch, but apparently channel scanning is also in the works — as in “Cortex will monitor all channels simultaneously in the background” — and I think that means they’re closing in on visual and customizable squelch.
The multi-tuner approach is pretty game changing. Also if this can do radio+hailer/fog horn at the same time it would be a plus. We ended up getting a Garmin 315 AND a Cortex – that solves many of the problems. Now we have one radio dedicated to 16 (vesper since it doesn’t scan) and the other scanning 13 and VTS. This prevents VTS or ship to ship from blocking 16. Garmin is wired into the hailer for now.
The more we’ve been using the Vesper, the happier we’ve become. It was a rocky start but the company has really done a great job of helping us work through the commissioning issues.
We used the hailing function more often than expected with our last system so we’ve been looking forward to once again using the speaker on the mast.
We also have an unopened Amazon package with water level switches that I’ll try hooking up to the Vesper someday.
1.7 is not available to me yet – still on 1.6 and checking daily. It’s not even listed on VC’s software updates page (https://support.vespermarine.com/hc/en-us/articles/360001904816-Cortex-Release-History) despite public announcements elsewhere. In response to a recent email inquiry re: the squelch fixes discussed in this forum, NZ tech support responded to me “….in 1.8”. Sigh…I still consider the squelch problem to be a vital safety issue.
Based on my observations (watching network traffic from onboard app), they don’t download the firmware updates into the app, the are part of the app itself. So in order to update the firmware we’ll likely have a new app version – which is likely to take however many days the approval process is for your respective App Store.
The press release wasn’t clear, but 1.7 is now in beta and expected to go out to regular Cortex users in “just weeks” according to their new update portal:
Any rumors on when 1.7 or the new squelch might hit release branch? How does one sign up for beta? I have everything torn apart for some new antenna and coax installs, so this would be an opportune time to move the hailer from the Garmin to the Cortex.
Also – has anyone heard complaints about audio quality on the cortex from receiving parties? So far I have heard various complaints of hum/background noise/hollow sounding/etc… I was getting a higher VSWR (hence new antennas+coax) but wondering if it might be something to do with the microphone quality or Wireless connection (using the wireless handset).
A confidential but knowledgeable source has stated to me that 1.7 experienced some issues during Beta that need to be fixed prior to general release. Rumor has it “…possibly this week.” Don’t hold your breath. My guess is Vesper jumped the gun on announcing 1.7 before it was thoroughly vetted and comprehensive regression testing was completed.
1.8, that according to NZ Tech Support will address the squelch granularity (lack thereof) and other items; based upon how 1.7 is being handled, my best guess is we will be lucky to see it in 1Q 2022.
This is the risk we take for being on the “bleeding edge “, with an innovative product and great, but small company.
You do not want to be part of a Beta without a backup plan and alternate hardware in place. Unvetted firmware can brick your hardware prior to thorough regression testing. Just look at how many “oops’s” and “Blue Screen’s of Death” Microsoft has on a regular basis after alledged regression testing, and they have thousands more software engineers than Vesper.
Regarding the audio quality issue, I cannot attest, as due to the squelch issue I use my non-Vesper stand alone VHF for fear of losing an important incoming VHF message to poor squelch. In essence, my VC is an excellent primary AIS, but it is my standby VHF. I shall perform some audio quality tests among my marina neighbors and post my anecdotal results as soon as I can.
I am using the Cortex similarly. While there are many VHFs with marginal AIS transceivers – this is an AIS with a marginal VHF (when I say VHF I mean the typical marine voice). The cortex has the potential to be an amazing VHF. So I would love to get the hailer/fog horn off the main VHF (Garmin 315), as it doesn’t like to do fog horn AND radio at the same time – at least that I have figured out.
I still have my watchmate and the Garmin, so it wouldn’t be a disaster if this thing bricked. Patience in the meantime I guess.
I purchased and installed one of the first Cortex’s to hit the US in August 2020. As many have said, an amazing innovation with some bugs. Vesper has been responsive from the beginning and I’ve been in the beta program and regularly make recommendations and bring up issues.
