By Ben Ellison
Furuno FA100 AIS
The Automatic Identity System (AIS) is shaping up to be an important marine safety tool. It’s based on a clever communications protocol that allows a nearly infinite number of nearby vessels to simultaneously exchange vital position, speed, heading, and other data over two previously unused VHF channels. Picture a super-solid ARPA radar target, only you also get the target vessel’s name and whether she’s just initiated a turn or speed change, and more, and vice versa. And the target is visible beyond normal radar sight.
AIS had to endure a long development cycle plus a labyrinth of international shipping and electronics regulatory organizations, but now units from Furuno and others (Simrad, Leica, and JRC, to name a few) are coming to market. The equipment is currently being marketed to big boats. For instance, Furuno characterizes the $7,000 FA100 as “low cost.” It does appear easy to install, since transponder, GPS, and receiver are all in one compact unit. The included screen is primarily for reference and backup, as the AIS data is better displayed via an interface to one of Furuno’s large radars or via serial port to an AIS-aware charting program like Transas Navi-Sailor or Nobeltec Admiral. The FA100 also has an Ethernet port, suggesting that a NavNet interface is in the works.
Meanwhile, various regulatory deadlines past due or fast approaching will eventually put the system on almost all ships, and last year the U.S. expanded the mandate to many tugs and passenger vessels because AIS can also serve in coastal security. Bottom line: A voluntarily AIS-equipped yacht will soon electronically see, and be seen by, most of the most significant traffic, and many think that AIS will ultimately be scaled down to include virtually all of us.
I’m psyched about AIS and hope to test one before winter closes in; I’ll report back.
Furuno Phone: (360) 834-9300. www.furuno.com.
This article originally appeared in the August 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.