Class B AIS on sale, but not to Yanks!

PortVision AIS B sale

I guess this sort of thing was inevitable, thanks to FCC recalcitrance, but still it’s a sad sale for all but a few. Apparently PortVision, an interesting U.S.-based commercial marine information service, has concluded that the FCC is not about to allow Class B AIS anytime soon, and is liquidating its inventory of SRT transponders (update: sorry, all gone). You may recall that SRT Marine Technology—which once did business as Software Radio—developed the core technology that’s in every Class B transponder currently approved by the U.S. Coast Guard and other certification authorities.

SRT also builds a complete Class B transponder, and that’s what PortVision is selling. I think it’s exactly like the True Heading Class B I did a preliminary test on last summer, the one with a casing you could probably drive a truck over. So this is good news for boaters outside the U.S.; if two or more can get together on an order, it appears they can each get a good transponder for $695 plus shipping. I’m hoping that some of the bluewater cruisers contemplating the completely un-authorized SR261 transponders will go for this deal instead; it would be a more responsible move, and the SRT Class B is a hell of a lot easier to install and use.
   But meanwhile, I know other companies sitting on warehouse stacks of Class B transponders, and U.S. boaters anxious to buy them. I have a friend here in Camden who’s sailing to Finland this summer, and struggling to figure out how he can get and install a Simrad AI50 that would be legal and prudent for him to use during 99.9% of the voyage! And how about the plight of SRT itself? A couple of months ago I spoke with a principal there who said that the company projected about 50% of its sales in the U.S. and never anticipated this problem with the FCC. Why would it, with the technology working fine elsewhere and the U.S.C.G. asking the FCC to expedite approval? It’s shameful way to treat a company that’s done good work already, and is purportedly intent on developing even better and more affordable Class B devices.
   On a cheerier note, I’ve been trying out PortVision’s free evaluation, and it’s a real eye opener in terms of what can be done with AIS shore receivers and smart database programming. It’s not only a first class version of the many Web AIS plotting sites we’ve seen, but it keeps histories by vessel, terminal, and waypoint.  Thus, when I clicked on Elka Delos below I not only got all her current AIS info but also references to when she sailed from Houston, etc. Click on the Verrazano Bridge and see all the vessels that recently passed beneath it. And there are many more features for managing fleets and so forth. PortVision was going bundle 90 day subscriptions with the SRT transponders—which would have been a enticing package for say charter companies, even nervous families—but the FCC kiboshed that business plan. Sigh.

PortVision screen cPanbo

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.

18 Responses

  1. Seajet says:

    Considering the apparent incompetence of the “management” at the FCC, can we vote them out of office? I find it impossible to understand why they are withholding approval, when the rest of the world has already given theirs. What does it take for them to wake-up? Some dead people?

  2. Chris Ellingsen says:

    If any readers in the US want one of these I am considering putting in an order, especially if I get 10 or more interested people. I live in Canada so I should be able to order them. I will then ship them to the purchaser. Of course it will be up to the user to ensure that the unit is in ‘silent’ mode while in US waters.

  3. Nick Heyes says:

    The same unit is sold in Europe as the Digital Yacht AIT250 at about PDS391 = $770. That’s delivered into Europe and all duties paid and with a strong two year warranty. Plus it comes with a gps antenna and tuned AIS VHF antenna. It seems a real shame that the FCC will not get into gear and get behind AIS. In the UK its the product to have for 2008!

  4. Russ says:

    Seajet: You certainly can. The FCC commissioners are political appointees. Change the executive branch and you will see a change at the FCC.
    Chris: How do we contact you?
    All: The FCC is normally driven by corporate interests. It regulates the airwaves for the public benefit, but only major media and communications companies hire the lobbyists that influence the FCC. There are not many public interest groups lobbying the FCC, clearly recreational boaters are not influencing them. The FCC has obviously made a conscious decision to not approve Class B AIS which begs the question: who’s interest is being served by delaying approval?

  5. norse says:

    Can anyone estimate the risks? It looks to me like the FCC has blocked the sale of AIS B since they can put the fear into a few sellers, but if someone did manage to obtain one, would it be legal to use it? Non-US boats can use it in US waters, right? I doubt the FCC will even try to enforce it. I doubt the USCG will either. I don’t see any sign that anyone is trying get users to correct their AIS data. But there certainly is a risk that if they caught you they would make an example out of you. How far offshore would you have to be to be legal?

