Voyage of Ava T. Page 3

Electronics — September 2004
By Ben Ellison

Voyage of Ava T.
Electronics Q&A
 More of this Feature
• Part 1: Ava T.
• Part 2: Ava T.
• Electronics Q&A
• Mariner headsets
• OceanClocks
• SensaSwitch

 Related Resources
• Electronics Column Index
• Electronics Feature Index

 Elsewhere on the Web
• AIS Transponder
• SeaLinks

Will optional Class B AIS be adopted by the boating fraternity? N.S., via e-mail
It’s really too soon to tell, but I suspect that Automatic Identity System (AIS) technology will eventually become a very desirable safety aid for even small yachts. For one thing, there are a lot of skippers out there, including yours truly, who have had never-to-be-forgotten, stomach-churning near-collisions in limited visibility, even in broad daylight. We’re motivated! While the performance and usability of radar has gotten better, it will never by itself provide the breadth of data coming from an AIS transponder. Go to, a Dutch-based site that displays real-time AIS signals for much of the European coast and a few other areas high in the SOLAS commercial traffic that’s already AIS-equipped. You have to register, but the site really tells the AIS story. I just pulled up a map of the Dover Straits and can see 39 AIS-equipped ships going every which way, some at high speed, within a 15-square-mile area. I can get the name, call sign, size, type, course, speed, and, in some cases, the cargo and destination of each vessel. The site even has linked portrait photos of many, a feature probably coming to the ships themselves soon. You can’t see exactly how this data looks on the electronic chart and radar screens of participating vessels, but I know heading lines, tracks, rates of turn, and collision situation warnings can also be displayed. If you were negotiating those Straits in a yacht, wouldn’t you at least want an AIS receiver to help you understand what’s going on—better yet a Class B (non-SOLAS) AIS transponder so you, too, would be an icon on everyone’s screens? After all, the smaller the yacht you’re on, the worse radar or visual target you’re apt to be.

You also might want to check out SeaLinks (, a new company that’s purportedly about to introduce the first Class B AIS, a design that should be easy to add to your bridge, as all the hardware is self-contained in its two-foot tubular antenna. SeaLinks already markets a simple AIS receiver for less than $1,000 and is encouraging land-based users to stream the results to its own Web viewer (so far only Puget Sound, Washington, is covered). The availability of AIS info on the Web brings up one worry that has developed about the technology: the perception that terrorists could horribly misuse it. It’s a sad sign of our times that bad guys targeting missiles at tankers or megayachts wasn’t a serious concern when AIS was developed in the late 1990’s. The authorities are working on ways to thwart this super-stomach-churning possibility; stay tuned for more information in a future column devoted to AIS.

Got a marine electronics question? Write to Electronics Q&A, Power & Motoryacht, 260 Madison Ave., 8th Fl., New York, NY 10016. Fax: (917) 256-2282. e-mail: For fastest response, visit the Electronics forum at No phone calls, please.

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This article originally appeared in the August 2004 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.

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