AIS issues: Garmin, Navico, McMurdo, AMEC and SRT

Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now pleased to have Ben Stein as a very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Please don't regard him as an "expert"; he's getting quite old and thinks that "fadiddling fumble-putz" is a more accurate description.

78 Responses

  1. Hi Ben,
    Under one of my other hats I’ve been heavily involved in evaluating VHF & HF communication radios for their compliance with various (mostly NTIA) technical requirements. One VERY prominent thing I’ve noted is the serious distain most marketing folks have with the entire area – statements like “none of our customers have ever reported any issues…” are quite common – but the “issues” their customers ARE reporting are often written off to things other than where they really belong – receiver problems (selectivity in particular) are quite subtle, and unless you have a trained ear or an extensive test equipment setup, they can be quite difficult to deal with.
    An example – I had a Standard-Horizon GX1600 on Atsa for almost two years, but it’s lack of selectivity and front-end IMD performance finally drove me to replace it with an Icom M506, which has significantly better performance. But few people who weren’t long-time radio techs listening to that radio would have recognized what the true problems were.
    For digital services, the problem is even worse, because even a “trained ear” has little to work with other than a feeling of “inadequate performance sometimes” – nobody I know has the tools aboard to properly diagnose these problems, so we are consigned to reading about actual lab testing – and I would examine even the lab testing very carefully!
    In the two-way radio world, I’ve been handed lab test results from “Certified labs” that were demonstrably false in one or more areas – usually things like receiver selectivity and spurious response. It is my firm belief that you can buy a lab report that says whatever you want it to say, as long as there is no risk of having the government get interested in it.
    Goofing off in Martinique today – back in FL by the weekend. Atsa is getting new water tanks in Deltaville 🙂

  2. G Schneider says:

    “But is it dangerous not to see AIS AtoNs on your Garmin display? No, I think that exaggerates the issue a lot”
    As long as the AIS Aton is just there to highlight the location of an existing actual on station nav aid, I would agree with you. However, I believe that it is the intention of the CG to reduce the number of actual nav aids by replacing many of them, such a channel sea buoys, with AIS Atons. Then I see dangerous situations that might occur if one cannot see the now missing nav aid on their AIS as an AID Aton.

  3. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Thanks, Hartley, though your experience is not reassuring. And congrats on going abroad while your boat gets surgery.
    G Schneider, I agree with you but have no knowledge of the USCG actually replacing physical AtoNs with the Virtual AIS variety. I’m sure the idea is attractive, and it’s even arguable that the money saved could be better spent elsewhere — it’s not just AIS but also GPS that are making many nav aids less critical — but I just don’t think it will happen fast.
    Incidentally, there are a few Virtual AIS AtoNs out there now, like the “Manana Isl VAIS 14M” now in view of the Panbo HQ AIS listening station:

  4. Hi Ben,
    St. Kitts today 🙂
    Regarding AtoN display, I’ve found them useful, though certainly not essential in our travels. They serve as a useful indicator of AIS function, including when you might expect USCG availability (or NOAA WX reception) when approaching a coastline (or when there just isn’t any other AIS traffic visible). In addition, they sometimes provide useful indicators of where the big iron boats are going to go – for example, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge North of Annapolis has AIS AtoN marks on both channel centers under the bridge – handy!
    The only negative I can think of is that our RayMarine e95 doesn’t see them any differently than other AIS traffic, and will start flashing them red when we approach them 🙂 They can also hide the underlying physical aid symbols at certain zooms.

  5. Ian Falconer says:

    Having spent decades building, testing and certifying defence, automotive and other systems I’ve learnt several golden rules. The caveat being that certification testing is only ever repeatable and rarely representative of in service conditions.
    All certification results shall be validated in the field. This does two things. Firstly it can surface issues or edge cases not covered during testing. Secondly, over time, a large historical data set emerges which can be very helpful when dealing with issues like this where empirical and test results are misaligned. Unfortunately comments like ‘customers have reported no issues’ is not useful data.
    I like the responses from the vendors and look forward to Panbo and others providing us an update on whether this issue can be duplicated by other test facilities.
    I’m critical of the transition of certification and standards from the military to the private sector and now the consumer product sector. That ‘ship has sailed’ but we are now very reliant on adhoc entities conducting good engineering, good testing and good master data management. When marketing, finance or decision makers, who do not have a science or engineering background and significant experience, call the shots then trouble will emerge eventually.
    One question I have for the experts (not me) is “is the current certification test coverage sufficient?” As this technology is relatively new we might to update the testing to reflect new learning.

  6. Captn TJ says:

    Thanks for the details in the article. What are your thoughts on the
    new breed of VHF radios that package gps and AIS such as Standard
    Horizon’s GX 2200 that would be linked to a MFD via 0183. It seem like
    a simpler/less expensive approach to a separate transceiver.

  7. Simon Tucker says:

    Hi Tony,
    Great question and I thought I might jump in.
    The current VHF/AIS combo’s on the market are a great integrated solution. However you should be aware that these will only receive AIS transmissions. Unless the unit is also a certified Class B transceiver too, they will not transmit. I expect there will be some integrated VHF / AIS Class B transceiver that are fully certified available soon.
    If your question related to the display of the AtoN data, this is a different issue. All good quality dual channel AIS receivers will receive and fully decode all AIS transmission types: if the device is not a certified AIS Class A or Class B transceiver, then you should check with the manufacturer that the receiver will fully decode (extract) all the information in all AIS transmission types – particular AtoN transmissions. The issue raised by Ben is that some displays are not able to display all the information that may be contained in an AtoN transmission. Information such as live weather, current, depth, air-bridge clearance etc. This is down to the display and that will depend on whether the manufacturer of the display as designed it with embedded fields where that information can be shown.
    Good luck navigating AIS!