On the new hailer feature – we hooked up the hailer /horn to a Standard Horizon 240 speaker. Works very well. Have made a suggestion to Vesper for a button on the VHF screen as too many buttons to push if you are on VHF and need to warn someone immediately. Happened at a bridge in FL today. Keep the airhorn handy still.
Question 1: has anyone successfully added a cable to the WiFi antenna and moved it outside of where you have the base unit? Or a stronger WiFi antenna?Our WiFi strength from in the electric cabinet is not great and we’ve lost signal for brief periods at the helm.
Question 2: We use Aqua Map as a second source of charts and usually build our routes there as it’s easier on the IPad than on the Raymarine Axiom Pro. Our iPads connect to the Cortex network, but both IPhones, a 12 Pro Max and a 13, will not connect. Anyone else have this issue? I’ve been working with Aqua Map tech support the last few days and they are looking at all our log files and screen shots.
Looking forward to the squelch features and channel scanning. Vesper has improved the squelch quite a bit. Early on certain Channels were unusable in quite a few places. Most are now on with the current settings.
Hi Sven, The release version of 1.7 went out to beta testers a few days ago, so I think it will be out quite soon. My test situation is poor right now, with the boat in a steel shed, but the new features looked well done to me. Info on the wiring here:
Please, it is December already. 1.7 has been obviously delayed for reasons that one can only speculate on, including possibly issues found in Beta, to which we are not privy. The prospect for the release of 1.8, including (according to NZ tech support) what in my opinion, are critical solutions to lack of squelch granularity that I consider a serious safety issue, is lost in the woods. Vesper has fallen down on the firmware updates, and has jeopardized an otherwise great AIS with a substandard VHF. I have stated previously and will keep beating this drum: Why is a VHF radio on the market that cannot receive a VHF message due to poor squelch granularity when compared side-by-side with almost any off-the-shelf VHF radio? I have solid and vetted real world experience with VC compared side-by-side with a new Standard Horizon VHF and an older Garmin VHF on the same antenna – the SH and Garmin receive broadcasts the VC cannot, and will not until the squelch is given better granularity. And why is a hailer considered more critical than a simple DTMF decoder weather alert? My $25 weather radio has that! Come on Vesper – get going with the firmware and do proper regression testing before you release news dispatches about vaporware. Honesty breeds loyalty, not empty promises. Bring in some fresh software engineers if needed. Based upon Vesper’s response to firmware releases thus far I cannot, and will not, at this stage, justify the expense of the VC that has let me down, to anyone else. A good AIS, yes. A so-so VHF radio at best.
A ground breaking product is only as good as your satisfied customer base – I feel I have been let down by a marginal and costly product that does not deliver as promised. Caveat emptor.
You are repeating yourself, Mr. Weiss.
Yes, it is taking long. And I can see why — the squelch is related to the SDR which is a specialist area that only so many people have experience with. Most software engineers, including most of those at Vesper, wouldn’t know where to start on that. So they build out the rest of system that they are able to work on. 1.7 contains the capability to select sources for the NMEA 2000 sensors, which is great as I have multiple sensors for all items used on Cortex: wind, depth, heading, position. It kept flipping between the sources. This is now fixed. Thank you Vesper!
I also don’t seem to be affected by your squelch issues but then I might be mistaken as I don’t have a backup fixed radio, only handhelds. I like a hard squelch anyway that filters out weak signals, and with our 30m antenna height we seem to have good reception.
WX reception? Not interesting to 95% of the world e.g. everybody outside the USA and Canada.
So for me, Vesper is doing fine with Cortex.
One of my favorite features of the Cortex is that it provides an easy way to have two VHF radios on one high mast head antenna and better – have different squelch levels for different channels. I leave my Standard Horizon VHF on 16 where weak signals might matter and use the Cortex for Ch13, 9, 68 where I want only local traffic and more squelch to filter out distant chatter. I’ll be happy when Vesoer improves the squelch but it’s certainly not a reason to not recommend the Cortex if you plan to keep your old VHF.
Well it looks like the app update and 1.7 are now in the iOS App Store. Good luck everyone.