Q&A: Should I Get a Navtex?


Member Tobias Asks [edited for brevity]:

I would like to be able to receive Navtex along the European coast.

landfallnav_2271_191409365I’m considering purchasing a SI-TEX NAVFAX 200 receiver.

The unit seems to do what I need: The NAV-FAX 200 includes a data interface port, cable and software for viewing and printing weatherfax images and data.

Note that I have decided not to buy an SSB radio or install a PACTOR modem.

John Answers:

Navtex is transmitted on 518 kHz and 490 kHz and this receiver claims to cover everything from 30 kHz to 30 mHz range, so it should be able to pick up the Navtex signal. What is not clear to me is whether or not the software will decode Navtex.

Answering A Question with a Question

Does anyone out there have first-hand experience with the SI-TEX NAVFAX 200 receiver and specifically receiving Navtex on it? If so, please leave a comment.

And a Larger Question

However, there is a larger question here:

As I remember, you are planning to buy an Iridium phone. If so, you can get away without any Navtex receiver at all, since most marine authorities publish their Navtex broadcasts in text on the internet. For example, here are the UK notices.

Therefore all you need to do is make sure that you know the URL of the page you are interested in before you leave, and then download it to your computer using Iridium. Here are detailed instructions on how to do this.

I used to be a big fan of Navtex, but since the above described capability became available, I have not used my Navtex at all.

But Wait…

Having said that, my method is not without its flaws since it requires me to take active action. The advantage of a Navtex receiver is that it’s always on and will warn you of anything really urgent in a way neither my method or the SI-TEX NAVFAX 200 receiver will. Navtex is also an approved solution under GMDSS.

I think, on balance, for crowded European waters where it’s important to be aware of changing situations like, for example, a restricted area, I would fit a dedicated Navtex receiver (as long as it’s not this one.)

Does anyone out there have recent first-hand experience with a dedicated Navtex receiver that works well in European waters and receives on both 518 kHz and 490 kHz? If so, please leave a comment.

What About Weatherfax?

IridiumGoApolloFrontAll of the above may not preclude purchasing the SI-TEX NAVFAX 200, since it is a good solution for receiving weatherfax, but these days I would invest the money in an Iridium GO! and an unlimited data package.

We started using a GO! last summer and I’m super-impressed. More on that in a review of the GO! that I’m planning.

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Meet the Author


John was born and brought up in Bermuda and started sailing as a child, racing locally and offshore before turning to cruising. He has sailed over 100,000 miles, most of it on his McCurdy & Rhodes 56, Morgan's Cloud, including eight ocean races to Bermuda, culminating in winning his class twice in the Newport Bermuda Race. He has skippered a series of voyages in the North Atlantic, the majority of which have been to the high latitudes. John has been helping others go voyaging by sharing his experience for twenty years, first in yachting magazines and, for the last 12 years, as co-editor/publisher of AAC.

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26 comments … add one
  • Alan S Jan 5, 2016, 6:09 am

    This receiver is better known in Europe as the Nasa Marine Target HF3
    Nasa are OEM supplier for SITEX. European readers may have encountered it in this guise.
    Nasa also have a dedicated NAVTEX receiver.

    • John Jan 5, 2016, 7:52 am

      Hi Alan,

      Great, that answers one question, since the Nasa receives Navtex it would seem that the Sitex will too, since, as you say, they seem to be essentially the same unit. Thanks. Do you have first hand experience with said unit?

      • Alan S Jan 5, 2016, 10:45 pm

        Hi John,
        I have no experience with this unit (few in NZ would even know what NAVTEX is!!), I have read some mixed reviews about the Target’s performance as a receiver and JCFlander’s comments would seem to echo these.

      • Mick Jan 5, 2016, 11:08 pm

        Think there is a bit of confusion going here. The NASA HF3 is simply a SSB that comes with software to enable you to pick up weatherfax but NOT navtex messages. We have used a Nasa Navtex for the last 15 years, the single frequency model so only good for offshore stuff and possibly upto 200 hundred nm out. Reception varies around the N. Atlantic. Good around Europe, OK in the US, good in Greenland but poor to non-existent in Labrador. It’s benefit, as far as we’re concerned is you can scroll through previous messages to see if anything has been missed and you do not need to be concerned about times of broadcast as it will “always” be there. Perhaps not as slick as gribs and the like but cheap and cheerful it keeps on working

        • John Jan 6, 2016, 9:11 am

          Hi Mick,

          Yes, we get that the HF3 is an HF receiver that can, among other things, pick up SSB transmissions, but, as I understand it from the advertising page, it is also capable of tuning and receiving the Navtex frequencies, which was Tobias’ question in the first place.

