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Best AIS devices for 2019, part 2

One of the most useful and user-friendly technologies to come along in a while is AIS---Automatic Identification System. Operating in the VHF maritime band, AIS provides a wealth of information about vessels in your vicinity that boosts your situational awareness and safety at sea. Here’s an excerpt from how the Coast Guard describes it on their Navigation Center web page:
"Imagine a shipboard radar or an electronic chart display that includes a symbol for every significant ship within radio range, each with a velocity vector (indicating speed and heading). Each ship ‘symbol’ can reflect the actual size of the ship, with position to GPS or differential GPS accuracy. By clicking on a ship symbol, you can learn the ship name, course and speed, classification, call sign, registration number, MMSI, and other information. Maneuvering information, closest point of approach (CPA), time to closest point of approach (TCPA) and other navigation information, more accurate and more timely than information available from an automatic radar plotting aid, can also be available. Display information previously available only to modern Vessel Traffic Service operations centers can now be available to every AIS user. With this information, you can call any ship over VHF radiotelephone by name, rather than by ‘ship off my port bow’ or some other imprecise means.”
Below are six 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 rolled out the first batch of AIS products. Next week we’ll tell you about equipment you ought to have onboard because it can save lives in an emergency.

ACR Electronics AISLink MOB

The ACR Electronics AISLink MOB is an AIS man overboard device that can also alert crew to an emergency by activating the DSC alarm on a vessel’s VHF radio. Developed to ensure the best chance of rescue from the water, the AISLink MOB will begin transmitting distress signals within just 15 seconds of activation and can continue to transmit for over 24 hours. The AISLink, which is manually or automatically activated upon inflation of the lifejacket, transmits MOB emergency messages along with GPS coordinates to vessels with AIS receivers and/or plotters within a five-mile range. An integrated high-intensity strobe light assists rescuers with accurate positioning even in low-visibility conditions.

See and be seen is not just a cliché, it’s a way of life and added safety for mariners. Easily installed, ComNav’s Mariner X2 Class B AIS transceiver combines innovation with the highest quality of engineering to deliver Class B solutions that meet the needs of enhanced safety and security for various types of vessels. The Mariner X2 adheres to IP67 standards and meets numerous international requirements. Furthermore, it is subjected to rigorous testing to ensure uppermost quality and performance. Information from the Mariner X2 is easily displayed on a PC or chartplotter using NMEA 0183 and NMEA 2000 I/0 data port. A two-year warranty is standard.

Simrad/Lowrance/B&G NAIS 500

Simple to use and offering top-quality safety, the Class-B AIS NAIS-500 is plug-and-play compatible with Lowrance, Simrad and B&G multifunction displays and VHF devices. Overlaying AIS data on MFDs, the NAIS-500 shows the position and movements of all AIS-equipped vessels within range and provides a greater picture of a boater’s surroundings. The system uses sophisticated automatic digital time-sharing technology that enables the exchange of static information like MMSI (Maritime Mobile Service Identity) number, vessel name, call sign and type, as well as dynamic data, including course, distance, speed and more, from ship to ship and ship to shore-based traffic stations. Lightweight and compact, the NAIS-500 black box is rugged and submersible, and features an integrated GPS receiver and a variety of connection options, including NMEA 2000

Koden KAT-330

The new 2019 Koden KAT-330 is a robust and feature-packed Class A AIS transceiver with built-in chart display, engineered to perform under the harshest commercial marine or military applications. Carrying international SOLAS, MED, FCC, Inland Waterway and Industry Canada certifications, the KAT-330 is a powerful solution for mariners worldwide. It delivers unmatched AIS performance in the most challenging environments and conditions, and is designed to make it very easy for operators to update voyage data. Features include WiFi, NMEA 0183 and NMEA 2000 connectivity and pilot plug interface. The KAT-330 is built to be shock, vibration, weather and waterproof (IPx6 and IPx7).  The 5.9 x 6.5 x 4.3 inch case includes a high-definition color LCD for monitoring and tracking of AIS targets on detailed electronic charts.

Raymarine AIS700

The AIS700 is Raymarine’s latest-generation Class B AIS with full transmit and receive capability for enhanced situational awareness and navigation safety.  For ease of installation, the AIS700 comes standard with a built-in VHF antenna splitter.  This simplifies the overall installation by enabling the AIS transceiver to share a common aerial with a marine VHF radio, if desired. AIS700 supports NMEA 2000, NMEA 0183, PC-USB and SeaTalkNG networking for seamless onboard integration. AIS700 is designed to the latest international standards with the very latest SO-TDMA technology for faster updates. AIS700 has its own internal 72-channel GPS receiver and external antenna, as required international standards.  

Vesper Marine Vision2

The touchscreen Vesper Marine WatchMate Vision2 Class B AIS transponder combines navigation sensor data, GPS and AIS information with intelligent alert logic. While traditional AIS transponders only send and receive AIS signals, Vesper Marine’s smartAIS units continuously calculate crossing situations and generate collision alarms for critical navigation action. While at anchor, the Vision2 will alert the crew of an anchor dragging as well as changes in wind speed, wind direction and water depth. Finally, it will sound an alarm in case of a man overboard and will continuously update positions for quick retrieval. Vision2 features a highly responsive, easy-to-use capacitive touchscreen.

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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