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Author Topic:   ICOM: New radio with NMEA-2000, AIS
jimh posted 11-19-2013 12:31 AM ET (US)   Profile for jimh   Send Email to jimh  
ICOM have introduced their new VHF Marine Band radio, the IC-M506 at the METS Marine Trade Show in Europe. The radio is a Class-D DSC qualified VHF Marine Band radio with NMEA-2000 network interface and integral AIS receiver.

This radio brings two firsts to ICOM radios:

--first ICOM with AIS receiver built-in, and

--first ICOM with NMEA-2000 networking.

The new radio will also have a built-in recorder that can replay the last two minutes of incoming voice transmissions received by the radio.

ICOM says the radio control system has been revised and presents an all-new, intuitive user interface.

Photo of front panel of radio.
New VHF Marine Band radio from ICOM with many new features

jimh posted 11-20-2013 02:31 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
From the specifications and descriptions, it looks to me ICOM has hit a home run with this new IC-M506 radio. It has just about everything you could want in a modern VHF Marine Band radio. The only remaining specification to learn will be the suggested retail price. ICOM radios have tended to be higher in price than most other competitors' radios. If that trend continues, the IC-M506 will probably have a suggested retail price of at least $400.

If we compare the ICOM IC-M506 to the Standard-Horizon GX2150 radio, there are two essential differences:

--the IC-M506 has NMEA-2000

--the IC-M506 has automatic record-rewind-playback of received audio

The NMEA-2000 interface should make interconnection of the radio with other devices, such as a GPS receiver and a chart plotter, simpler, if those other devices are also NMEA-2000 devices. Nowadays, most boats do have NMEA-2000 GPS receivers and chart plotters, so I believe the IC-M506 will be seen as attractive for its NMEA-2000 interface.

The automatic record-rewind-playback of received audio could be a very useful feature for certain situations. It seems most useful in playing one-way transmissions of information. For example, if listening to a weather forecast that repeats only every ten minutes, it would be handy to replay some important portion of the broadcast you just failed to hear clearly the first time. In normal, two-way communication, I would expect that if something was received that was not clear you would just ask the other station to repeat, rather than fiddle with rewinding to listen to the transmission again.

Ridge Runner posted 11-25-2013 09:16 AM ET (US)     Profile for Ridge Runner  Send Email to Ridge Runner     
West Marine now has this listed on their website:

- M506 Fixed VHF Radio, NMEA 2000 Version: $599.99
- M506 Fixed VHF Radio, NMEA2000 with Rear Mic Version: $629.99 Product_11151_10001_1468716_-1?srccode=cii_16435691& cpncode=34-68404200-2&cid=fb_store

jimh posted 11-25-2013 09:31 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Six-hundred dollars? Wow, ICOM are very proud of that radio.
jimh posted 01-22-2014 01:04 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Based on an advertisement in print I just saw, it appears that the ICOM-506 radio is not just one model but actually four models. They are:

--ICOM M506: a VHF Marine Band radio with NMEA-0183 interface;

--ICOM M506 N2K: a VHF Marine Band radio with a NMEA-2000 interface;

--ICOM M506 N2K Plus: a VHF Marine Band radio with NMEA-2000 interface and a rear microphone connector; and,

--ICOM 506 AIS: a VHF Marine Band radio with NMEA-2000, rear microphone connector, and an AIS receiver.

All of the models have the base feature set, which provides:

--Class-D DSC (as required by FCC regulations for all fixed mount radios)

--25-Watt two-way hailer and fog horn signal

--call voice recorder with two minute capacity

--waterproof rating to IPX8

--active noise-canceling microphone

--new user interface

--large LCD display

--compatibility with other ICOM accessories of the CommandMicIV category

At the moment the radio appears to not be available for sale in the USA because it has not obtained approval for sale from the Federal Communication Commission. In checking on the ICOM USA website, today, the M506 models are not listed yet.

dfmcintyre posted 01-22-2014 08:38 PM ET (US)     Profile for dfmcintyre  Send Email to dfmcintyre     
So,the only way to have it with AIS is with a rear Mic version by the looks of it.