  8. Simon - SRT CEO says:

    SRT comments on:
    Non-Compliance of ALLTEK / AMEC AIS Class B to Required IEC Standards*
    Friday, 17th November 2017
    This document has been prepared and issued by SRT Marine Systems to provide factual clarification following the recent public issue of an independent test report confirming non-compliance of ALLTEK / AMEC AIS Class B devices.
    • SRT’s sole objective is to ensure the integrity of AIS, and therefore its core operational performance and in turn the safety and security of all users.
    • The overlaying functionality, form factors and quality of products differs between manufacturers – although also linked to the technical operation of the product – is not relevant to this particular notification of non-compliance with the IEC & ITU defined AIS Class B transceiver standard. SRT’s statement is purely in relation to the specific performance requirements stated by the international AIS Class B standards.
    • It is important to differentiate between testing and compliance with a specific international technical standard (such as AIS Class B) and product functionality and product quality; although all are ultimately interlinked. Quality manufacturers such as SRT will also submit their products to extensive additional testing based upon years of accumulated experience.
    • The AIS technical protocol standards are defined by specific ITU and IEC standards, in the case of AIS Class B these are primarily defined by documents IEC62287 and ITU-M.R1371. These documents provide absolute clarity on the prescribed test methods and criteria which must be followed by manufacturers and test houses.
    • Compliance with the technical standards exactly as specified is critical to the core performance of a product – this is particularly the case for radio communication products to ensure robust consistent performance and interoperability between products from different manufacturers. Independent testing is required for certification to ensure compliance and therefore the underlying core performance and capabilities of the product. This in turn supports and enables product functionality.
    • Issues arising from non-compliance with a technical standard, may not be immediately obvious to end users. But they may in fact be causing them to miss vital communications and performance functionality. In this specific case, the result will be missed transmissions and thus potential serious safety issues.
    • TUV is the world’s leading and largest government accredited test organisation, with decades of experience of testing radio communication products ranging from AIS to mobile phones. In SRT’s 25 years of radio communication technology, product development and certification, they have always been the most challenging and are considered to be the gold standard. Independent testing by such organisations is used by responsible quality product manufacturers to aggressively challenge and validate the performance and functionality statements they make about their own products. TUV is accredited by USA and European governments and authorities.
    • For the avoidance of doubt SRT manufactured and supplied the NAIS400 and not the NAIS500. Any product based on SRT technology and or manufactured by SRT is either clearly marked or upon inspection the SRT logo and name can be seen on the electronics inside.
    • The issue that caused the end users to return NAIS500 units was diagnosed as a poor connection between the internal GNSS antenna connector and the internal PCB. In SRT’s opinion this arose from a combination of poor design and manufacturing. Although not manufactured by SRT, we repaired the units and returned to the users. This issue was in addition to the core performance non-compliance discovered during pre-dispatch product quality performance testing by our Customer Support Team. NAVICO was immediately notified.
    • We note that AMEC does not deny and or refute that their AIS Class B is non-compliant to the requirements of the AIS Class B standard as defined in IEC62287.
    • We note that AMEC seeks to mitigate the material issue of non-compliance with the IEC AIS Class B standard by suggesting that because AIS Class B’s have two receivers they will cope with the issues that arise due to the material out of specification operation of the Alltek receivers. In SRT’s opinion this does not make it acceptable for the product to be non-compliant to the standard, nor does it in fact mitigate the user risks of not successfully receiving or transmitting.
    • We note that AMEC’s illustrated test set-up is incorrect and not compliant with the prescribed set up and methods defined in IEC62287-1 Ed3.0.
    • In AMEC’s report, they refer to ‘another SRT AIS device’ whose spurious response is different to the standards. This is misleading and factually incorrect since the test report they identify is for a different and unrelated product.
    • All SRT products are designed, engineered and manufactured in Europe to the highest international standards. Only high quality materials and components are used. All products undergo extensive internal and external independent technical testing by fully accredited test houses, such as BSH and TUV. In addition every product undergoes extensive and prolonged functionality and reliability testing with professional mariners and coast guards. This extensive and robust testing ensures the highest possible quality and performance. All statements made by SRT about our products are fully supported by independent parties.

  9. Simon - SRT CEO says:

    In regards to the AtoN discussion. SRT has been producing AIS AtoN since 2006. Today we produce and sell a range of three fully certified AIS AtoN products and are seeing a wide range of very interesting deployments. The new generation of AtoN such as our Carbon and Chronos products have ultra low power consumption and massive sensor integration ability and so their installation is now much cheaper and easier – in turn we are seeing a huge uplift in both the number and scale of AtoN deployments being implemented. We recently supplied over 100 units to Serbia!
    The use of the virtual AtoN feature is fairly standard now, and in some configurations one AtoN can transmit 50 virtual AtoN’s. However, in almost every deployment we are seeing customers integrating a range of sensor systems, which in turn offers interesting data for the mariner. Some examples that we have seen include: live current, tide and depth / lock status / air-bridge clearance / swing bridge status and of course weather – and we believe this is just the tip of the iceberg.
    Any certified AIS transceiver (Class A or Class B) will be able to receive and decode any transmission from a certified AIS AtoN transmission. In the case of a receive only AIS device I suggest you check with the manufacturer as these may not be able to decode everything properly.
    However, the real issue is once the transmission is decoded, can your screen display all this additional information. And of course the question remains as to how useful this information might be to any particular mariner. With so much information its a real challenge for the display providers, but we are certainly seeing them awake up to the value of this data to their customers and thus start integrating this capability. In the commercial vessel world where ECDIS systems are used, this is already a major area. I therefore suspect that in the relatively near future, we will start to see much better display capabilities for the quickly growing amount of data available through AIS. Its not technically challenging – its just something that needs to be fitted into the many functionality priorities that all product development teams struggle with.
    As a matter of interest in our own GeoVS system which is used for port and coastal monitoring such data is displayed in a variety of formats, but we also use the data to create a real time augmented reality visualisation of the weather and sea state to enhance situational awareness.
    In the mean time there are quite a few PC and cell-phone applications that will display data contained in AtoN transmissions very nicely. Or the em-trak B400 or A200 (manufactured by SRT) have specialist integrated display capability.
    I hope this industry perspective is helpful.

