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Best AIS for 2018--Part 1

AIS---Automatic Identification System---is one of those technologies that just about every boat should have onboard. Through a combination of VHF and GPS, AIS paints a very useful picture about other AIS-equipped vessels in your area---where they are, which way they’re heading and how fast---and lots more. Here’s how the Coast Guard describes it:

“Picture a shipboard radar or an electronic chart display that includes a symbol for every significant ship within radio range, each as desired 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 (Maritime Mobile Service Identity), 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. Or you can dial it up directly using GMDSS (Global Maritime Distress Safety System) equipment. Or you can send to the ship, or receive from it, short safety-related email messages.

“The AIS is a shipboard broadcast system that acts like a transponder, operating in the VHF maritime band, that is capable of handling well over 4,500 reports per minute and updates as often as every two seconds. It uses Self-Organizing Time Division Multiple Access (SOTDMA) technology to meet this high broadcast rate and ensure reliable ship-to-ship operation.”

There are two basic types of AIS: Class A and Class B. Typically, Class B units are more suitable for recreational vessels while Class A serves the commercial fleet. Click HERE for a very useful list of FAQs compliments of the Coast Guard.

Best & Brightest 

Below are several AIS models that come highly recommended---we'll. The lineup is part of an exercise that Marine Electronics Journal does every year. We call it the Best & Brightest Boating Electronics—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.

There are 17 categories in all­, ranging from autopilots and fishfinders to vessel monitoring systems and multi-function displays---MFDs. AIS is one of the largest categories, so we're splitting it into two parts, this week and next. Last week we rolled out the best underwater LEDs.


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 multi-function displays (MFD) 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. The NAIS-500 is ideal for smaller powerboats with its low average power consumption of 170mA at 12 VDC.

Icom MA-500TR

Compact, waterproof Class B AIS transponder actively notifies other vessels of your exact position. Dual-channel receiver provides AIS information (both Class A and Class B signals) simultaneously. Large, backlit full dot-matrix screen gives real-time vessel traffic information for navigation and collision avoidance. Compact size means that it can be installed in a convenient place near the chart table, in the wheelhouse, or on the fly bridge or pedestal in the cockpit. Large, easy-to-use, backlit buttons make it easy to operate. MA500TR can be integrated with the M330, M400BB, M324, M424G, M506, and M605.


Garmin AIS 600

The AIS 600 aids in collision avoidance by helping you track and contact anyone in the area with an MMSI number. Whether you’re keeping in touch with mariners in the area or tracking other boats on a similar course, you’ll be able to share information between vessels for improved safety and greater confidence on the open waters. The AIS 600 also employs ClearTrack technology, which ensures there’s no interruption of AIS traffic position while the VHF radio is in use. In addition, the AIS 600 integrates with a Garmin chartplotter and VHF radio via NMEA 2000, giving you the ability to initiate a call to any MMSI target directly from the chartplotter by selecting the “call with radio” function.

Furuno FA170

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. The compact FA170 display is designed to accommodate a simple and space-saving installation with a user-friendly ergonomic design. The AIS 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 SARTs. When dangerous targets are detected, the FA170 provides a Dangerous Target list.


Vesper Marine WatchMate XB-8000

The Vesper Marine WatchMate XB-8000 is the world’s first black-box AIS transponder with smartAIS technology. It’s the only black-box AIS with its own built-in alarming for collision avoidance, man overboard and anchor watch, enhancing the safety of vessel and crew. Remote control your transponder with your smartphone, tablet or smart watch from anywhere on board via WiFi. Provides NMEA 2000® and NMEA 0183 instrument data to your mobile WatchMate app and smart watch deckWatch app as well as third-party navigation apps. Control NMEA 0183 and NMEA 2000 autopilots from a smartphone or tablet. Compatible with all brands of MFDs. 5 Hz GPS update rate: Eliminate an extra GPS antenna by providing full GPS data with higher resolution and smoother tracking to all MFDs. Low power consumption.



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.


ComNav Mariner X2

It’s all about visibility and the assurance in knowing that you can see and be seen by marine traffic near and also far, including search and rescue. The ComNav Mariner X2 uses the latest Class B AIS transceiver technology—your security is assured with safety message priority monitoring. It’s easy to install, with either the standard built-in 16 channel GPS receiver or optional external GPS antenna. State-of-the-art technology allows you to track other vessels while simultaneously broadcasting your position, course, speed, heading, navigation status, and rate of turn, as well as your vessel’s unique MMSI identification number. Information from the Mariner X2 Class A AIS is easily displayed on a PC or chartplotter using NMEA 0183/2000 I/O data port. It comes standard with two-year warranty.


Digital Yacht Nomad

Nomad is a portable Class B transponder with integrated GPS and WiFi.  Supplied with a portable antenna and USB power connection, it’s easy to move from boat to boat and ideal for renters and delivery skippers.  It supports a USB and WiFi data connection for PCs, tablets and iPads.



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