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Old 01-02-2011, 17:28   #1
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Icom MA-500TR Class B AIS - Anyone Used it Yet ?

I'd like to install a Class B AIS Transponder on the boat prior to a long distance singlehanded offshore race in July, and I'm partial to ICOM equipment (I've had their radios for a long time).

ICOM has come up with a Class B AIS transponder, the MA-500TR, and I'm wondering if anyone has used it and might have thoughts about the gear - good, bad, or otherwise.

The other transponder I'm considering is Vesper's Watchmate-850.

Would appreciate input on the gear.

- rob/beetle
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Old 10-02-2011, 15:23   #2
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Hi Beetle, I just went through the process of selecting a transponder as well. Everything I read about the Vesper unit here, on other forums and in the press, led me to believe it was the way to go. In my situation I was just trying to decide between it and a full Simrad system with an AI50, but after all my research I decided on Vesper unit for dedicated collision avoidance due to it's filtering capabilities, customization options and low power draw, and then feed the AIS data from it into my Simrad NSE for overlay on my charts. In my search, I did read about the ICOM unit but was never able to find anyone who had used it or where it was for sale in the US. From what I gathered talking to some sales guys, it will have to go through FCC approval before they will have it in stores, and I got the impression that would be a long time. Regardless, I am pumped about my purchase. I have yet to install the unit on my 109, as it will be a while before she's back in the water, but I have been playing with the unit since it arrived. You can actually power it from the USB on your computer and get to know the menus and adjust alarm setting and stuff like that. Pretty slick!

Anyway, I hope this helps!

Greg
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Old 10-02-2011, 17:04   #3
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Thanks for the input, I'm leaning towards the Vesper 850 as well, for much the same reasons. Good to hear that the unit is nice and meets expectations, looks like I'll be getting one soon.

Thanks much!

- rob/beetle
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Old 14-03-2011, 14:27   #4
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Re: Icom MA-500TR Class B AIS - Anyone Used it Yet ?

I'm planning to buy one. There are a few drawbacks to this set as I've learned. The receiver only works together with a M504/M505 or the M603/M604 sets. Also the software inside the VHF needs to be updated to make this possible.
The other problem I've spotted is that you cannot disable the transmit-function. In other words, most AIS receivers can be set in a receive only mode, not so the ICOM MA-500.
The other point may be that you are required to buy (pretty expensive) and use the ICOM GPS antenna that is designed for the set. The approval of the set is only valid in combination with the Icom GPS. Theoretically it is possible to connect an NMEA-GPS signal to the MA-500 though.

Hope this helps

Arno
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Old 14-03-2011, 17:04   #5
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Re: Icom MA-500TR Class B AIS - Anyone Used it Yet ?

Unfortunately, the ICOM thing is pricey. I have not yet met anybody with this unit here.

I have used the Simrad (50) toy and it was good. My first mate liked it too.

I would buy Vesper as it promises to have the crossing situation forecast that seems to be missing from the ICOM.

Make sure you get a unit that can dial the selected AIS ship directly. The Simrad can (with a Simrad radio of the upper shelf).

b.
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Old 15-03-2011, 06:31   #6
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Re: Icom MA-500TR Class B AIS - Anyone Used it Yet ?

My experiences with Simrad are not very positive. The technical quality might be fine, but they have absolutely no understanding (as far as I'm concerned) about user friendliness. Have used a plotter from Simrad for a while; even with manual hard to understand. Compared to Raymarine or Standard Horizon not an option for me.
I do agree the Icom transceiver is not very cheap, but (at least in Holland) the price is about the same as the Simrad or the Raymarine. If you want really expensive look for Furuno (but also very good quality).
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Old 15-03-2011, 09:23   #7
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Re: Icom MA-500TR Class B AIS - Anyone Used it Yet ?

I've elected to go with the Vesper 850 AIS transponder.

The primary reason is the stand-alone aspect of the AIS unit as it has an integrated display. I prefer systems that are self-contained, therefore a black-box AIS transponder that requires a separate display system are out of the running.

Secondary reasons are the ability to go into 'stealth mode' in which the unit continues act as a receiver and at the same time is NOT transmitting your own data (this is useful for some offshore races during which I would prefer folk not know everything I'm doing), and the low power consumption.