  10. Saffy The Pook says:

    Did you ever contact AMEC to let them know they might have a problem and giving them a chance to respond/correct it before going for the jugular?
    In the absence of that, the more cynical among us might go so far as to suspect you of supplying a unit to the TUV that was “guaranteed” to fail.

  11. Simon, that VERY interesting! I have no idea whether my MFD can display sensor readings from AtoN devices, but I’d love to have the ability to see things like wind and waves at buoys (assuming the sensor is actually there! without having to negotiate the NOAA web labyrinth on my fone to see their buoy data.
    Ben – something NEW to test!

  12. Simon - SRT CEO says:

    Hi Saffy,
    Thank you for your straight forward comment and questions. I understand how some might see our actions. However the fact is that this product does not comply with the AIS standards and the specific non-compliance may cause safety issues to users. SRT is heavily invested in AIS and thus the integrity and reliability of the technology is very important to us – and I believe to the marine community in general.
    Based on historical experience in unregulated markets we believe that AMEC would have been aware of these issues for some time, and thus of no surprise. Indeed, I am informed by our engineering team, that any reasonably capable engineer would immediately see from the PCB design that compliance is not possible.
    The testing of a product against the IEC standard requirements are not subjective. The required performance and protocol requirements and the relevant test methods are explicitly prescribed in the IEC standards. These exist to ensure that AIS works properly for the protection and benefit of users. We as technology and product developers must create products that comply.
    As we have stated, we first conducted testing ourselves on the units returned to us. Thereafter multiple units acquired at random from the open market were given to TUV for their testing to check our own testing. Irrespective of this, each and every product manufactured should meet the standards.
    SRT has been in business for 25 years providing technologies and products to many entities around the world, from the leading Navies and Coast Guards to workboat and leisure boat owners. We take our business extremely serious and would never play games by seeking to misrepresent product testing.
    These are very unfortunate factual results. And once confirmed we immediately informed all those concerned. We would have been wrong and irresponsible not to do so. Frankly speaking I would prefer that all us manufacturers complied properly to the relevant standards and competed normally on product quality, functionality and price.

  13. Saffy The Pook says:

    Yes, you mentioned previously that you’re protecting the integrity of the technology.
    I still wonder how a PCB design that was, according to your engineers, inherently incapable of compliance managed to pass its pre-market compliance tests the first time around?

  14. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    “What are your thoughts on the new breed of VHF radios that package gps and AIS such as Standard Horizon’s GX 2200 that would be linked to a MFD via 0183. It seem like a simpler/less expensive approach to a separate transceiver.”
    Captn TJ, I think that the SH GX2200 was a very useful innovation, but I’m not sure that the needed NMEA 0183 AIS connection was ever “simple”; that’s why I prefer VHF/AIS rx radios with NMEA 2000 interfaces. But I also think that lots of boats should spend the extra few hundred dollars to have full transceivers and actually be part of the safety network.

  15. Saffy The Pook says:

    I purchased a GX2200 last year as part of a comprehensive electronics upgrade, including multiple MFDs. I did the install myself and though I’d never worked with NMEA 0183 before, I didn’t find it difficult to get it connected and working with my MFD. It probably helped that the GX2200 is the only 0183-connected device on the boat and is physically adjacent to the master MFD but at least under those circumstances I wouldn’t dissuade anyone from getting a GX2200 due to its lack of NMEA 2000.

  16. Simon - SRT CEO says:

    Saffy – Compliance testers are not RF electrical design engineers. And in any event they would never comment on the design/engineering of a product. Their job is solely to test the product in the prescribed manner to determine whether or not is passes the required performance standards.
    Looking at the test report in detail, it is our view that the spurious response sweep test was not conducted properly by the test house used by AMEC, or perhaps the production version of the product on the market is different to the one submitted for the testing. Perhaps a combination of both.
    Sometimes there are slight performance variances between units due to very slight tolerance margins of individual components and manufacturing which may result in the odd unit being very marginally outside of specification. However good product design builds in a manufacturing tolerance safety margin to avoid this, plus good practice manufacturing should require product testing of each unit made before shipping. In this instance the deviation from the standard is so great that this is not a possible cause.
    Its difficult for us to say and really not for SRT to explore further.
    We too are perplexed and surprised by the situation – this is why we commissioned TUV to check our results. But the fact remains that products taken from the market that claim to be and are thus certified as being compliant to the AIS Class B standard, are not.

  17. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Hi Hartley, I’m not aware of any AIS AtoNs broadcasting weather or other extra data in the section of U.S. East Coast where I’ve been testing lots of AIS displays.
    But I do believe it’s happening in Sweden, the UK, Alaska, the St Lawrence Seaway, and elsewhere. It would be great if Marine Traffic and other web AIS providers showed such data, but MT doesn’t even show basic AIS AtoN data well. Let’s encourage them to!
    Also, the USCG seems to have a strong preference for Synthetic and Virtual AIS AtoNs broadcast from onshore towers — probably a budgetary thing — but it takes a Real AIS AtoN to pack extra sensors for local live weather data.
    MT does vaguely show some of the USCG base stations, which have MMSIs 00366xxxx. Check Cape May and also here, where the zoomed-in satellite map layer clearly shows the tower:

  18. Simon - SRT CEO says:

    Hi Ben,
    As you rightly point out, I believe the USCG have some AIS Base Stations along the coast line. One of the features of an AIS Base Station is virtual/synthetic AIS AtoN transmission functionality. We see a lot of our authority customers increasingly using the virtual/synthetic functionality of SRT Long Range CS100 Coast Station. So as you say it makes financial sense to use existing infrastructure where possible – although their ‘deployment’ of virtual AIS AtoN is limited to their fixed antenna range.
    Physical AIS AtoN are sometimes used to extend the range of shore fixed base stations using the ‘chaining’ functionality (not to be confused with its repeater functionality) of an AIS AtoN. This allows control messages, such as a virtual AIS AtoN, to be relayed/bounced by an AIS AtoN and or a series of AIS AtoN and ultimately being spat a long way away from the originating Base Station – effectively dramatically increasing their range.
    In general the deployment of physical AIS AtoN is quite new and the adoption and sophistication of use of their features varies greatly between markets. however once deployed its easy to integrate sensors and start to make use of all the functionality that the IEC and ITU standards require us to embed. We have seen quite a few customers gradually install sensors over time as their budgets allow and also their understanding of what it can do improves.
    Its an exciting area of real time data exchange that I expect will grow substantially in the coming years.

