AIS Transceivers: An Offshore Imperative

The Em-Trak A100 AIS transceiver permits easy networking with other electronics in your nav station.
The Em-Trak A100 AIS transceiver permits easy networking with other electronics in your nav station.
The Em-Trak A100 AIS transceiver permits easy networking with other electronics in your nav station.

Wherever we may find ourselves on our vessels, there are sure to be other craft out on the water moving along at cruising speed with their crew occasionally looking out over the water for other vessels. Although having someone on watch 24-7 is imperative, this practice is not foolproof, particularly in heavy fog or rain. Fortunately, with the latest generation of AIS transceivers, we have a means of knowing what is out there, even in those moments when the watch takes a nap.  

The standard AIS-equipped VHF radio is limited to receiving AIS transmissions and displaying them either on a small screen or on a separate chartplotter. To alert another vessel, the operator calls by VHF radio or activates the DSC (digital select calling) function, which transmits the vessel’s name and position with the vessel’s MMSI code.

There is an obvious advantage to installing a self-contained AIS transceiver on your vessel: every AIS-equipped vessel in your area is aware of your location. If two vessels are closing within an unsafe distance, both crews are aware of the potential for collision and have time and sufficient distance to correct course. Particularly if you are singlehanded and sitting at the helm steering through dense fog, you need to know your AIS transceiver has your back.

A number of AIS transceivers have emerged on the market to fill the needs of offshore sailors, particularly those of us whose vessels are not equipped with radar. Furuno offers a range of several AIS models, including the FA-170, a Class A AIS transponder, which features output data on a 4.3-inch color, weather-resistant display. The graphic screen presents information regarding surrounding AIS-transmitting ships, as well as coastal stations and aids to navigation within normal VHF range.  

The FA-170 also shares data with radar and other navigation systems through a local area network interface to support related onboard collision avoidance systems, such as bridge alert management and AIS transmission to alert surrounding vessels.

Full-color C-Map Max cartography is a key component of this sophisticated AIS system, which can serve as a back-up to your main chartplotter. A built-in GPS and GLONASS satellite navigation receiver help to keep you on track while staying in touch with other vessels in your area.

You can install the SI-TEX SAS-600 on a dedicated pedestal or flush-mounted to the nav pod in the cockpit. The unit is rated IPX6 and IPX7 waterproof. At roughly $1,500, this device is at the top of its class and the choice of many commercial vessels as well as cruising craft.

The Em-Trak A100, “the world’s best-selling commercial grade Class A AIS,” measures 8.2 inches wide by 4.1 inches high by 5.4 inches deep, not exactly diminutive yet still of appropriate size for the medium-size to larger sailing yacht.

The Em-Trak A100 transceiver features a grayscale display, NMEA 0183 communication and a GPS antenna with 33 feet of cable. The A100’s plug-and-play connectivity permits easy networking with other electronics in your nav station.   

Em-Trak’s rugged AIS transceiver is easy to install and use and has demonstrated a record of “proven reliability” on both commercial and pleasure craft. With a rating of IP52, the A100 is best installed below decks, although it can stand up to a good dose of dust or ocean spray. With a price tag of roughly $500, this model certainly offers a lot for the modest investment.

Another high-quality, yet more affordable AIS model is the ICOM MA510TR AIS transponder with GPS antenna. This Class-B device is capable of receiving both A and B AIS signals, a feature allowing a broader range of detection and enhanced safety.

Featuring NMEA 2000, NMEA 0183 and USB connectivity, the ICOM MA510TR can talk to virtually any other electronic device on your vessel, such as a chartplotter, radar, VHF radio or external GPS.  

With its IPX7 rating, this waterproof ICOM transponder can be installed in the cockpit with the GPS chartplotter and VHF radio for maximum safety while navigating through a crowded seaway. This unit also features a man-overboard (MOB) signal, a collision alarm and an anchor watch alarm, which is activated when the vessel is adrift at anchor. Available online for roughly $800, the ICOM MA510TR AIS offers top quality from a name we trust. 

A big part of safety in any seaway in today’s cruising environment is not only knowing where we are, but also knowing where others are on the water. Installing a high-quality, stand-alone AIS transceiver is one big way of ensuring our safety in an ever-more crowded cruising aquasphere. n