Bummer, I'm in the market for two radios this year.

jimh posted 01-23-2014 11:23 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
In reviewing the prices mentioned (above) for the radio, I don't believe either of those prices, $600 or $630, were for a radio with the AIS feature. That is based on the tiers of different models I mentioned. On that basis, we have not seen a price for the ICOM-506 AIS model. I would anticipate that adding the AIS receiver to the VHF Marine Band radio will raise the price at least $100. That would put the price of the ICOM-506 AIS into the stratosphere, probably more than $730.
kwik_wurk posted 01-23-2014 03:25 PM ET (US)     Profile for kwik_wurk  Send Email to kwik_wurk     
It seems odd that rear mic is the only AIS option. I am in the market for a VHF-AIS combo, and a new antenna. I have been waffling on what to get, hopefully the technology will get to a cost price point that it is acceptable.
jimh posted 01-23-2014 05:07 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
With the M506 radio not actually listed on the ICOM website, it is hard to say with certainty exactly what version has what features. I assuming, from the print advertisements that was likely ordered months in advance, a radio with a rear microphone connection would have some sort of microphone extension cable that will permit the microphone to be located some distance from the radio.
jimh posted 02-06-2014 11:55 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
ICOM have finally updated their website to have information about the radio we have been discussing for almost three months. See aspx

Contrary to the magazine advertisement placed by ICOM, the IC-M506 wil have five models. The front and rear microphone versions will be available with the NMEA-2000 radio and the AIS radio. The NMEA-0183-only radio apparently comes only in the front microphone version. See the webpage for further clarification.

Chuck Tribolet posted 02-07-2014 12:22 AM ET (US)     Profile for Chuck Tribolet  Send Email to Chuck Tribolet     
The M506 appears to no longer be on the West Marine website. The link [to West Marine's website] above no longer works, and searching on IC-M506 and on M506 comes up empty.


jimh posted 02-07-2014 08:05 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
The radio cannot be offered for sale in the USA until approved by the FCC.
Jefecinco posted 02-07-2014 10:40 AM ET (US)     Profile for Jefecinco  Send Email to Jefecinco     

PANBO has finally followed your lead and written about this radio.


Ridge Runner posted 02-08-2014 09:45 AM ET (US)     Profile for Ridge Runner  Send Email to Ridge Runner     
West Marine had the radio on the website and was ready for pre-orders. they must have jumped the gun a bit and released it on to their production web-site. Your can see the web-sites original framework (no prices) at goggles cache:
jimh posted 02-08-2014 10:54 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
There seems to be a lot of hullaballoo about having a VHF Marine Band radio with NMEA-2000. It appears in the ICOM pricing the addition of the NMEA-2000 feature will add about $100 to the cost.

In assessing the value of the addition of NMEA-2000 at a cost of $100, I believe it will be worth the $100 cost for many boaters. Apparently at least nine out of ten boaters (based on USCG data about DSC distress calls) are not able to manage to connect their VHF Marine Band radios to other boat electronics using NMEA-0183 connections. This has resulted in many radios with digital selective calling being utilized at far below their intended capability because they lack an electronic input of the current vessel position to the radio from a GNSS receiver. For boaters who are not skilled at deciphering badly written instructions about serial data interfaces, who do not have particular skill in working with very small gauge and fragile wiring, and who do not have experience in choosing electrical connectors from an incredibly wide array of products available, the inclusion of a NMEA-2000 interface with a pre-wired and standardized connector that will (more or less) automatically configure itself with all the other NMEA-2000 boat electronics represent a good value at only a $100 premium.

Whether or not the integration of this ICOM radio with a variety of multi-function devices with chart plotting capability will also allow for set-up of DSC calls using some sort of on-screen interface on the chart plotter is a completely different topic, and it is one which seems to be quite speculative.