          Having said that, as you point out, the HF3 is not a Navtex per sec, in that it does not support unattended receipt of Navtex and all the other bells and whistles that your dedicated unit has.

          Interesting that your NASA does not work well in Labrador. How about in Newfoundland? We used to have a Furuno NX-500 which was great just about everywhere but Labrador, which seems to suggest that the transmitters are not the best. In fact I seem to remember that I had a chat with the Canadian Coast Guard about that and they admitted that their monitoring of their Navtex transmitters was not a priority, despite the fact that said transmitters are required and GMDSS. (I was bitching at them because I was not receiving the Sydney, NS station, despite only being 50 miles from it, while at the same time receiving St. John’s very clearly.)

          • Mick Jan 6, 2016, 11:29 pm

            Apologies John – we never use the HF3 for anything other than voice reception so had blanked the Navtex function from my mind but it does offer that as you say.

            I think we’ve had mixed success with Newfoundland but because we’re normally able to pick up VHF broadcasts tend not to notice if the Navtex has not been updated.

  • Wim Vandenbossche Jan 5, 2016, 11:47 am

    I have a Furuno NX300 dedicated NAVTEX.
    Receives both channels – though not at the same time.
    When daysailing/marina hopping, I set it to 490 kHz. And switch to 518 kHz when heading further offshore.

  • Phil Streat Jan 5, 2016, 12:06 pm

    I have been using a Furuno NX300 Navtex receiver in waters from Greece to the UK. http://www.furunousa.com/products/productdetail.aspx?product=NX300&category=Products+%3a+Marine+Weather+%3a+NAVTEX It stores and displays messages so no computer connection is required, although it can be connected to one if desired. I find that sometimes, in ports, messages are not picked up when they should be. This is a general problem with Navtex that has to do with the nature of the broadcast signal. See the following for more on this issue: http://weather.mailasail.com/Franks-Weather/Navtex-Reception-Problems-And-Cures-Detailed It is nice to have a stand alone, always on, receiver but yes, you could also get all the same info from the internet via cellphone inshore or sat phone offshore

  • Charles Starke Jan 5, 2016, 1:23 pm

    I have a Furuno NX300 also and like having the regular announcements and weather broadcasts. A previous unit on a previous boat saved me a lot of trouble with a weather announcement and alarm for a very dangerous front passage. But the present unit does not seem to have an alarm for announcements of danger. It alarms for every message and I have to keep that alarm off. Has anyone figured out how to set up an alarm for danger broadcasts on the NX300?
    Thanks for alerting me to the differences between reception on the two frequencies, and I liked reading the article referenced by Phil, above.
    Is it very handy to be able to receive and record on the two frequencies at the same time? Do the amplified antennas of the GMDSS units give improved reception? How do you like the NX500? And does anyone have experience with the NX700? Are they worth the added cost? Thanks!

    • John Jan 6, 2016, 9:28 am

      Hi Charles,

      We really liked our NX500 for it’s incredible receiver sensitivity and yes, the alarms worked fine out of the box. On the down side, the NX500 requires special and expensive paper and does not receive on 490 Khz. Ours died a couple of years ago—I suspect the active antenna—and we have not bothered to get it fixed since we find that in North America we can do fine getting weather over Irdium, as detailed in the post above. If we went back to Europe I would fit a new Navtex that gets both frequencies, probably the Furuno.

  • JCFlander Jan 5, 2016, 3:25 pm

    Hi, this is a plain-vanilla HF 30kHz-30MHz SSB/AM receiver, basically same as Grundig Yachtboy etc. No FM. Has memory for 10 frequencies. PC connection is via a 3,5mm plug or RCA in backplane, that will be connected to PC mic input. No computer control for freq. etc. this is a manual unit. Frequency knob on right, volume and +/- 1kHz finetune on left.
    Pros: Small, low current consumption (300mA), cheap for new unit.
    Cons: drifts +- 300Hz per hour, so not suitable for unattended reception. Poor dynamics, will be overwhelmed by nearby AM stations. Plastic case, susceptible to in-boat RFI.

