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Old 02-04-2017, 07:50 AM   #1
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AIS with the ability to upgrade firmware

In the last year there have been several discussions about the advantages of AIS in collision avoidance as well as the ability to identify other vessels before you can see them. Some are opting to buy VHF radios with AIS included but little discussion has taken place regarding additional capabilities some manufacturers are including in their units.

When we wanted to add AIS to our boat we took another cruisers suggestion and paid a little more and added a stand alone AIS vs a radio with the capability. We are sure glad we installed a Vesper XB-8000 unit. At the time we did not appreciate the units ability to upgrade the firmware. But now almost three years later we are sure happy we bought an upgradable AIS. Vesper have provide free updates to the software several times and one even provided an anchor watch capability. Now they are at it again with their new smartAIS function. I'm not going to try to describe this new function but here is the link so you can check it out for yourself.

https://www2.vespermarine.com/

So it just goes to show that sometimes you can pay a little more and come out way ahead!

No connection just a very satisfied customer.
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Old 02-04-2017, 08:23 AM   #2
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Glad that you're happy with your unit. It seems that most of the improvements are allowing the unit to perform functions done by other electronics as opposed to new features. As an analogy, my Icom radio has a display screen that can display AIS targets. That technology isn't new, just new to being displayed on a VHF. It's nice that your unit has an anchor drag alarm, but that technology certainly isn't new.

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Old 02-04-2017, 10:00 AM   #3
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I believe this functionality is common in several manufacturers. The firmware can be updated on my Sitex unit. I believe one of the biggest issues with Class-B AIS is its power and resulting range which results in intermittent transmission in some circumstances.
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Old 02-04-2017, 10:18 AM   #4
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JD, did you get the Sitex unit with the screen or the "little black box?"

Are you pleased? I have a Sitex sounder, an antique for sure but it continues to work reliably so I approve of Sitex.
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Old 02-04-2017, 10:59 AM   #5
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Vesper has really impressed me with their commitment to firmware updates. Good, solid improvements are made all the time. Some are not that useful to me personally, while others are exactly what I'd been looking for. They listen to their customers and have an active update program in which customer requests appear to be prioritized.

On the other side of the equation is Garmin. They seem focused on pumping out new hardware every year, and planned obsolescence seems to be their priority. They'll dribble out a few bug fixes for a year or two, then declare the product "legacy" and stop all updates. I never found an update which actually improved the product.

My oft-cited example is my Garmin MFD. It was listed as a legacy product two years after I bought it, and there have been no updates since. It takes an SD card, and that SD card can contain Active Captain data, but Garmin refused (I asked) to update the firmware to actually read that data. This isn't a technical limitation, it's a deliberate effort by Garmin to diminish the value of my 3-year-old unit in the totally unlikely hope that I'll toss it and buy a brand new model.

I can assure you, my next MFD will NOT be made by Garmin. I know other manufacturers do the same thing, but this one felt almost like a personal insult.
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Old 02-04-2017, 11:06 AM   #6
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On the other side of the equation is Garmin. They seem focused on pumping out new hardware every year, and planned obsolescence seems to be their priority. They'll dribble out a few bug fixes for a year or two, then declare the product "legacy" and stop all updates. I never found an update which actually improved the product.

My oft-cited example is my Garmin MFD. It was listed as a legacy product two years after I bought it, and there have been no updates since. It takes an SD card, and that SD card can contain Active Captain data, but Garmin refused (I asked) to update the firmware to actually read that data. This isn't a technical limitation, it's a deliberate effort by Garmin to diminish the value of my 3-year-old unit in the totally unlikely hope that I'll toss it and buy a brand new model.

I can assure you, my next MFD will NOT be made by Garmin. I know other manufacturers do the same thing, but this one felt almost like a personal insult.
Do you feel the same way when Apple or some other personal electronics or computer manufacturer does the same thing?

Ted
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Old 02-04-2017, 11:51 AM   #7
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The difference with boat electronics and an iPhone is the boat stuff is frequently "built in" either mounted in the dash or networked. Plus they are a significantly higher initial cost and there is frequently an installation cost. Yes, obsolete iPhones are annoying but largely they are still useful and last for quite a long time unless you want all the latest doodads like Apple Pay or whatever.

None of my electronics are built in to the dash. As much as a new suite of electronics can be exciting, it's frustrating to be rebuilding the dash repeatedly and pulling new cables. Of course, my boat is not "yachty" but I pulled a whole bundle of useless computer cable out of her as she must have been powered by a PC in the past.

