As you may recall from my March column, “Here Comes Class B,” I think yacht-level AIS transponders will be a valuable safety tool (even if there are a few glitches to overcome). Now I've had my first at-sea experience with one, an ACR Nauticast B, and I like it! First of all, this compact transponder is a sensitive dual-channel receiver, capable of picking up Class A targets at significant distances—sometimes more than 20 miles, even using a temporarily installed and low antenna—which can give you more time to prepare for a close encounter of the big-ship kind. It's also flexible, able to send target information to an onboard plotter or plotting program, or both at once. And that ten-feet-off-the-water antenna worked OK the other way, too, delivering my boat's position, course, speed, etc. to ships and other vessels, sometimes ten miles away, despite Class B's limited transmit wattage. ACR's $1,180 unit comes complete with AIS and GPS antennas and is fairly easy to install. Unfortunately, I had to go outside the United States to test it, but there's a good chance the Nauticast B and similar units will be FCC-approved by the time you read this. For much more detail on the unit, test, and approval situation, please visit my electronics blog Pambo.
This article originally appeared in the September 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.