    So, weatherfax and NAVTEX works, windows program included (check, two versions). Also finds cruising nets on both maritime and ham bands.

    Not the sharpest knife on drawer, but way better than nothing… HTH

    • John Jan 6, 2016, 9:14 am

      Jo JCFlander,

      Thanks, great information. Is that based on first hand experience?

      • JCFlander Jan 6, 2016, 10:22 pm

        Hi John, yes, there was a nasa version on a customer’s boat that I tested briefly. No real tests made with analyzer, didn’t feel the need then. Also, didn’t test the fax or navtex reception with that program since customer’s laptop was elsewhere. I kept it on a couple of days, and the drift was noticeable.
        Alas, the things I said above can be helped quite easily. Casing insides can be sprayed with conductive paint to improve RFI together with ferrites, dynamics can be helped with simple antenna tuner and adjustable attenuator, and drift can be controlled by putting some isolation around chrystal and making sure that temperature in unit keeps as constant as possible, ie. to keep radio on and no heat producing devices around.
        For the price, this is a good radio. But those on budget and willing to experiment a bit, could find better value from ‘world band radios’ like Tecsun, Grundig or Sony. Some of them have very good receivers, plenty of memory, scanning functions, low power consumption, and one feature I especially like: programmable timers, that put the radio on when program/net/transmission is about to start. Cheers.

        • John Jan 7, 2016, 9:40 am

          Hi JCFLander,

          Great information, thank you. You obviously know of what you write.

  • Cameron Vawter Jan 5, 2016, 7:32 pm

    We are cruising the west coast of Mexico and you don’t hear anything about Navtex. We all seem to rely on SAILMAIL or passage weather run through SSB, Go! Or cellular when close to land. What is the benefit of Navtex? I guess this could be a post in itself…..

    • John Jan 6, 2016, 9:13 am

      Hi Cameron,

      I think I covered that in the post above:

      The advantage of a Navtex receiver is that it’s always on and will warn you of anything really urgent in a way neither my method or the SI-TEX NAVFAX 200 receiver will. Navtex is also an approved solution under GMDSS.

    • JCFlander Jan 7, 2016, 4:39 pm

      Actually, in Mexico there is 5 NAVTEX stations. But they use solely 4209,5 kHz frequency – that most basic receivers don’t cover.
      Upside is that those stations can be received very much further than 518 kHz stations. Btw. New Orleans station sends also on 4209,5.

  • Dick Stevenson Jan 6, 2016, 10:48 am

    Hi John and everyone,
    My experience base is 6-8 months per cruising season for 4+ years in the Med and 5+ years in northern Europe. We would get Navtex occasionally through SSB, but have never had a designated unit.
    On the quality of forecast (casual observations):
    In the Med I felt that Navtex never met a wx system that it did not forecast a gale warning about. As a consequence, many sailors stayed in port when conditions were boisterous, but basically fine. More generally, on a day to day basis, I felt one could always do better with local reports, internet, gribs etc.
    In northern Europe I felt the Navtex forecasts were just fine, but no better than one could easily garner in a myriad of other ways.
    On the warning/alarm function:
    I pay a reasonable, but not obsessive, attention to wx. I do not remember a time where I have felt “snuck” up on by wx events so I have never felt the need for an early warning system such as Navtex offers. Neither have I, in casual conversations at marinas etc. heard: “Oh, the Navtex alarm saved my butt yesterday…”. Yes, it might be nice to know that there are thunderstorms a-brewing in the area, but my ears and other senses usually suffice to give me the warning necessary for preparations.
    We occasionally consider Navtex, especially when going into new areas, the Baltic for ex., but have yet to be convinced that an extra piece of kit and the installation is worth it. This is even more the case now-a-days when, for coastal cruising, internet is usually available, even in many out of the way anchorages.
    My best, Dick Stevenson, s/v Alchemy