  19. Hi Ben,
    Well, maybe one will show up in range one day 🙂 I see the towers on my e95 (still LH2 @ ver 19) as a unique symbol,not the dubious grey circle one in MT. MT also shows channel and other AtoNs as circles (‘cuz they aren’t moving!) of various colors. I suppose that MT users really don’t care about them as they’re not using MT for navigation.
    I’ve used the tower symbols on our e95 to puzzle out where the USCG comm towers are – sometimes useful if you’re talking to them and the tower the watchstander chooses isn’t working (or worse, they’re transmitting simultaneously on 3 or 4 and all we hear is garble!)
    As a true comm geek, I’ve even watched VHF propagation fade in and out by noting the AtoNs and towers I could see from a couple hundred miles up the coast 🙂 If the CG starts repeating AIS, they’ll really confuse me.
    Simon, you are to commended for your VERY civil replies to Saffy’s challenges. If the certification authority feels further research into this question is required, I’m sure they can have suitably sourced units tested. As Simon alluded to, the certification of most electronics is NOT done by the authority (USCG, FCC, etc.) but rather by labs that do this testing for the manufacturers. My personal experience suggests that these labs are far from perfect.

  20. Simon - SRT CEO says:

    Hi Hartley,
    Thanks for your kind comment. We welcome all challenges and comments – I think this makes for a healthy and sensible debate about an important matter – which can only serve to enhance general understanding of AIS, its capabilities, strengths and weaknesses. I will do my best to provide prompt, clear and factual answers to any question. At this point I should say that I am, as ever, eternally grateful for the intensive support from our various engineering teams as they are the real experts in these things and help me to appear both intelligent and knowledgeable!

  21. Saffy The Pook says:

    Please excuse my impertinence, Hartley. We’ll have to see what AMEC’s response is to the situation but the fact that SRT never informed AMEC of SRT’s informal findings and then paid for a test of their competitor’s product and is now publicly attacking them with the results represents what I would consider cutthroat business practice. Given this, I’m disinclined to give the benefit of the doubt regardless of SRT’s repeated assertions of pure motives.
    I certainly hope that AMEC can document and demonstrate that their products are in compliance and, if not, that they do right by their customers. If the former then I hope that SRT does the right thing (or is made to do the right thing) and publicly apologizes to AMEC for their actions and compensates them for any lost business.
    Fortunately for those who are questioning both AMEC and SRT as a result of all this, there are well known and respected alternative AIS suppliers.

  22. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Hartley, let me add that “Saffy the Pook” (whoever he or she is) expresses an opinion I’ve heard in much less polite terms. We’re in uncharted waters here, and the eventual embarrassment (or worse) could go either way.
    Which is also why I hope that anyone reading this thread does NOT let it color an AIS buying decision, at least until we see more testing and regulatory response.

  23. Hi Ben,
    I took the time to read all of the test reports you included links for, and frankly, I’m not impressed with AMEC’s response to SRT. Most of the verbiage seems to be noise intended to obscure the issue, and I note that they did NOT do their testing with the same frequencies that TUV did. Receiver spurious testing is a VERY tedious process, and shortcuts abound – note that TUV tested every frequency from 109.77 to 165.48 MHz, plus all of the calculated image and other possible (and sometimes likely) frequencies. Note that the real problem frequencies they identified were within the 109-165 MHz area. Phoenix (AMEC’s lab) on the other hand, tested only the calculated frequencies (also finding no issues) and then included a vague statement about “sweeping the unwanted generator” – over what range and in what manner is not revealed.
    In this subject, there should be real, hardware answers as to whether the findings reported by SVT are true or not – we don’t have to listen to mounds of “well, it will work fine anyway” and “the customers haven’t complained” — just take a couple of properly-sourced units, and test them (in yet another lab) using the proper protocol. Either SVT has identified a problem or they haven’t.
    I’m sure that industry figures are upset that someone is questioning the very expensive lab testing they bought – but the means to acquire the truth are available, and we DON’T have to put up with the “he said/she said” BS that seems to mark most of today’s political “debate”. 🙁

  24. Yuan - VP Alltek Marine says:

    AMEC Comments:
    First of all, we would like to declare that the AMEC AIS class B product and its OEM variations under Navico or McMurdo brand are legal and safe products which are fully certified and type approved by CE R&TTE/RED, BSH, USCG and FCC.
    Since our foundation in 2006, Alltek Marine is dedicated to developing advanced technologies for AIS solutions. We were the first to introduce the AIS MOB beacon which is fully certified with EN 303 098 standard. This year, we have launched the world’s first SOTDMA class B black box approved to IEC 62287-2 Ed. 2.0:2017. Our innovative and reliable AIS transponders are trusted by our clients from more than 55 countries and have been installed onboard of tens of thousands vessels.
    We have to say that we disagree with SRT´s approach in the “entire subject”. Alltek were not given the chance to verify whether the units submitted by a competing party were manipulated or damaged.
    Because we were not informed by SRT in any way, we had no opportunity to provide TÜV our assistance in performing the test, which can be done in compliance with the requirement predefined in the IEC standard.
    We take seriously our responsibility to address concerns about any safety or quality issues that we may come across. In deference to the TÜV test report, we are in collaboration with Phoenix Testlab and a further independent European test-house to clarify the claims being made. It takes time for the test-labs to arrange a timeslot and finish their validations. Once available, we will clearly and promptly share our findings with you.

