Thanks to MillTech Marine and the ABYC Technicians at K&R Marine Services in Anacortes, the editors at Waggoner have been testing and checking out the features of the new Vesper Cortex. Waggoner editors received one of the early deliveries of the Cortex device in the U.S. We have been using the new Cortex features during several shake-down cruises, and Cortex has been monitoring our boat for several weeks. 

Vesper’s Cortex is a feature-packed latest technology device that combines AIS (Transmit & Receive), VHF Radio (all new design), vessel monitoring, anchor watch, and Man Overboard, integrated with cellular cloud and Wifi communication. The Cortex unit mounts out-of-sight in an electronics bay and does not need console space. The separate smartphone sized handset can be mounted or stored just about anywhere. The touchscreen handset is used to setup and control the Cortex unit. Smart alarms prioritize concerns and conflicts. The best way to describe this multi-faceted device is by major function areas:

VHF Radio. The handset is the voice and calling interface for the Class D VHF DSC radio. Changing channels and choosing power settings is easy, using the handset’s touchscreen, along with the handset’s buttons and control wheel. Favorite channels can be saved for easy re-use. A good quality speaker and microphone are built into the handset.

VHF/DSC. Digital Select Calling has got to be one of the most under-utilized features of VHF. Cortex has solved the difficult to use problems with DSC. From the handset, you can DSC call another DSC VHF radio from the Cortex device directory, or Cortex plotter display of nearby AIS targets. DSC calling “rings” the called VHF radio and switches both radios to the selected working channel when the called radio “picks up,” thus eliminating the need to hail on channel 16. It’s a convenient way to contact buddy boats.

Anchor Watch. The anchor watch uses precise GPS tracking, along with its built-in heading sensor to more accurately track and record the vessel’s position. If your vessel moves outside of the prescribed boundary circle, Cortex will sound an alarm on the onboard handset and to the smartphone app. Through the Cortex Cloud and monitoring system, you can check the vessels anchor watch, water depth, wind speed, and wind direction – all remotely using your smartphone.

AIS. Automatic Identification System is one of the features that distinguishes Cortex from other AIS devices. Cortex is a Class B SO-TDMA (also known as Class B+) Transponder. B+ class means that Cortex can more precisely report your vessel to other AIS listeners with more frequent transmissions and at a higher power. Cortex’s collision avoidance feature is a big help with vessel conflicts. The one-touch DSC calling feature allows you to easily and quickly call AIS targets from the Cortex handset to arrange for safe passage; simply tap the onscreen icon. Cortex’s built-in heading sensor provides heading information to other AIS listeners.

Vessel Monitoring. The Cortex unit includes boat system monitoring of high-water bilge, bilge pump, smoke/heat, battery voltage, hatch/door opening, and motion sensor. With the smartphone app, you can remotely turn on/off vessel devices such as lights, or refrigerator/ice maker. Full featured monitoring and control requires a Cortex Cloud service plan, available with a monthly or annual fee. There is no charge for the basic alarm monitoring, with two status checks per day.

MOB. Cortex activates an alarm when an AIS Man-Overboard device is detected. MOB Devices are small devices available from a number of providers that are attached to a person; and when activated by water or manually, emits an AIS MOB signal. Cortex displays the MOB and best course to the location. MOB waypoints can also be set by pressing the MOB button on Cortex handsets.

Vesper has really thought of everything for the Cortex. The device includes a no-loss VHF antenna splitter, connections for NMEA 2000 and NMEA 0183. Handsets (tethered and non-tethered), and the Cortex Onboard iOS/ Andriod app, communicate with the Cortex unit over Wifi and display information and control the unit. The separate Vesper/Cortex iOS/Android app works with the Cortex Cloud for remote communication with the Cortex device.

Future Updates/Upgrades The innovations will continue. Being a microprocessor and software driven platform, Vesper is already hinting at other capabilities they plan to implement through updates and/or upgrades. Expect to see the ability to record the last transmission (or perhaps the VHF weather forecast broadcast) and a hailing capability. Expect to see other capabilities such as communications to marinas or even to update dinner reservations if you are running late. Cortex offers the ability to integrate navigation and communications for many different capabilities just by updating the software.

Cortex Handset Traffic

Cortex Monitoring

For more information, visit Vesper’s website at

Cortex Instrument

Cortex Anchor Watch

Look for it in the 2021 Waggoner Cruising Guide