AIS (Automatic Identification System) is a tracking system originally developed to allow commercial port operations Vessel Tracking Service managers identify, locate and track large commercial vessels. Legally, all passenger ships (regardless of size) and all ships of over 300 Gross Tons are required to transmit their AIS information and use the information received from other ships while navigating.
AIS has trickled down to pleasure boating in a big way since it was first mandated on commercial ships in 2002. Prices have dropped and new features have blossomed.
If you haven’t yet experienced what AIS can do for you on your boat, click HERE to see a web based presentation of vessels in your area. Note that vessel types are color coded for identification, Blue = Passenger, Green = Cargo, Red = Tankers, Yellow = High Speed Craft, Blue = Tugs & Pilots, Purple = Yachts and smaller vessels. Click on any vessel and see all their pertinent data and even a picture!
There are two types of AIS units for private boats, Receivers (which gather other’s data but does not send your vessel’s data) and Transceiver (both sends and receives data). These systems use a VHF antenna to receive other vessel’s data and need to be connected to an external GPS (or have an internal GPS) to transmit data. Some higher end transceivers have two VHF antennas, one to receive and one to transmit, as well as a dedicated GPS antenna.
Be aware that commercial transceiver systems broadcast at a higher wattage output (for a greater range) and broadcast their data more frequently than a recreational system does.
Receivers can be black box units that share your existing VHF antenna and connect to your existing chart plotter to overlay AIS info on the chart, or stand alone units (think redundancy here) with their own displays and antennas. They are now being integrated into the latest generation of VHF radios, so keep your eye on that market segment.
If you plan on doing any serious coastal cruising, an AIS unit is now a must have tool to add to your boat.
LINKS: Web Based AIS (note, volunteer stations collect this data, so not all vessels may be shown) http://www.marinetraffic.com/en/
ICOM Radios with AIS http://www.icomamerica.com/en/products/marine/mountedvhf/m506/default.aspx
ICOM Transponder Standalone http://www.icomamerica.com/en/products/marine/ais/ma500tr/default.aspx
Vesper Marine – Great AIS options http://www.vespermarine.com/
Ask at the Rex Marine or Norwalk Cove Ships Store for pricing and details.
By Captain Rick Delfosse 203-216-7800 email@example.com firstname.lastname@example.org
Rick is a Coast Guard captain, National Safe Boating Council close-quarters boat-handling and open water boat handling instructor, Connecticut and New York certified safe boating instructor and a US Sailing-certified instructor. He also conducts on-the-water courses and classroom seminars on coastal cruising and boating skills. The owner of a 43-foot pilothouse cutter and an Aquasport powerboat, he has extensive cruising and one-design, coastal and offshore racing experience.