  25. Simon - SRT CEO says:

    This is simply incorrect.
    Alltek has previously been advised by SRT of potential compliance issues with products and ignored. In this instance, we know that Alltek was immediately informed by Navico and others of the issue and provided with the test results. Suggested manufacturer involvement with independent testing is wholly inappropriate: that’s the point of it.

  26. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Thanks, Simon, but I certainly got the impression in my research that it is standard operating procedure for manufacturers to work closely with the test houses.
    In fact, before AMEC issued their statement about the TUV test, other AIS experts told me that it was highly unusual for a test house to work without cooperation from the manufacturer and particularly noted TUV’s top note about Spurious Response testing:
    “The EUT was tuned to 161.975 MHz on the RX1 receiver path. This is an unavoidable deviation because the equipment is an off the shelf unit being evaluated.”
    It was explained to me that the deviation was unavoidable because normally the manufacturer supplies special firmware access that allows the test house to change the frequency to the one specified by the IEC standard.
    Of course AMEC subsequently highlighted this “deviation” in their statement, with the same firmware access explanation, and claim that SRT devices also fail the Spurious Response testing when subjected to the same off standard deviation.
    Experts I consulted also questioned the ethics of TUV testing without manufacturer cooperation, while also wondering how Phoenix TestLab could have missed the compliance issues if they turn out to be as definite as SRT seems to think.
    I’m in way over my head — and it’s not comfortable! — but I feel obliged to share what I’ve heard and ask questions. For instance, are there other known cases of AIS equipment being tested without manufacturer cooperation? If the regulatory agencies ask for further testing of the AMEC AIS engine, do you expect that to happen without AMEC cooperation?

  27. Simon - SRT CEO says:

    Thanks for the comments.
    Of course its normal that a manufacturer provides access to a test mode in the product that helps the test house conduct all the tests needed to check it against the radio standard – for the avoidance of confusion, the product submitted for testing should be the final production version, with the test mode being an embedded feature used by the manufacturer and the test house to enable greater control/access to the product to facilitate the testing.
    As I believe you are aware, the full set of tests that are required to ensure proper compliance are very extensive and therefore providing the test mode helps the test house expedite their work as well as covering all the tests in full. But its then up to the test house to test the product in the prescribed way against each of the standards requirements and ensure that all pass.
    Not having access to such a test mode does not prevent a test house testing a specific subset of the standard requirements and those criteria that can be tested should comply with the relevant standard. This is what was done in this case and it did not comply with the AIS Class B standard as per the TUV report.
    The particular test in question is laborious and tedious as it requires testing of the radio in 5khz steps right the way across the marine band. Access to the test mode would enable this to be completed in full in the minimum amount of time. But, it does not prevent testing of some of the steps – and as per the standard, its critical all are compliant. The ones tested by TUV, in the exact method prescribed by the IEC standard were not compliant.
    In regards to some of your others questions. Yes, some authorities (normally those who have some kind of internal testing capability and or access to a government owned test lab) do spot checks on products without notifying the manufacturer to ensure that production versions are compliant. As stated above, such spot testing does not require access to the test mode.
    However, in the mean time if AMEC believes that would change the results, its a single email to TUV to provide access to the test mode.
    We welcome AMEC to provide access to their product test mode

  28. Marcus AA says:

    I have worked with installation & service of different AIS transponders for the last 12 years. I have seen first-hand these problems with AMEC transponders, first in a 101 and then in several 108:s.
    The problems resulted in bad range in transmission, or no transmissions at all. The units were sent in for warranty service but returned as “no fault found”, but still didn’t work. No solution was found, the owners had o fight long and hard to get them replaced with units form other manufacturers, and after that everything works normally.
    The BSH test report on the Camino 101 also contains some questionable parts, including many re-tries with different units, and a note about only being compliant when using 24V supply.
    I’m not surprised at all about the TUV findings. Based on my experience, I recommend all my customers to stay away.

  29. Jim Hebert Jim Hebert says:

    Re the failure of Garmin chart plotters to display AIS AtoN targets: this is quite surprising. I found that my first-generation Lowrance HDS display would show AIS AtoN targets, even though the last firmware update for it was years ago and long before there were any AIS AtoN targets to see.
    In the Great Lakes due to the seasonal boating, the USCG removes many physical Aids to Navigation, and has for two year or so been making use of AIS AtoN technology. I wrote at length about these signals and how they were displayed at
    By the way, the AIS AtoN signals I receive are via a first-generation em-trak R100 AIS receiver, an SRT design, which I bought in the “early adopter” phase. It, too, has not seen a firmware update, and seems to know all about AIS AtoN messages.

  30. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Thanks, Jim, that’s a nice write-up.
    But I notice that you are using the Em-Trak’s NMEA 0183 output to see AIS AtoNs on your Lowrance HDS. The Garmin problem is with NMEA 2000, not 0183.
    I’m pretty sure that the AIS AtoN message (#21) was defined in NMEA 0183 from the beginning and that every certified transponder outputs it, as do decent AIS receivers. But the NMEA 2000 PGN equivalents came later, and the AtoN PGN 129041 later still. So that’s why an older transponder like Garmin’s AIS600 apparently does not output AIS AtoNs over N2K, though it probably does over 0183.
    Garmin MFDs probably also understand AIS AtoNs coming in on NMEA 0183, but they don’t yet know what to do with PGN 129041.

  31. Raimo says:

    I am not sure that Garmin displays AIS AtoNs over NMEA 0183.
    I have had several receivers connected to Garmin 4010 MFD over NMEA 0183 and I have never seen an AIS AtoN on my display. Might be that my 4010 MFD is just too old.

  32. Patrick says:

    About Garmin and AtoN, I contacted their support i Sweden and they confirmed that Garmin plotters do not display AtoN. The have no information on when they are going to implement this.
    I also contacted TrueHeading that has manufactured the AIS transmitter that I have, and they fully support AtoN Message 21 both on NMEA0183 and NMEA2000. The problem lies in the chart plotter, whereas these plotters support AtoN Message 21 in the NMEA-protocoll, and subsequently in their presentation software. Garmin apparently does not.