I have also heard that many companies are getting out of building dedicated plotter/mfds as they are expensive, low volume and many boaters are converting to iPads or similar. After all, a plotter is just a screen with proprietary buttons and some software. Construction costs must be minuscule. Keeping up with technology is expensive and frustrating. For example, virtually every airline pilot carries an iPad with a gps instead of the bags full of paper approach charts we all had to carry in the past. Seems simple but this became a challenge as they all need charging ports as the batteries were insufficient for a long crossing. Airline cockpits just didn't have any and the regulators required a lengthy approval process to install them. It's a nuisance in every industry that uses electronics.
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Old 02-04-2017, 12:36 PM   #8
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JD, did you get the Sitex unit with the screen or the "little black box?"

Are you pleased? I have a Sitex sounder, an antique for sure but it continues to work reliably so I approve of Sitex.

It's the little black box, that interfaces through the NMEA 183 to display on the Coastal explorer. As mentioned the transmission is sometimes intermittent. Sitex has provided help on this, I've swapped with other units, but it seems this is a common complaint with other Class B units. All connections have checked out fine, including the dedicated VHS antenna. The intermittent transmission issue has been identified through contact with other vessels carrying Class B AIS. Sometimes they observe us, sometimes not. FWIW, Stryker has confirmed all of my diagnosis.

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Old 02-04-2017, 01:26 PM   #9
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Thanks for that JD, I am interested in AIS for industrial traffic but have no desire to announce my progress to the world. My past experience with conflicting recreational traffic is that most assume if there is no actual physical contact then it's a successful encounter. I doubt that these operators are even sober, let alone aware.
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Old 02-04-2017, 01:43 PM   #10
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Thanks for that JD, I am interested in AIS for industrial traffic but have no desire to announce my progress to the world. My past experience with conflicting recreational traffic is that most assume if there is no actual physical contact then it's a successful encounter. I doubt that these operators are even sober, let alone aware.

I have an Icom "receive-only" unit that is surplus to requirements, if you are interested. I swapped this unit out for the Sitex.
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Old 02-04-2017, 03:43 PM   #11
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Hi JD, thank you, but I guess I should have spelled that out - I don't like that anybody with wifi can see my meanderings! I've got a S.H. Radio with an AIS receiver in it but I would like to show the commercial guys where I am. It would make a very loud clank if anyone hit me.
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Old 02-04-2017, 05:23 PM   #12
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Thanks for that JD, I am interested in AIS for industrial traffic but have no desire to announce my progress to the world. My past experience with conflicting recreational traffic is that most assume if there is no actual physical contact then it's a successful encounter. I doubt that these operators are even sober, let alone aware.
I assume you know the Vesper unit can be silenced easily with the wifi app. We don't transmit in marinas or at docks. We use our iPhone or IPad also to display in the master at night. The ability to display on a phone or a tablet and the NEMA 2000 connection is convenient.

Makes for good sleeping on the inland rivers.
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Old 02-04-2017, 06:04 PM   #13
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Good Post Norm! Thank you. I just updated my Raymarine MFD, but didn't check my AIS.
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Old 02-04-2017, 06:51 PM   #14
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I believe this functionality is common in several manufacturers. The firmware can be updated on my Sitex unit. I believe one of the biggest issues with Class-B AIS is its power and resulting range which results in intermittent transmission in some circumstances.


"Can" be updated is good unless no improvements are forthcoming . I credit Vesper for adding new capabilities on what to date has been more frequent than I've experienced with other equipment. Vesper sends you
An email with the info and a link to the needed path.

As for range, on the inland rivers you are seldom not covered.
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Old 02-04-2017, 07:26 PM   #15
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Do you feel the same way when Apple or some other personal electronics or computer manufacturer does the same thing?
Yes.

My Android phone is over 4 years old, and still does everything I want it to do (and more). It also still gets regular software updates. I don't own anything from Apple. I don't stand in line for a new product just because its fashionable.

As was pointed out, an MFD is not a phone. Besides costing 2-3 times as much, it's much more limited in functionality and tends to be kept much longer.

Finally, software updates like the example I cited (adding the ability to display Active Captain data) is developed once. The decision NOT to add that code to the firmware updates for existing devices is likely a business decision, not a technical limitation.

I don't like throwing away perfectly good hardware every year or two, and I'm not a slave to fashion. Obviously I'm in the minority there, so I'll gladly admit that other opinions are equally valid.

And I will also admit to liking Garmin hardware and software. It's just not practical to me to purchase throw-away electronics.
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Old 02-04-2017, 07:43 PM   #16
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It's the little black box, that interfaces through the NMEA 183 to display on the Coastal explorer. As mentioned the transmission is sometimes intermittent. Sitex has provided help on this, I've swapped with other units, but it seems this is a common complaint with other Class B units. All connections have checked out fine, including the dedicated VHS antenna. The intermittent transmission issue has been identified through contact with other vessels carrying Class B AIS. Sometimes they observe us, sometimes not. FWIW, Stryker has confirmed all of my diagnosis.

