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METS 2014: AIS MOB, Class A N2K, Torqeedo app, Wave WiFi router & more

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Written by Kees Verruijt on Nov 26, 2014 for Panbo, The Marine Electronics Hub

Last week there were two Panbots roaming the annual Marine Equipment Trade Show (METS) floor. Henning Dürr and Kees Verruijt were there trying to find (some) of what was new and interesting. This first entry focuses on vendors that Henning visited.

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AIS MOB devices were once called Personal AIS SARTs and are the baby brothers to commercial lifeboat AIS SARTs, but with lower requirements for range and operating hours. The advantage is that they can be made smaller, small enough to be carried by individuals. Since both device classes are relatively new, older displays capable of AIS targeting don't necessarily handle this type of AIS well (good behaviour illustrated here). Additionally AIS MOB beacons are not yet part of the official GMDSS, so officially the world wide SAR operations do not need to react to them and/or may not have the equipment to use them. Ocean Signal and Weatherdock showed new models with a DSC twist that aims to fix this -- as was discussed here on Panbo in 2012.

Two new AIS MOB devices were shown at METS, the Ocean Signal rescueME MOB1 (in photo above) and the Weatherdock easyONE (below). Both are smaller but not significantly smaller than the previous contender, the McMurdo Smartfind S20 (first marketed and discussed here as the Kannad Safelink R10), with the Ocean Signal being the new champion. Both new units feature an antenna that is tightly coiled and will be mechanically released when activated.


The Ocean Signal and the McMurdo/Kannad MOBs are designed to clip to the oral inflation tube of a life vest and feature a cord that goes around the uninflated bladder and connects back to the unit. When the life vest is activated, the activating strip or clip is pulled away from the unit by the force exerted on the cord by the inflating bladder. I like this method as it allows fitting to pretty much any existing automatic lifejacket. As far as I can see, most boaters still don't regularly wear life jackets while at sea and this design is also a sort of encouragement. What is the point of an AIS SART if you aren't even wearing a life vest? (I'm not a regular wearer myself -- yet -- but I guess I should be.) The Weatherdock is activated either manually via a pull-cord or by water contact. All three should fit easily under the cover of a standard inflatable life vest.

The Ocean Signal MOB1 adds a DSC feature whereby an individual distress call is made directly to your own boat (your MMSI is programmed by a PC program communicating with the unit held to the computer screen via flickering light). This helps if your MFD does know how to display an AIS SART or does not have a MOB alarm. A DSC VHF radio will ring reliably without special provisions or software upgrades. Then, in a second step, if you are conscious, the MOB1 lets you issue an all ships DSC distress call by pressing a button. In either case, it seems that the Ocean Signal device only sends out a single DSC distress call because it only has DSC transmit abilities and thus can not receive a DSC acknowledgement, but we are checking on this detail.


Weatherdock also has an AIS SART with DSC capabilities, the easyRESCUE-PRO GMDSS, of which 10,000 units were sold to the German navy. This unit does include a fully compliant DSC controller, so it repeatedly calls your own vessel for 5 minutes unless acknowledged (called "closed loop") and then automatically switches to all vessel mode until acknowledged ("open loop"). But the easyRescue-Pro can not be installed in a standard life vest, instead requiring one with a special pocket like the Secumar model used by the German navy.

So there's still no ideal AIS DSC MOB device yet, in my opinion, and never mind integration with a PLB into a single unit. Stuff for next year's METS - or the one after that?

Class A AIS transceivers
They are not new but I wanted to learn more about the two Class A transceiver designs that seem suited for the owners of smaller leisure boats who want to transmit their vessel data at faster rates and/or greater range (not due to the fear of big ships routinely filtering out that class B targets, because that myth has been laid to rest in my opinion). In Germany, Class A is required for vessels 20 meters or more in length. The authorities for the Kiel Canal, for example, enforce this rule and bigger yachts equipped with Class B must rent a Class A unit in order to be allowed into the canal.


There are two Class A designs that are fairly compact, cost under $3,000, and advertise a NMEA 2000 interface. I've learned, however, that the SRT-based model sold as the ComNav Voyager and others never got the software needed for N2K output/input even though the feature was first advertised in 2010! Meanwhile, the AMEC Camino 701 transponder, also sold as the McMurdo Smartfind M5, can output NMEA 2000 target info but can not use N2K heading input, even though heading is required with Class A. In consequence, a converter like the ubiquitous Actisense NGW-1 may be needed with either unit on N2K yachts. At METS I became aware that the Comnav (and probably others) will need not one but two NGW-1s as the NMEA0183 heading input is at 4.8kbps and the AIS output at 38.4kbps. The NGW-1 allows simultaneous input and output but both must be at the same baud rate (since it provides a single RS422 port with a TX and a RX pin).


