AIS, GPS and a VHF radio with DSC are all must-haves on the modern cruising yacht. Now imagine having all of these features in one device. These radio combos make communication easier while saving you money in outlays for extra equipment and creating more space in cramped nav stations.
The typical cruising yacht has a permanent-mount VHF radio with AIS capability, plus a separate GPS unit — either stand-alone or integrated into a multifunction chartplotter system. This is a solid platform offering versatility and robust communications.
However, by installing a VHF radio with AIS targets presented on the screen, the operator can make DSC radio contacts without having to enter an MMSI (Maritime Mobile Service Identity) into the radio manually. This obviously saves time and ensures accuracy, which could be crucial factors in preventing a collision on a foggy moonless night.
The Icom IC-M506 fixed-mount VHF with AIS and internal GPS is a robust compact system offering ease of use and durable construction. The IC-M506 is capable of receiving and transmitting GPS position, along with course and speed, on the radio network.
Adding to its versatility, the IC-M506 converts NMEA 0183 GPS data, such as position, course and speed, to NMEA 2000 data for use with other equipment in the navigation array.
For communication between the nav station and deck, Icom offers its optional SP-37 hailer speaker to be mounted out on deck or on the mast. This powerful 25-watt, two-way hailer allows crew to communicate clearly while the wind howls and seas break over the deck. This is a lot of value, especially when we consider the price of around $400.
Standard Horizon’s GX2200 Matrix AIS/GPS is another competitor on the short list of integrated AIS/GPS-enabled VHF radios on the market. To start, this is a VHF serving as a full-function GPS receiver, allowing 100 waypoints to be stored. I’m not sure I’d dispense with a separate GPS and chartplotter, but it’s nice to know there is backup nav device in case the main GPS bellies up.
As with its competitors, the GX2200 allows you to contact AIS-enabled vessels in your area using the DSC feature of the VHF radio. The unit graphically portrays your position relative to AIS targets and lets you know when an AIS target is approaching too close to your vessel via the Closest Point of Approach (CPA) Alarm. The screen shows your GPS position as well as those of AIS targets in your area. And when stuck in a fog bank, you can depend on Standard Horizon’s 30-watt loud hailer with fog signals, which may be activated by the GX2200’s collision avoidance alarm feature.
Standard Horizon offers the GX2200 for about $400 and includes a warranty with a manufacturer guarantee of full repair or refund, “without hassle or charges…period!”
The Lowrance Link-9 offers the same main features of the Icom IC-M506 and Standard Horizon GX2200, including a built-in GPS antenna and AIS target mapping on an LED screen or on a separate chartplotter. The Link-9 employs NMEA 0183 for its chartplotter GPS, and NMEA 2000 for its network antenna connection.
For those moments we most fear, the Link-9 also features a man overboard (MOB) function. By pressing the “NAV/MOB” button, the unit will mark the GPS position and display distance and direction to the MOB point.
At a price of about $500, the Lowrance Link-9 is priced in the same general range as the IC-M506 and the GX2200, and all three are relatively compact and well constructed. Try them out at your local chandlery and take advantage of a radio that doubles as a key navigation device.
Circumnavigator-author Bill Morris is the author of The Captain’s Guide to Alternative Energy Afloat and is a frequent contributor to Ocean Navigator.