I agree that a nice-to-have feature would be the ability of the AIS transponder to drive a VHF radio and facilitate a DSC radio call to a specific AIS target; my current radio (Icom M502) would need to be replaced to use with the Icom MA-500TR to have that feature, and I don't have anything from Simrad on the boat. It appears the Vesper lacks this feature, and this is not a show-stopper for me.

I haven't purchased the unit yet, but will have it on board prior to a race in July. I will also need to install an external GPS antenna as the unit is mounting belowdecks at the nav station.

Thanks much for the input.

- rob/beetle
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Old 23-05-2011, 22:48   #8
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Re: Icom MA-500TR Class B AIS - Anyone Used it Yet ?

I will also need to install an external GPS antenna as the unit is mounting belowdecks at the nav station.

Thanks much for the input.

- rob/beetle[/QUOTE]

It is my understanding that the built in GPS is receptive enough to use at the Nav station without an exterior antenae. I too am leaning toward a Vesper Watchmate and have been debating whether to place it in the cockpit or at the Nav Station.

Mark_S.
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Old 06-02-2014, 14:16   #9
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Re: Icom MA-500TR Class B AIS - Anyone Used it Yet ?

I have it and the M504 VHF Radio. I am happy with both. They were a little on the pricey side but worth the money after all. FYI, the AIS transponder came with it's own GPS which hooked up to the AIS transponder with a two wire NMEA connection - very easy - and as an added bonus the gps fed info directly to the radio and my Raymarine Chart plotter as well (my Raymarine GPS bit the dust a year or two ago so very nice bonus - also connected to the Raymarine Plotter via NMEA 2 wire connection).The only disappointment so far is that the MA-500TR display is very difficult to read in daylight conditions. Too bad because the VHF display is fine in all light and sun conditions. The only extra expense was a new and additional VHF whip antenna as I decided to have a discrete antenna for the AIS. I can not get the Chart plotter to recognize the traffic info sent via the NMEA and that would be the only wish left on the list. I guess the next step is a Chart Plotter upgrade !!! MA-500TR AIS Transponder, M-504 VHF Radio, HS162 ICOM remote command station (with Intercom so I can get instructions from the admiral even when she is out of sight now), new 8' whip antenna, installed, up and running for around $1500 USD - not cheap but not bad and good for the next ten years (I hope).
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Old 06-02-2014, 15:08   #10
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Re: Icom MA-500TR Class B AIS - Anyone Used it Yet ?

I've just returned my MA-500TR to the importer. Not because there is something wrong with it, it works fine. The thing that kept bugging me was that there was no Silent Mode available.

In my last struggle with some Icom sales rep. on some boat show, this guy told me that you can have the software "updated" in such way that you do have a silent mode available. This "update" can only be done at the importer.

So I'm curious to see how this is going to work after I get it back.

Arno
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Old 06-02-2014, 17:39   #11
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Re: Icom MA-500TR Class B AIS - Anyone Used it Yet ?

I know and the beeping drove me crazy for quite a time as well but I discovered that if I set the CPA range to the shortest possible range that it shuts off the ugly beeping. I just have to remember to reset the CPA back to a realistic range if I need it but most of my boating is day time and fair weather these days so it will probably stay set as off for now. Even though the alarm shuts off, the display still shows collision risks but no beeping. I am ok with that as I still use the Dual-Optical Radar System (left eye and right eye) for traffic avoidance.

You should know by now that sales geeks usually know diddley-squat about what they sell. They will simply say anything to sell you and then anything else to make you go away after the sale.
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Old 28-10-2015, 03:41   #12
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Lightbulb Re: Icom MA-500TR Class B AIS - Anyone Used it Yet ?

Interfacing the ICOM MA-500TR Class B AIS transponder to other navigation equipment.
By Pedro M.J. WYNS, BSc&T.