The AMEC/McMurdo unit uses an external breakout box to provide all connections including the N2K connector but I was told the box does not do NMEA0183-to-2000 conversion. At AMEC I talked to an engineer who understood my request, though he claimed that it was the first time he'd heard it. He considered it likely that NMEA 2000 input for heading data could be added via a software upgrade. But no such feature upgrade is planned yet, it would be considered on special request, and it might turn out to be impossible because of incompatibility with the existing set of functions. NMEA 2000 support would not be added for other data that can be input such as rate of turn.

So in essence, the two Class A transcievers that are attractively sized and priced have "some issues" for use on yachts with NMEA 2000 networks. Then there are experts, including Anders Bergström of True Heading and Kees who don't think the 12W vs. 2W difference will make a significant difference in range. Both would invest in a better and higher antenna, excellent cable and the fewest possible connectors instead. So I guess I'll ponder that question for a while longer.

An updated battery is planned for the 503/1003 models, to be offered from February 2015. This improved battery will allow faster charging with the standard charger and even when charging directly from a 12V source (a boat's house battery). It also includes a USB port so the battery can charge USB devices when it's disconnected from the motor (the battery essentially becomes a mobile USB charger with enormous capacity). This change is in the battery only. They will also offer an improved solar charger that can be folded flat, not rolled, will have better performance and will cost about half of the existing solar charger. The current production software has already been modified to allow more abuse, such as shifting from full forward directly to full reverse without shutting down due to the infamous E45 error.


They are also releasing a new Torq Trac app for smartphones. They claim it will work with all phones equipped with Bluetooth 4.0, but the apps are not available yet on any app store. It will also require a Bluetooth dongle that fits between the tiller control and motor.

Wave WiFi Router
I spoke with Exmoor Technology, the the UK distributor for Wave WiFi, who now supply a router with integrated 3G/4G modem. They also have a MBR4G kit that combines the router with a long range Rogue Pro Wifi bridge.


Compare this approach with the WebBoat 4G all-in-one Ben has just covered. I looked at the WebBoat 4G closely and, as expected, it uses standard indoor components and connectors in a dome that I don't consider waterproof, as perhaps you can see in my photo below.


I see a number of reasons to use a combination of individual components vs. an all-in-one approach and this is what I have done on my boat (a deeper discussion might follow in a future entry).
The MBR4G is sort of an intermediate step in that it combines the 3G/4G cellular modem with the onboard WiFi router but leaves out the WLAN bridge which is intended to be provided by the Wave WiFi Rogue or Rogue Pro. When I asked about the potential for obsolescence of the modem, I was told the router could potentially be upgraded with a new modem as this is a standard component (by Sierra) that connects to the router board via a header. This design will also allow the planned US version to use a different modem as some 3G/4G frequencies are different. The antenna on the unit looks to be much better performing than the internal antenna of a thumb-drive-style USB cellular modem.

Talking about obsolescence and speed of updates, the MBR4G will be succeeded in a few months by a faster version that will also feature dual 3G/4G (MIMO) antennas and a micro USB connector so a thumb drive or external hard disk can be shared via SMB or FTP similar to a NAS.

Radio over IP
Icom now offers five different products around "RoIP" (Radio over IP). The IP100H handset looks like a small VHF but is actually a WLAN client using VoIP. There are matching base stations (access points) as well as control stations and concentrators. The design is intended to cover applications inside buildings or with other problems hampering direct device-to-device radio communication and utilizing proven WLAN technology to work around these problems.


Asking about a marine application, they pointed to super yachts. There's that. I think it will be a while before my wife and I need this to communicate on our boat. [Kees: one advantage over VHF is privacy as WiFi provides encryption. Of course range and reliability are much lower.]

Android 7-inch Android MFD
Argonaut showed an early prototype of a new "H7 Marina Smart MFD" which is like an Android tablet made into a fixed 7-inch MFD with a high-bright screen and hardware buttons that allow full control of the Navionics charting app. The display on show, while very bright, had strange downsampling artifacts which seemed the exact opposite of "crisp." George Kioutas, president, said this would be fixed in the final product. As it uses capacitive touch, like all smartphones, it will have problems with water droplets. To be able to make full use of the hardware buttons in that case, I think it should have a button to turn off the touch function. George Kioutas more or less agreed. We will see if some such function ends up in the final product. But note this is an early prototype (with 3D-printed faceplate).


Windex LED light
Windex will release a night light using three LEDs in a smallish triangular case with a hole in the middle that fits over the Windex main pole. There was an incandescent light available which I passed by as it was in no way waterproof and would have been too hard to replace/fix as to make it worthwhile. This looks much better. Kees: I can confirm that the 'old' version breaks down pretty soon.

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