  33. Xavier Itzmann says:

    People with Garmin plotters and NMEA 0183 over WiFi can use an iPad and the following apps to see AtoN targets:
    * MaxSea TZ (also known as “Nobeltec TZ” in the US)
    * Weather 4D 2.0
    Both apps show AtoN AIS targets on my boat. So, current Garmin users do have options.

  34. Anonymous says:

    Both SRT and AMEC have gone very quiet….

  35. Patrick says:

    About Garmin and AtoN again: I have now got a confirmation from Garmin, by the Director for Marine products in Europe, Mr Fernstrom, that Garmin will update all their products during 2018 to comply with AIS AtoN.
    I have also contacted a number of other manufacturers (Raymarine, Simrad, B&G, Lowrance). From Raymarine I got the info that if you update your software to the latest version, you shall get AIS AtoN presented on your plotter.
    The other three brands are sold by Navico and they seemed to be a little bit confused (Ato…. what?) but they promised to look into it.
    When they come back, I will give an update on this issue.

  36. Jim Hebert Jim Hebert says:

    Re PATRICK’s comment about a confused response from his point of contact at NAVICO:
    As I mentioned earlier in this discussion, NAVICO’s Lowrance brand HDS series chartplotters already handle AIS AtoN data and display it. I haven’t tested other NAVICO brands, but if they are being developed in coordination with Lowrance, it appears that Lowrance has already figured out AIS AtoN display.

  37. As far as Raymarine, our e95 has been displaying AIS AtoNs for at least the last three firmware revs, as I remember seeing them in SF Bay back in 2014. But RayMarine will ALWAYS tell you to update to the latest version 🙂

  38. Simon - SRT CEO says:

    Remember, display an AIS AtoN on your chart is only a small part of the story. The challenge is the full decoding and display of the information contain in a given AtoN message. This might include live weather, depth, current, status of a swing bridge, air-bridge clearance and more. An AtoN may be connected to multiple different senor systems and be transmitting that information – in addition to the basic AtoN type and position. Its great that the basic display of AIS AtoN (real and virtual) is now supported by more MFD’s, but hopefully they will soon start to look at how to display the huge amount of live data that will increasingly be available via AtoN transmissions. Its also well to note that all certified Class A and Class B transceivers will decode the full AtoN message content and both NMEA0183 and NMEA2000 data output formats will output the data.

  39. Simon - SRT CEO says:

    Reference Dec 6th comment about SRT and AMEC/ALLTEK going quiet. SRT has publically released and shared its findings and independent supporting reports. Its now up to regulators to decide what to do and whether they and users believe that compliance to performance standards is important/relevant in their decision making. There is nothing more for SRT to do.

  40. Patrick says:

    Re Jim Hebert: I’m fully aware of this but as mentioned in other posts, it’s a chain of equipment and all pieces shall work together to get the info on the display.
    I have read the manual for the NAIS500 and on page 8 it mentions that AtoN exists (general AIS info), but not that this AIS tranceiver fully comply with the AtoN protocol. I have asked Navico to clarify this info.

  41. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Thanks for sharing your research, Patrick! It’s good to hear that Garmin is on the case.
    Also, let’s remember that AIS displays receive the information in either NMEA 0183 or 2000 formats, and it’s quite possible that the AIS receiver outputs 0183 AtoNs fine, but not AtoNs in N2K format. Or that the display can understand 0182 AIS AtoNs but not N2K AtoNs.

  42. Patrick says:

    Below is a summary of which brands can present AtoN. This summary has been made in co-operation with Bengt Utterström, editor for the Swedish blog
    Peter Bergholtz, Technical Manager at Furuno, Sweden, answers the question as to whether Furuno’s AIS receives AtoN and if the navigator shows the symbols:
    Furuno AIS models FA-30 (rcvr), FA-50 (Class B), FA-150 and FA-170 (Class A) can receive AtoN.
    Furuno plotter TZT and TZTL can display AtoN.
    At present, Garmin’s AIS receiver does not accept AtoN. According to Pontus Fernström, Garmin’s Marine Product Manager, in 2018 the software for AIS Model 600 will be updated as well as navigators software to display AIS AtoN. Those who purchase Garmin’s products will be able to see AIS AtoN in 2018.
    Older products like VHF300i AIS and AIS300 will not be updated to display AtoN.
    Humminbird’s AIS and navigators do not show AtoN at this time. Pelle Hjertman at importer Comstedt announces that updates are under way in 2018.
    Navico manufactures and sells the Simrad, Lowrance and B & G navigators. Their new AIS is NAIS 500. According to Christian Löfberg on Navico’s technical support, all new navigators dedicated to pleasure boats, AtoN, show. The symbol is a square with a plus i. Clicking on it will get more information.
    Marcus Bäckman is Nordic Director of Raymarine. He says that Raymarine’s Navigator Series Axiom with AIS 650 shows the symbols of AtoN. If you have a slightly older AIS 650, it should be updated.
    True Heading
    True Heading states that their AIS CTRX Graphene receives AtoN, but in order for it to be visible on a navigator, the navigator must be able to display the symbols. For example, if you have a Garmin navigator, AtoN symbols do not appear even if you have an AIS receiver from True Heading. True Heading does not manufacture any own navigators. According to True Headings CEO Anders Bergström, AtoN symbols appear in the Seapilot chart program.

  43. Howard says:

    I can confirm that my Furuno AIS transponder/TZT system displays AtoN

  44. Xavier Itzmann says:

    As a B&G owner, I’d like to add and clarify to Patrick’s research above:
    1. My B&G Zeus 12, installed in 2013, displays AtoN. Clicking on the AtoN icons brings up additional (if limited) information. It looks like most authorities fail to fill out the various data fields beyond basic serial identifiers for each AtoN. We have sailed all of the East Coast of the U.S. and Canada as far as Nova Scotia and about 60% of the coast of Europe and several hundred miles of Asian coasts, so we’ve seen our share of AtoNs.
    2. My B&G Zeus2, installed in 2015, displays AtoN.
    3. Both B&G chartplotters get their data from the old and now discontinued B&G NAIS-400. This proves that the ancient B&G NAIS-400 receives, decodes, and sends to the NMEA 2000 network the AtoN data.
    In sum, B&G has offered AtoN receiving, decoding and displaying for many years, and there is no need to purchase any newer versions nor any future versions of B&G hardware at this time in order to use AtoN.

