We Turn Private Boat Owners into Private Boat Captains
Vincent Pica Chief of Staff, First District, Southern Region (D1SR) United States Coast Guard Auxiliary
AIS? Say What?
In the “technology gamesmanship” between the Have’s and the Have Not’s, each time 2 mariners (or golfers, tennis aficionados or “Internuts”) get together, inevitably the “tech question du jour” comes up.In our father’s days, it was “did you get a VHF radio yet?” or perhaps a “What do you think about LORAN?”In our younger days, it was, “hey, have you put GPS aboard yet?I have and it is faaaaanntastic!”As the price of hardware came down, we even got into discussion about radar (see SSP, “Radar for the Private Boater – Eye Ayes!”,12/19/07), which for most people was considered only a tool for the military and commercial mariners.But, for the same reason (lowering costs), now AIS is part of the tech jargon.This column is about that.
It is estimated that more than 40,000 ships currently carry AIS class A equipment.Clearly, by the prior description, it is and has been intended for the “big boys.”What does it do?It links all AIS-equipped vessels together via satellite/GPS technology.
Well, doesn’t my radio do that essentially?Not unless you or the opposing skipper see each other and decide to open up a channel.AIS broadcasts continuously.
And it broadcasts plenty – directly on to your radar screen, or chart plotter or GPS screen.It will tell you, for any AIS-equipped ship within VHF-radio range, its speed and heading, which is critical in understanding if there is a threat of collision.It will also tell you when and where it will happen if both of you maintain your present course and speed (that’s when the “CPA” , i.e., Closest Point of Approach, is zero...)
But any good radar system these days will give you that data.True.If the radar sees the opposing vessel, it can.While many objects can block a radar return, VHF goes in a straight line, to infinity essentially, and won’t be (completely) blocked by bridges, wave or rain scatter and the like.
courtesy: Wikipedia (click to enlarge)
It will even give you the vessel’s name amongst other characteristic information so, when you put out a “security call” during a transit (“secure-a-tay, secure-a-tay, secure-a-tay, this is the M/V Charlie westbound on the rhumb line from Montauk to New York City, all vessels on opposing course, please be advised”), you can say, “Hailing M/V Monica, eastbound on the rhumb line from New York City to Montauk, this is the M/V Charlie on a reciprocal course, 10 miles ahead.Suggest we both go to starboard and open up a lane between us.”How cool would that be…?
The US Coast Guard has noted that AIS might replace RACONs, or radar beacons, currently used for electronic navigation aids.And, if buoys and beacons can transmit their data, it will be a further aid when aid is mostly needed – poor visibility and crowded seaways.And don’t be surprised if you hear about Virtual AIS. In one example, an AIS transmission describes the position of buoy but the signal itself originates from a transmitter located in a USCG station miles away and on land. For example, an on-shore base station might broadcast the position of a string of channel markers, each of which is too small to contain a transmitter itself. In another example, AIS could transmit the image of a marker which does not exist physically but now marks a transient situation, like a sunken vessel or channel that had shoaled over. Although such aids would only be visible to AIS-equipped ships, this would be a lot cheaper – and faster – than physical markers.
OK, How Do I Get One!? Well, “what should I get” is probably a better question.AIS transponders come in 2 classes.Class-A really IS for the big guys – it is a fully integrated system, costing $3,000-$5,000 and is technologically beyond most private skippers in complexity and size.With that said, for $600-$900, there is a Class-B transponder which can be integrated into your existing electronics package.The best device to integrate it with is your chart plotter.And, most importantly, Class-A AIS systems can see Class-B and vice-versa…
One last thing: AIS “hates” to be close to AIS, meaning, it is self-alarming.You set the perimeter or zone of safety and, if another AIS-equipped boat enters that zone, the alarm goes off. And, on your chart plotter, you see its heading, speed, position and name.Immediately.This is one of the reasons I have AIS on my boat (I have the ACR Class-B AIS but there are several good ones out there.)
BTW, if you are interested in being part of USCG Forces, email me at JoinUSCGAux@aol.comor go direct to the D1SR Human Resources department, who are in charge of new members matters, at DSO-HR and we will help you “get in this thing…”
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