The Icom MA-500TR is a very promising AIS device when reading the promotional leaflets. Installing and integrating it with other brands of equipment can be a serious challenge, regarding the amounts of forum posts and calls for help on this issue.
Not finding any help while installing mine, I decided to write a small manual for all those unhappy people out there.
Problem 1: GPS
If you were thinking about integrating the MA-500TR with your existing GPS using NMEA0183 on any of the 3 ports, forget it, it won’t work. The MA-500TR looks for a very specific GPS sentence, the GBS line, which is a line containing data about the reliability of the received satellite signal. There are almost no commercial GPS units that deliver this sentence apart from the optional Icom GPS. If the MA-500TR does not see this particular line, he will display a “GPS not found” alert. So the bad news, you MUST buy the Icom MXG-5000 GPS antenna/receiver. I never understood why they were not sold as a package.
Problem 2: AIS data
The manual is very unclear how to attach your existing plotter. Any plotter will do, Raymarine, Garmin,… BUT… It will only work when connected to NMEA port 2. The manual is telling this port is “only for Icom Marinecommander system”, so everybody takes by default Port 1 and sets the data rate to 38400 bps, and then desperately waits for icons to appear on the map. It won’t work. You MUST use port 2.
Additional equipment:
Having bought an extra GPS it might as well serve as a backup for your existing GPS. Using the port 2 NMEA0183 output this is possible, if you set the output option to “AIS+GPS” and further adjust your plotter to look for more GPS data sources in its own menu.
If you have a DSC VHF radio it has a GPS input for automatic emergency position reports. It can be connected to port 1 and if compatible it can even do DSC calls piloted from the MA-500TR.

I hope this info was useful to you. If it helped, please drop me a little email, this keeps me motivated posting modification sheets like this one.
Pedro M.J.WYNS – ON7WP AA9HX C5WP - 20151028
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Old 03-06-2017, 10:57   #13
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Re: Icom MA-500TR Class B AIS - Anyone Used it Yet ?

Thanks for the installation tips. I'm working on a unit on the Merlin, and will try Port 2 for the output.

Interestingly, there is also a way to turn the transmitter off and on, which is not in the manual--press the left and right buttons together.

Icom MA-500TR AIS Transponder Review - The Hull Truth - Boating and Fishing Forum

It is working fine as a standalone unit. I'll report back when I get it connected to a chartpotter (actually the Expedition software on a laptop) and confirm the transmit on-off function (the last race, everyone went into the stealth mode but us).

I don't think I'll hook it to the Icom VHF, because DSC calls are too complicated to explain to the average user.
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Old 05-08-2017, 16:44   #14
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Re: Icom MA-500TR Class B AIS - Anyone Used it Yet ?

I just spent 12 days coming back from Hawaii to Santa Cruz on the Merlin, and my review of the MA-500TR is a resounding thumbs down. The desk-bound moron who programmed the display should be strung up by the thumbs and slow roasted over a low fire.

Fortunately, following the instructions of on7wp, I managed to get the output hooked to the nav computer, and used OpenCpn as my goto nav program. That allowed me to get the critical CPA and TCPA data that the damned MA-500TR wouldn't give me. I first noted that the MA-500 showed dashes for the CPA and TCPA for distant ships. I don't care if its 4 hours to the CPA-- the ship and I are not changing course, and it will eventually be a problem. ICOM should not be the one who decides to use or discard that information. The final straw was when it was displaying dashes for CPA and TCPA for a ship which on Open Cpn showed CPA of 4 miles and TCPA of 40 minutes.

Not only that, OpenCPN has a nifty 'Position at CPA' display which shows both your and the ship's position on the chart at the CPA. This function makes it easy to figure out what course/speed changes you need to make to open up the CPA.

Finally, I did confirm the silent mode, which is NOT in the manual. Press and hold the left and right arrows together until you hear a beep. Cycling the power on and off will restore the transmitter function.
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Old 05-08-2017, 17:01   #15
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Re: Icom MA-500TR Class B AIS - Anyone Used it Yet ?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Donner74 View Post
............. I have yet to install the unit on my 109, as it will be a while before she's back in the water, but I have been playing with the unit since it arrived. You can actually power it from the USB on your computer and get to know the menus and adjust alarm setting and stuff like that. Pretty slick!
..............
I suspect that it's pretty much illegal to operate this unit (if it's transmitting) until it is installed on the boat.

In the USA at least, you can't even get one until it has been programmed by a licensed pro with your boat's information. They even want to know the exact location of the GPS antenna.
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