Last month I described AIS (Automatic Identification System, a new collision avoidance and ship i.d. system) and how it can be of use to recreational sailors. This month we look at what’s currently available or coming soon.
The most basic setup would be to install an AIS Receiver. This is a simple device with only a few connections on it. Most depend on your existing chart plotter or PC navigation software to actually display the data. Installation varies depending on your setup, but you will need to have either a dedicated VHF antenna for it or an antenna splitter added to your current antenna. Popular AIS receivers available now are the SR161 and SR162 made by Smart Radio as well as the AIS Radar Receiver made by Nasa Marine (which has an integrated display).
Getting fancier, you could install an AIS Transponder on your vessel, so you can not only see other boats, but be seen. More expensive, but it is becoming more realistic with the new AIS Class B standard. Class A is what the big commercial vessels use and are required to carry, but the new Class B standard was designed with smaller vessels, such as your yacht, in mind. With lower power and lacking some of the features of more expensive cousins, it still has everything you should need or want.
Installation is only slightly more complex. You definitely want a dedicated VHF antenna for this, as the transponder will be transmitting at regular intervals. This antenna will also have to be installed some distance from your VHF antenna to avoid transmission interference. You will have to program the transponder with your vessel’s data and make sure it has an active GPS connected to transmit your course, speed, and position details. Many of the companies offering or planning to offer class B transponders, however, preprogram them for you with your vessel’s information. They often also offer an optional dedicated GPS which certainly makes installation easier.
Class B AIS is still very new, and most companies making them are still awaiting FCC approval before they can start selling them in the United States. If you are outside of the U.S., though, you can likely purchase one right away. Some promising looking options are the CSB200 from Comar Systems and the AIS CTRX from Y-tronic.
This is still a new market—look for further options that will be showing up frequently.
www.y-tronic.com for the AIS CTRX Transponder
www.comarsystems.com for the CSB200 Transponder
www.milltechmarine.com US dealer for the SR161 and SR162 Receivers
www.nasamarine.com for the NASA AIS Radar Receiver
Russell Easby-Smith left his Chesapeake Bay home base last year to live aboard and sail Paulina, currently from Grenada. He welcomes questions on all things technical on boats, care of: email@example.com.