ICOM actually makes its own chart plotter, the MARINE COMMANDER. See marinecommander/default.aspx

I don't see any particular indication that combining the MARINE COMMANDER and the IC-M506 radio will provide for control of the radio DSC call set-up via the screen of the chart plotter. The notion that other brands of chart plotter will be able to accomplish set-up of DSC calls on the radio by using controls on the screen of the chart plotter seems speculative, at best. I will have to hold off any comments on this until I see it actually demonstrated.

The ICOM IC-M506, just like the STANDARD-HORIZON VHF Marine Band Class-D DSC radios with AIS receivers that have been on the market for about two years, does provide a facility for setting up a DSC call to an AIS target using the on-screen display of the radio itself. This is not particularly remarkable, as the STANDARD HORIZON radios have been offering this for some time.

Again, it seems to me that the inclusion of NMEA-2000 for an extra $100 above the base radio price is a good option for boaters who do not have the knowledge, experience, or skill to make an NMEA-0183 interconnection between the radio and their chart plotter. But I do not see that the NMEA-2000 connection is going to immediately provide a higher level of integration with the chart plotter in the sense that the chart plotter will intrinsically be able to initiate DSC radio calls from its screen. That function seems to be something which will have to evolve in the NMEA protocol.

jimh posted 02-08-2014 11:04 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Not to be overlooked in the NMEA-2000 connection of the radio to a boat network, it should be mentioned that such a connection will also provide data from the radio to the chart plotter. This will allow the chart plotter to show the position of other vessels as a result of reception of the data via digital selective calling. This is also possible with NMEA-0183, but it requires a separate connection, in addition to the NMEA-0183 connection of the GNSS receiver sending data to the radio. WIth NMEA-2000, the single connection is a two-way connection, and the radio can send data to the chart plotter.

If the radio has an automatic identification system (AIS) receiver and is getting data from other vessels about their position, course, and speed via AIS broadcasts, that information will also be sent to a NMEA-2000-connected chart plotter. The chart plotter can then plot the positions of those vessels relative to its position.

When AIS data is sent via NMEA-0183 there is usually a further complication about the baud rate, which tends to increase the difficulty of making a successful connection. Again, this is avoided with the NMEA-2000 connection method. The $100 option looks even better for nine out of ten boaters.

Ridge Runner posted 02-08-2014 11:28 AM ET (US)     Profile for Ridge Runner  Send Email to Ridge Runner     
Jim--I would agree 100-percent. I would have gladly paid the extra $100 to be able to seamlessly integrate into the NMEA 2000 network back in 2010 ( The other plus is no more soldering of very small serial wires.
Chuck Tribolet posted 02-12-2014 08:52 AM ET (US)     Profile for Chuck Tribolet  Send Email to Chuck Tribolet     
The 2014 West Marine catalog arrived in my mailbox yesterday,
and it includes five flavors of the M506:

NMEA 0183 $499.99
NMEA 2000 $599.99
NMEA 2000 + AIS $629.99
NMEA 2000 + rear mike $699.99
NMEA 2000 + rear mike + AIS $749.99

AIS is a small increment ($30-$50) so I'm guessing it's just
different firmware.


jimh posted 02-13-2014 08:19 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Something is wrong with those prices. I think the AIS is about a $100 increment and the rear microphone is a $30 increment.
Chuck Tribolet posted 02-13-2014 10:46 PM ET (US)     Profile for Chuck Tribolet  Send Email to Chuck Tribolet     
Right or wrong, I just confirmed that's what's in the catalog.

It does seem that maybe the third and fourth flavors have
their prices switched.


jimh posted 02-26-2014 12:57 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Ben Ellison at PANBO has taken some good pictures of the LCD screen of the ICOM IC-M506 radio on display at the Miami International Boat Show. See Icom_M506_fullscreen_AIS_cPanbo-8885.html

For Ben's comments, see miami_2014_comms_2_vhf_ais_the_app_connection.html

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