  45. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Thanks again, Patrick. I’m happy to see that Google does a fairly reasonable job of translating the Swedish AIS AtoN blog entries into English:
    But I noticed something odd on Marine Traffic. If I filter out everything but AIS AtoNs, very few show around Sweden. I’m sure that this is not correct as I believe that Sweden has numerous AIS AtoNs (also shown in those blog entries) and MT seems to cover the area pretty well.
    At any rate, I intend to ask Marine Traffic what is going on with Swedish AtoNs, and also suggest that their display of AIS AtoNs could be better done everywhere. The icons and details could be greatly improved and of course it would be great if they showed added info like weather where it is being broadcast.
    A good Web display of AIS AtoNs is especially useful to boaters trying to figure out if their own equipment is showing them properly. So I encourage you and other readers to also contact Marine Traffic about this, and to share sites that show AIS AtoNs better.

  46. MarkO says:

    Hello Ben, good work. I think that it’s possible that the receivers may be the issue and not Marine Traffic. Almost all are volunteer, I think, and mine is a Garmin 300. However it may be helpful to find out what equipment they are using for satellite reception.

  47. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    I feel so naive. I had no idea that what appears to be a pirate Class B AIS has been available on Amazon for some time:
    Smart Amazon shoppers have been questioning its FCC approval for more than a year, but there is still no sign of it in the FCC database. Moreover, the distributor regularly tells questioners that they can easily program their MMSI into the unit, which means it’s definitely not legal in the U.S.
    Heck, you can buy a Matsutec Class B AIS at Walmart!
    We can all help other boaters stay away from possibly untested and dodgy gear like this by using the review and question sections of sellers like Amazon and Walmart, but I’m surprised those companies don’t pay more attention.

  48. Anon says:

    I have an AMEC Camino 108 with which I am generally satisfied. I particularly appreciate that it transmits heading data when supplied with the necessary NMEA2000 PGNs. It would be good to see further information published by the manufacturer regarding the reported test findings. I’m not sure what to expect should happen next?

  49. Patrick says:

    “I noticed something odd on Marine Traffic. If I filter out everything but AIS AtoNs, very few show around Sweden” says Ben.
    I contacted my friend working with AIS and he contacted a guy who is setting out AtoN in Sweden. There are not that many AtoN’s in Swedish waters, only about a dozen.
    MarineTraffic uses private AIS receivers in Sweden and it seems that most of them cannot handle AtoN and message 21. Maybe they are using more official receivers in other countries.
    Hopefully someone connected to MarineTraffic reads this and can enlighten us.

  50. Anonymous says:

    A formal complaint about Matsutec was filed with the FCC a year ago. They have yet to do anything about it. I guess the way to get a product to market is not to test it – unlike Standard Horizon, which is still waiting for approval for their VHF/Class B AIS combination unit.

  51. Howard says:

    Last I checked, Standard Horizon has not submitted the radio to FCC.

  52. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Howard, what I heard a long time back was that Standard Horizon wanted to get possibly harder CE approval before going to the FCC with the combo VHF/Class B AIS GX6500. But I’m sad to report the latest from SH is that the 6500 may never ship, which led me to add a warning to the original entry:

  53. Tom says:

    Any news now in this matter?

  54. Anonymous says:

    TOM–if asking for news about the Standard-Horizon GX6500 AIS CLASS-B device status, see the linked thread in Ben’s reply just above yours for an update as of a few weeks ago.

  55. Tom says:

    Well, my question was really whether there was any news about the AMEC certifiation and if something has happened. I have a Camino 108 and like it very much. It is interesting to see where this is going…

  56. Jim Hebert Jim Hebert says:

    The most recent AIS device made by Alltek Marine Electronics Corp (AMEC) to be tested by the USCG was their model WideLink B600/B600W Class B, Automatic Identification System, approved in May 2017. For details see

  57. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Thanks, Jim, but let’s note that the AMEC B600 is a Class B SOTDMA transceiver, quite different from the CS technology most of us are familiar with and the type discussed in this entry.

  58. Simon - SRT CEO says:

    Hi Jim,
    Please excuse me if I’m stating what is already known.
    The USCG and FCC does not test anything – they simply issue certificates based upon test reports submitted to them by the manufacturer. This is the same process as in Europe.
    The process for getting a radio transmitting device of any kind, from a VHF radio or AIS transceiver to your TV remote control or cell phone) certified is as follows.
    1) The manufacturer designs a transmitting product to conform with a specific set of radio performance specifications which are part of a ‘standard’. In this case the AIS standard as defined by the relevant ITU and IEC documents.
    2) The manufacturer sends final production samples of the final product to independent test houses who are approved by the relevant government certification bodies, for testing against the relevant radio performance standards (please note – that simple functionality such as CPA and or the actual reliability of the product is not tested – just the conformance to the standard). TUV is an example of one and is the largest in the world, although there are many.
    3) The result of these tests, is a formal test report that is issued by the test house.
    4) The manufacturer submits an application for certification of the product to the relevant authorities in a specific country – for AIS in the USA they are the USCG and FCC. These bodies check that the test report is from a certified test house that they therefore trust to do a proper job, and that the test house has said the device has passed. If the answer is yes to both they issue a certificate in the name of the product confirming that it complies to the specific radio standard in question.
    The importance of compliance with the relevant radio standards is not always obvious to an end user who rightly focuses more on the functionality. However the functionality is ultimately effected by the core radio performance and the testing and certification process exists to ensure that there is a minimum standard and interoperability between different devices.
    The issue that can arise is that testing is not exhaustive and a less experienced test house, may miss some crucial elements out and or test it incorrectly, or other issues to get a pass.
    Testing and certification in radio is a serious hurdle for manufacturers if done properly – including us at SRT with 20 years of radio technology and product development – as it can take many months and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. But in the end, good engineering, followed up with high quality and consistent manufacturing makes it possible and in turn ensures the user has a product that really does work properly.