Jim
Does your Sitex connect to your computer via a USB? Sitex had an issue with "USB drop out." This sounds like what you are describing. We had this issue from 2012 through 2014. After lot of research and finally talking the folks at Digital Yacht at the Miami Boat show, I learned that Sitex units were having a problem called USB Drop out. At first Sitex denied it. It took a while and lot of back up documentation to prove to them that they had a problem, and they agreed to take my unit back and fix it in just a couple of days. That turned into a week, then two then three. Finally we were getting underway to head north again when they relented and sent me a new unit.
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Old 02-04-2017, 09:04 PM   #17
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Yes.

My Android phone is over 4 years old, and still does everything I want it to do (and more). It also still gets regular software updates. I don't own anything from Apple. I don't stand in line for a new product just because its fashionable.

As was pointed out, an MFD is not a phone. Besides costing 2-3 times as much, it's much more limited in functionality and tends to be kept much longer.

Finally, software updates like the example I cited (adding the ability to display Active Captain data) is developed once. The decision NOT to add that code to the firmware updates for existing devices is likely a business decision, not a technical limitation.

I don't like throwing away perfectly good hardware every year or two, and I'm not a slave to fashion. Obviously I'm in the minority there, so I'll gladly admit that other opinions are equally valid.

And I will also admit to liking Garmin hardware and software. It's just not practical to me to purchase throw-away electronics.
Tom,

I have Garmin 5208 and 5212 displays which were copyrighted in 2007. Can still update software, accessories and charts to MFDs that were discontinued years ago. While I may or may not be able to add Active Captain, 18 months ago I was able to add the newest radar and AIS, update the software and have everything work perfectly. Not sure what reasons there were for not supporting your model, but clearly that's not the norm with Garmin.

Ted
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Old 02-05-2017, 04:57 AM   #18
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I have Garmin 5208 and 5212 displays which were copyrighted in 2007. Can still update software, accessories and charts to MFDs that were discontinued years ago. While I may or may not be able to add Active Captain, 18 months ago I was able to add the newest radar and AIS, update the software and have everything work perfectly. Not sure what reasons there were for not supporting your model, but clearly that's not the norm with Garmin.
This was posted on another thread and explains why Garmin does not support devices designed in 2006 and prior.

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Well, not really. At the time, there were 3 independent companies producing nautical charts for recreational use - C-Map, Navionics, and Transas. Garmin had decided early to license the Transas data for their early chartplotters. Around 2006, Transas decided to get out of the recreational market leaving Garmin stranded.

Garmin decided to create their own chart development and hired teams of cartographers and digitizers. I've been to the floors in their HQ where they operate and it is an impressive operation. The bottom line is that they now own their own cartography and no one can take it away. They do license some charts, like Explorer in the Bahamas, but I'd bet they have pretty great licensing agreements that don't allow them to just go away. I know first-hand that it took many months of license agreement negotiations with Garmin for ActiveCaptain. They definitely understand all the issues and are at the very top in this game.

One thing about using a Mac for Garmin installations...

Perhaps is was already mentioned but there is a native Mac HomePort application from Garmin. The great things is...it's free. Once you have a chartplotter onboard, you'll be able to pull the charts off it and run them directly on the Mac. You can create routes, move them to a data card to insert into the chartplotter and more. HomePort has ActiveCaptain support too - I've been a tester of it for Windows and I've used it for real for many years on Mac's.

One thing you should also get is a cellular iPad and then get Garmin's app (BlueChart Mobile) - put it on iPhones too - you can put it and the charts on up to 5 different devices. It's the same charts as the chartplotter but works on an iPad. You can create routes on the iPad and move them over WiFi to the chartplotter. I did that a lot too - it's a pretty great product.

As an aside, Transas has popped their head up again in the recreational market. After dedicating themselves to commercial ECDIS charts since 2006, they are the company behind the iSailor app. It's a pretty nice app but I can't help wondering if they'll eventually pull support and escape back to the ECDIS world if competition gets tough or they just get tired of the recreational market again. They can't seem to get enough marketshare for the app to make them a top developer in the space.
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Old 02-05-2017, 03:48 PM   #19
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Does your Sitex connect to your computer via a USB? Sitex had an issue with "USB drop out." This sounds like what you are describing...

No. Mine is connected via the NMEA 183 "receive" connection I believe. The USB is only connected when checking the unit's diagnostics. The connections were verified by two different technicians (original installer and Stryker's tech) as well as Sitex. It could well be interference with other structures on the boat. Remember Class B units transmit with low power. Who knows what is going on. I have no issues with the receive capability.

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Old 02-05-2017, 10:38 PM   #20
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This was posted on another thread and explains why Garmin does not support devices designed in 2006 and prior.
That is unfortunate. However, it should also be pointed out that they do support their post 2006 legacy equipment. As mentioned before, I was able to interface my 2015 model year radar and AIS to their legacy MFDs, upgrade the operating software and add the latest East Coast chart package.

Ted
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