The multifunction VHF


When we think of how marine electronics are consolidating toward fewer devices at the nav station, most voyagers probably think of the multifunction display (MFD): a piece of gear that brings the chartplotter and GPS together along with performance sensors, engine sensors, water temperature and more. Another device that has changed due to this trend is the VHF radio, and a prime example of this is Icom’s new M605.

Years ago, VHF radios were small units with a frequency dial (later an LCD display), volume and squelch dials and microphone. There are still installed units with this basic approach, but radio manufacturers like Icom have made the high-end VHF unit more of a command center with the addition of a few key elements: AIS and GPS. Since AIS is based on VHF radio, it is a natural for this first-level addition. And AIS is not only dependent on VHF but also on GPS for positioning, allowing your boat to know its location and be able to transmit it to other vessels in the area. So with the new M605, Icom adds a built-in GPS sensor (not surprising since just about every device seems to sport its own GPS receiver chip set these days) that provides the positioning information necessary for AIS to work.

Interestingly, Icom bills this GPS capability as a Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) capability. GNSS is the international designation for satellite navigation systems. With its GNSS capability, the M605 can determine fix positions from both GPS and the Russian GLONASS system. With both GPS and GLONASS capability, the M605 offers enhanced positioning ability.

The unit also supports satellite-based augmentation systems (SBAS). An SBAS is one of the regional differential GPS systems that broadcast GPS corrections via geosynchronous satellite link. For North Americans, this is the Wide Area Augmentation System (WAAS) operated by the FAA. Across the Atlantic, a similar setup is dubbed the European Geostationary Navigation Overlay Service (EGNOS). Russia, Japan and India also run their own versions of SBAS.

The AIS setup, of course, gives voyagers an excellent collision avoidance capability. And Icom furthers the cause of consolidation by equipping the M605 with an LCD screen that can show AIS contacts in both plotter and alphanumeric list view — a great way to gather info on nearby ships and also see the geometry of their approach (and hopefully avoidance!).

The M605 is first and foremost a VHF radio and all VHF units have long been required to use digital selective calling (DSC). Not only does DSC make making and receiving calls easier, it connects the unit to the U.S. Coast Guard’s DSC-based search and rescue system. The DSC capability also meshes nicely with the AIS element. Icom integrates the two so that by placing the cursor on an AIS contact, you can hit the call button and the DSC radio will call that contact. A good example of how consolidation of systems into one device can make a voyager’s tasks easier.

In addition to these system integrations, there are a variety of other features that add to the appeal of a unit such as the M605. One is the user interface. In addition to soft keys along the bottom of the LCD display, the M605 also has a large 10-button physical keypad for when you may want to enter MMSI numbers manually or input other data.

The unit is also set up to use the Icom HM-195 CommandMic and the RC-M600 remote Command Head. Both the HM-195 and RC-M600 can be used to remotely control an M605 unit on the boat.

The M605 also has built-in noise canceling technology. This feature digitally removes background noise when both transmitting and receiving audio — a true benefit in the sometimes-noisy environment on a boat.

Other features include the last call voice recording function that automatically saves up to two minutes of an incoming call, a two-way loudhailer (for use with the optional SP-37 horn speaker) with four patterns of automatic foghorn and an option for voice scrambling.

The M605 also has full NMEA 2000 and 0183/-HS connectivity. With the NMEA 2000 connectivity, the unit can exchange GNSS, AIS reports, DSC call information, radio frequency and PGN list data on the network. Plus, NMEA 0183/-HS GNSS position data can be converted to NMEA 2000 data for use by other equipment. And since this is a DSC radio, it has a distress button that can broadcast a mayday message that automatically includes your position and vessel info. This is an excellent emergency feature that backs up an EPIRB. When it’s an emergency, the belt-and-suspenders approach works best.

None of the features of the M605 are huge breakthroughs on their own. Some of them have been seen before on other radio models in various configurations. What makes this radio a great example of device consolidation, however, is that this radio puts them all in a powerful, convenient package.

By Ocean Navigator