  6. Russ says:

    The FCC can and does regulate all use of the airwaves in the US, which would include territorial waters extending 12 miles offshore. It’s the same authority that limits certain HF frequencies to licensed amateurs, radio stations to certain frequencies, etc. There is no question that they have authority to control use of the airwaves in the US.
    If they did enforce it, it would obviously be easy to find you! Of course it would be pretty ironic for the USCG that supports AIS B to be impounding a boat for using it, but they are supposed to enforce the law and use of class B AIS is not authorized. I suspect a foreign flagged boat that was caught would be given a warning to shut it down, a US flagged boat would probably get less consideration. In any case, is the risk of having your boat impounded offset by the benefit of having your position known?
    On a related point, the specifications for the Hallberg Rassy 53, dated January 2008, list the Furuno FA50 class B AIS as an option. Does anyone know if the FA50 is available outside the US?

  7. Richard C says:

    Since the FCC is most influenced by big corporate interests is it possible the “owners” of big shipping companies do not want the liability of class B AIS? After all, if a mega tanker runs down a small sailboat sending out a class B AIS signal, even though the big ship has right of way, they will have to share liability for the accident.
    Knowing what I do about government and corruption I’m just trying to figure out who got to the FCC. After all, there is no logic in their lack of action.

  8. norse says:

    FA50 must be a typo, or else this product has not been announced yet. Did they mean FA30 AIS receiver or FA150 Class A? Those are the only two choices, even on Furuno’s Japan web site.
    As for risks, there are certain times near shipping channels that turning on a Class B transponder might be legitimate self-defense, a life-or-death issue.

  9. Anonymous says:

    It’s not a typo, FA50 is Furuno’s Class B AIS unit. Look at the NavNet 3D network diagram on the web site. You can also see that the unit has received regulatory certification at which designates it a Class B AIS transponder (and there are a few other Class B units on that page also).
    Furuno may not have formally announced it in the US, but it does exist. My question is whether it’s available in any other country.

  10. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    A lot of interesting comments here, gents…thanks! I’m now in New York City, en route to Machipongo, Virginia, and will not be posting today.
    But I’ve got a good excuse: as of today, I’ve been editing Panbo for three years!

  11. norse says:

    Yes, another Class B to look forward to, but not much detail yet — basically just the HR price of 1952 Euros. I checked many Furuno regional web pages, including Sweden’s, and none mention it at all (yet) — it’s just in that one network diagram.

  12. Chris Ellingsen says:

    Anyone interested in joining my order for one of these, as mentioned above, can contact me at:
    [email protected]

  13. Russ says:

    The PortVision web site now says the inventory referenced in Panbo is no longer available. I guess somebody bought it all in one lot. Somebody must be using Class B.

  14. Sandy says:

    I got on The Hull Truth and Seven Seas Cruising Association web sites and pitched writing our Senators and Congressmen about the FCC’s recalcitrance in certifying the AIS B radios requested by the Coast Guard. I did so myself and got a quick response from the office of Feisty Senator Barbara Mikulski! She requested the FCC (probably some GS-10 in the office of Gov’t Affairs) send me a response with a copy to her. Enough of those floating around the FCC might just interrupt someone’s pre-election nap!

  15. Sandy says:

    Look what the FCC did to workers at Angola! Eighteen injured as vessels collide on the Mississippi…. Not really, but this wouldn’t have happened if both vessels had AIS. Radar is a little too pricey and complicated for a workboat, but an AIS B would have been nice!

  16. Richard says:

    Heard on the street at the Oakland Boat Show… FCC has put off a decision on AIS-B for six months. Take it for what it’s worth, and, I wouldn’t doubt that this disfunctional panel would do that.

  17. Rusty says:

    When it comes to Class B AIS on foreign ships, under what authority would either the USCG or the FCC request it be shut down?
    I don’t see anything in the application of Part 80 that would provide this authority.
    If this is the case, if you want AIS badly enough, register your vessel in the EU or Canada, where Class ‘B’ is allowed…

  18. norse says:

    I think Russ made that comment; it never occurred to me they would challenge foreign boats. I have no idea. But I did find this USCG page which seems intended for Class A users:
    I agree with them that users should set up their units properly, but I don’t see the point of adding so many digits to the fine.
    Looking at the web at AIS users’ info, there are some that don’t even have their ship name and MMSI set correctly, many which don’t have their ship size set correctly, and lots which are actually correct. In both the US and Europe.
    My fav is a guy who listed his destination as ‘home’ 🙂

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