  • Dick Stevenson Jan 6, 2016, 10:51 am

    Ps. I neglected to say that when cruising in Central America and the Bahamas I received a wx report via SSB that was excellent and I believe it to have been a Navtex report. Dick

  • Frank Jan 7, 2016, 11:10 am

    Hi there,

    as was stated above, this device looks very similar to the NASA receiver, which is a basic receiver without timers or automated reception. I decided against it, since I would have had to tune in and record at manually at the time of broadcast. Therefore I am using a MRD 60 Navtex receiver with 4 frequencies (490, 518, 4209,5 and 147,3kHz) to receive Navtex and weather (this device is available in Germany). The advantage is that it does everything by itself, no need to fiddle with cable connection to a laptop, no need to care about broadcast schedules once it is programmed. It will also print the forecasts on an internal printer. The older and better known version is the Fastnet Radio device. However, as has been said, the quality of weather forecasts and Navtex may vary according to region, works very well here in the Baltic, might not be worth its money in other areas. Why not use a regular SSB and just receive with Pactor if you do not have the licence?


  • PaddyB Jan 12, 2016, 7:10 am

    I had the nasa version of that radio and, much as I like nasa’s cheap and cheerful kit, it really isn’t a very good radio, I gave it away in the end and went for a degen 1103. The operating system on the degen isn’t perfect but it’s a very good receiver. Also onboard I have a nasa dedicated receiver but nowadays mostly use the onboard raspberry pi computer to receive navtex through a ham radio. Navtex is maybe more useful round UK & northern europe more for the nav warnings than weather, buoys off station, lights out, live gunnery, cargo adrift etc. Also very useful in the north sea and Baltic is DWD weather broadcasts on 10.1Mhz. And of course weatherfax.
    The downside of using a receiver is that you have to remember to turn on the radio and computer to get it, which is where a dedicated navtex receiver wins hands down. Also, get down to Spain and further south navtex isn’t really very active. Here some messages available online..

  • Arek Jan 12, 2016, 7:48 am

    Do you have any opinion about DeLorme inReach + OCENS SpotCast Weather?

    The main propose for this unit will be to receive weather information in tandem with tablet/mobile (if I understand it correctly the unit can stay in cockpit and send data to phone in cabin).

    The tracking and satellite text massages will be the bonus.
    Last summer when sailing north our AIS tracking system was not very reliable which made some of the family worry. The satellite phone we rented worked only when being outside in cockpit. This made communication with us difficult.

    I know it is not full replacement for Navtex. I’m thinking about it more as less expensive option to Iridium GO.
    We are chartering the boat so I have not much influence about model of satellite phone which will be there.

    • John Jan 12, 2016, 9:21 am

      Hi Arek,

      I’m not a big fan of either OCENS or in Reach. I just don’t think that that combo will give you enough information

      If it were me, I would go with a GO! The cost difference is not that large when compared to the potential for problems caused by not having good weather information.

      Bottom line, I really don’t like any system that only gives us a look at the weather in a small area, rather than the big picture.

  • Charles Starke Jan 15, 2016, 2:03 pm

    It seems the US Navtex frequencies are limited to one: 518.

    NAVTEX is an international automated medium frequency (518 kHz) direct-printing service for delivery of navigational and meteorological warnings and forecasts, as well as urgent marine safety information to ships. It was developed to provide a low-cost, simple, and automated means of receiving this information aboard ships at sea within approximately 200 nautical miles of shore. NAVTEX stations in the U.S. are operated by the U.S. Coast Guard. There are no user fees associated with receiving NAVTEX broadcasts. Within the U.S., there are no current plans to broadcast NAVTEX on the alternate designated frequencies of 490 or 4209.5 kHz.”


    I guess there is no reason to get a dual frequency model Navtex for Western Hemisphere users.

    • John Jan 16, 2016, 8:30 am

      Hi Charles,

      Sounds right. Having said that, if you have any plans to sail to other countries, particularly Europe, from what I understand, having at least 490khz capability is really important.

  • Charles Starke Jan 16, 2016, 12:54 pm

    I have a Furuno NX300 dedicated NAVTEX. It receives both channels – though not at the same time. There is a front channel switch.
    Next time, I would get one that receives all channels simultaneously, and had an amplified antenna. Does anyone have any experience comparing the Furuno 500 and 700? Thanks.

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