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Best AIS devices for 2019
8/26/2019

Since its implementation nearly two decades ago, AIS’s applications and its use around the world have expanded. AIS stands for Automatic Identification System and basically is technology that can keep captains informed about nearby and potentially dangerous vessel traffic.

Back in 1988 a global authority known as the International Maritime Organization (IMO) set three major goals for AIS: collision avoidance, nearshore monitoring and vessel traffic management. The goals applied to large commercial vessels.  In the years since, AIS use has spread to applications such as marking virtual aids to navigation, fishing nets and other objects at sea and autonomous vessels. At the same time the technology is increasingly used by recreational boaters to enhance safety.

Below are seven AIS devices that come highly recommended. They are part of an exercise MEJ does every year in our Buyers’ Guide. It works like this: We ask manufacturers to identify the one model they produce in a particular category that they consider to be their Best & Brightest—not necessarily the most technically advanced or newest but rather the one they rate highest in the product line for one reason or another. Could be the functions and features it offers, or maybe it breaks new ground in maximizing effectiveness or utility, or maybe it’s the most popular as measured by sales to boaters.
 
The Best & Brightest list includes 16 categories of electronics, from autopilots and fishfinders to radar and satellite TV. Last week we told you about the pick of the litter in VHFs, both fixed mount and handheld. Next week we’ll finish up with another batch of top-drawer AIS products.


 
The Furuno FA170 is a Class A, IMO-approved Universal AIS transponder, capable of exchanging navigation and ship data between own ship and other ships or coastal stations. The FA170 consists of a transponder unit and a 4.3 inch color LCD display, which is designed to accommodate a simple and space-saving installation with a user-friendly ergonomic design. The FA170 includes six in/out ports, three input-only ports, one LAN port, and one alarm output port. The unit is Bridge Alert Management ready. It can store up to 2,048 AIS targets and AIS SART’s (Search and Rescue Transponder). When dangerous targets are detected, the FA170 provides a Dangerous Target list.

Increase your situational awareness and confidence on the water with the Garmin AIS 800 transceiver. It has 5 watts of transmit power and provides faster position reporting than ever before. It transmits the vessel’s information to other AIS receivers in the area while it receives their AIS target data. The Garmin AIS 800 has an internal VHF antenna splitter, which allows the VHF and AIS to share a single antenna. It includes a built-in GPS (with connector for optional external antenna) and integrates seamlessly into the Garmin onboard system. The transceiver features NMEA 2000/0183 connectivity for easy integration with compatible chartplotters and multifunction displays. And it’s all packed into an easy-to-install black box unit with a small footprint.

 
This advanced new Class B/SO system transmits at 5 watts—compared to 2 watts for traditional Class B units—allowing boats equipped with the SI-TEX MDA-5 to be "seen” over longer distances and/or in challenging environments. It also transmits a vessel’s position and dynamic data such as Heading, Speed Over Ground and Course Over Ground on a more frequent, Class A-type priority basis. More frequent broadcasting of vessel information ensures that other vessels around you receive the most up-to-date data possible. The MDA-5 is ruggedly built with an IP67 waterproof rating and dust- and vibration-proof construction. The MDA-5 features NMEA 2000, NMEA 0183 and USB connections for easy integration with onboard marine electronics, along with built-in WiFi.

Icom MA-500TR

The MA-500TR’s number one job is keeping you and your vessel safe. Icom’s Class B AIS transponder, the MA-500TR, is ideal for pleasure craft and fishing boats. AIS signals may reach where radar cannot, showing AIS-equipped vessels that might otherwise be hidden behind large obstacles. On its full dot-matrix display with adjustable backlight and contrast, the AIS transponder receives information broadcast by other AIS-equipped vessels and base stations, while your own vessel's static and dynamic information are being transmitted. The MA-500TR receives dual AIS channels (Ch. 87B and Ch. 88B) simultaneously and receives both Class A and Class B AIS information. An optional flush-mount installation kit (MB-75) is also available.

Ocean Signal ATB1

The Ocean Signal ATB1 Class B AIS transponder is a powerful device that uses the SOTDMA (Self-Organized Time Division Multiple Access) scheme to aid with collision avoidance and provide peace of mind in areas of high traffic or poor conditions. The ATB1 has a faster reporting rate and higher output power than standard CSTDMA (Carrier Sense TDMA) Class B units, sending AIS transmissions every five seconds instead of the CSTDMA two transmissions per minute. The unit’s 5 watt output power, compared to the standard 2 watt, allows the transmissions to reach further. With 99 acquisition channels and 33 tracking channels, the powerful internal multi-GPS receiver continuously updates vessel information, including position, speed, course and heading, for accurate global positioning. It is compatible with the Ocean Signal rescueME MOB1.

McMurdo SmartFind M5

The SmartFind M5 is a flexible, easy-to-install, user-friendly and cost-effective AIS Class A transponder with a 3.5 inch color screen. Incorporating a fully comprehensive AIS MOB and AIS SART alarm to aid MOB recovery. It provides on-screen indication and internal buzzer when any AIS SART/MOB TXID is received; an optional remote waterproof (MOB/alarm) sounder is also available. It also allows a "crew list” of the vessel’s own AIS MOB IDs and associated crew name and has a steer-to-rescue MOB casualty target screen. The AIS MOB alarm feature is compatible with the McMurdo S10 AIS Beacon, SmartFind S20 SRS and other AIS SART devices.

 
Advanced Class B+ SOTDMA 5 watt technology for improved range, reliability of transmission and update rate with a built-in patented, zero loss VHF-AIS antenna splitter to make installation a breeze.  Integrate with NMEA 0183, NMEA 2000, USB and wireless interfaces for advanced tablet and iPad-based navigation.
 
Class A vs Class B

Class A AIS devices report their position every 2-10 seconds, depending on the vessel’s speed and/or course changes and report static and voyage-related information every 6 minutes. Class A units can text message safety-related and other information.

Similar to Class A-equipped vessels, boats with Class B AIS report every three minutes or less when at anchor, but the position at lower power. Class B AIS report the vessel’s static data every 6 minutes, but not any voyage-related information. They can receive safety-related text and AIS application specific messages, but cannot transmit them. Class B units are generally less expensive than Class A.

 
 

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