  59. Saffy The Pook says:

    The FCC requires the use of an FCC-authorized testing lab. You can’t just use any old lab.

  60. Jim Hebert Jim Hebert says:

    Hi Simon–yes, I was aware that in the USA the regulatory agency FCC no longer actually conducts testing, and the testing is done by private test firms that have been recognized as qualified to perform the testing by the FCC.
    With a bit of careful navigation of the FCC website, it is possible to find all the test data submitted (except portions the manufacturer requests be kept confidential) in the approval process. It helps if you know the manufacturer’s FCC ID code.
    I notice that some manufacturers use the testing firm TUV SUD. I have browsed through many of those reports. They present a lot of detailed results regarding radio emissions and are quite lengthy, sometimes 50-pages of data.
    I have not found a similar resource for the testing data submitted to the USCG.

  61. Simon - SRT CEO says:

    Hi Jim,
    TUV SUD and BSH are the gold standard of test houses in the AIS world – in our opinion they are very rigorous and have a deep understanding of the detailed AIS specifications & standards which they are testing a product against.
    Yes, the test reports that result are very detailed. The workings behind AIS (as with any radio communications system – wifi, 3G etc) are very complex and in order to be fully tested require many hundreds of individual tests which if documented properly will run to considerable length. Unfortunately, the length and complexity of the documents also makes them difficult to review by certification authorities as they are snowed under by hundreds if not thousands of applications at anyone time. So, I suspect they rely on the summary page of the test report, perhaps a brief audit of a few tests and the integrity of the manufacturer.
    As you are aware, the primary radio approval authority in the US is the FCC and thus they publish all the supporting test reports that are submitted by a manufacturer to get approval. In the US, the USCG is involved in so far as its a marine product and, I suspect, is to make sure that the functionality that overlays on top of the AIS radio communications operation (receive & transmit) isn’t anything that they would not want being used in US territorial waters – but all they see are the same test documents. Nothing different is submitted and the USCG and FCC work closely together. Therefore it makes no sense for the USCG to have another resource which then needs to exactly match that of the FCC.

  62. John says:

    Just wondering whether there’s any further published information about the alleged issues?

  63. Tom says:

    Garmin Update Dated Jun 11, 2018 V12.0 (7600 series) fixes the AIS AtoNs issue …. they added them to the list of AIS targets that can be displayed.

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      Thanks, Tom. I’m downloading the 6/11 update to the ActiveCaptain App now, and hope to check it out soon.

      Garmin update details seem vague with “Added support for additional AIS targets” but the missing AIS AtoNs certainly make sense. However, I believe they have two issues to deal with — AIS AtoN display via NMEA 2000 on their MFDs (now maybe fixed for some MFDs) but also AIS AtoN output over NMEA 2000 from their AIS 600 transceiver (which is harder to update, I fear).

      • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

        Well, I updated the 742 and 7612 Garmin MFDs on Gizmo and they still do not display AIS AtoNs that I know are on Gizmo’s NMEA 2000 network because they show on other brand MFDs. Poo.

  64. Robert says:

    Does anyone have any news regarding the “compliance” allegation?

  65. Robert says:

    And three months on, apparently still no information from regarding the “problem” …

  66. Thomas says:

    Is there a list of compliant transceivers, tested in detail for Channel Selectivity and Spurious Response Rejection by TUV? A year passed since the last comment and I am unsure which AIS to pick.

    • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

      I have not heard anything more about this issue, but my June 2018 comments above seem ever more true. If there had been a significant problem with the Amec transponder, along with the obvious financial and reputational liabilities, I’m pretty sure that there would have been product recalls and/or an FCC action. None have happened to my knowledge and I notice that AIS experts at Milltech are still selling the Amec 108 series:

      Meanwhile, many SOTDMA Class B AIS transponders have come to market, some at prices quite close to the CS type, and it really is a better technology to use (though especially for faster boats). For instance, check out the Si-Tex MDA-5 Class B/SO which I’ve been testing and which includes antenna splitter and NMEA 2000/WiFi data output for about $800 street price:

      • Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

        PS If the original Class B technology with its own antenna and a NMEA 0183 connection to plotters will work for you, the Icom MA-500TR at $600 is a heck of deal because it has a usable target screen and can set up direct DSC calls to target vessels with certain Icom radios. I suspect the deep discount is because Icom has a newer model in the pipeline but that doesn’t make this model less than what it is:

        • Tomas says:

          I am in the process of upgrading my MFD too, thanks for the warning, I’ll make sure I get one that understand all PGN-s.

      • Thomas says:

        Right, probably SOTDMA/Class B+ will be the way I am going in the near future. Regarding negative feedback on the CSTDMA board: It is probably very difficult to reproduce a jamming scenario and the customer might associate the failure to other issues (voltage fluctuations, etc).

      • Thomas says:

        Yes, very likely I’ll go SOTDMA, which is a completely different board. Customer complaints will be difficult to find as reproducing a jamming environment is not easy. I suspect one has to cross an area with heavy VHF traffic and lots of AIS transducerts. But this is exactly what makes the flaw dangerous: VHF traffic is dense in busy areas where I certainly don’t want my AIS malfunctioning. I’d be interested if anyone saw transmission or reception problems e.g sailing between a fishing port and a fishing fleet.

  67. Robert says:

    It would have been good to see further information about the supposed receiver “problem” to provide re-assurance to owners, but I’ve not found any.
    PS – An advantage of the Camino products is the ability to transmit vessel heading information (when provided with PGN127250 and PGN127258). Many Class B CS products of the same era don’t appear to support this feature (which is optional for Class B).

  68. Thomas says:

    Found a negative feedback complaining that his McMurdo M10 (Camino) transceiver stops transmitting every now and then near a busy fishing harbor, I don’t know if that could be related.

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