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What the Heck is Navtex? Page 2

Electronics — November 2003
By Ben Ellison

What the Heck is Navtex?
Part 2: Reading forecasts on the Nav6plus’ legible screen really worked for me.
   
 
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• Part 1: Navtex
• Part 2: Navtex
• Electronics Q&A
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• mylk
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ICS is a U.K.-based leader in GMDSS gear whose North American Navtex distributor is NAT (both companies are clearly in the Acronym Zone). The Nav6plus is one of a series that “prints” Navtex messages to a fairly large (3 1/4" x 4 1/4"), high-resolution, gray-scale screen. It was simple work to wire in 12-volt power and the active antenna (which means the receiver is actually inside that cool-looking white housing), and the next morning I had a whole set of MSI to peruse. I was pushing Navtex reception limits with the antenna just out in my tree-lined yard, inland of the hilly Maine coast and well over 100 miles from the Boston and Bay of Fundy broadcast facilities. Still, I got messages from both every night (though often with a little static, as indicated by the asterisks in the opening photo). I have little doubt that this unit, if properly installed in more open conditions, would capture clear MSI 24/7, and I understand that Navtex users at sea often get night reception well beyond the 200-mile target range.

So right there is one Navtex advantage: You should be able to get it on trips beyond the reach of even our powerful VHF weather network, say perhaps on a spring ride north in the Gulf Stream. Admittedly the forecasts do not contain all the detail available on VHF, like buoy reports, but then again there is so much detail on the weather bands these days—and all of it delivered in those nap-inducing synthesized tones—that I have a hard time paying attention. Reading forecasts on the Nav6plus’ legible screen really worked for me. I could take them in at my own pace, concentrating on what I wanted and skipping messages I didn’t need with the push of a button.

Moreover, Navtex broadcasts include more marine safety messages than VHF, SSB, or any other single source I’m familiar with. During my brief Nav6plus testing, I received warnings about DGPS outages, major buoys being off station, right whale protection areas, and much more. Had there been a major search and rescue (SAR) operation in my region, a flashing button on the unit would have notified me of the message. Again the text format worked well for this information. For instance, listening to protection area announcements can be annoying either because you’re just waiting for weather or because you’re trying to jot down all the associated lat/lon numbers. The Nav6plus delivered the info on a virtual piece of paper, trash can not needed.

While the ICS receiver worked right out of the box, it’s also loaded with controls for refining one’s Navtex experience. For instance, you can sort messages by type using those identifiers mentioned earlier, or filter out unwanted stuff like pilot service info or Loran warnings or even whole broadcast stations. In fact you can set up five different detailed message and station filters that you can engage with a keystroke. There’s also easily managed user control of type sizes, static tolerance, and more.

And the Nav6plus has an alternate personality that is worthy of an aside. ICS realized that since the Navtex messages only need to be viewed occasionally, the unit’s fine screen could also double as a repeater for NMEA data from instruments, plotters, etc. I’m a strong believer in offloading numerical data from precious color chart displays, and the Nav6plus does a fine job of it. There are several well-laid-out navigation screens—like a waypoint highway—and four custom number displays. I pumped all sorts of NMEA data into my test unit and was delighted with its interpretive and display abilities; it even calculated current set and drift on the conning screen (see page 54).

I concluded that the $750 dual-purpose Nav6plus is a good value. Note that ICS also offers a hub system that can distribute all the data and messages discussed to as many as four displays. As for Navtex here in the States, it strikes me as being a valuable source of marine-specific warnings and an attractive alternative to tedious radio weather forecasts. And it appears nearly indispensable if you’re going to cruise Europe. Some day!

NAT Phone: (800) 225-4767. www.nat-inc.com.

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This article originally appeared in the October 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.