Class B AIS, the name game


This weekend I’m working on a PMY column about Class B AIS, and now have three transponders up and running, which you’ll hear about. But I also went over my notes and audio recording of the NMEA AIS meeting, and recalled with a smile Jorge Arroyo’s dismay about repetitive and goofy recreational boat names. “We don’t want 250 Rum Runners in our database!” he exclaimed. The very next day I saw Bullship moored above at Catalina Island. The truth is that we can be pretty foolish about boat names, and they are going to look…um…unprofessional on AIS target screens and Web sites…

Given what I wrote about Arroyo’s NMEA talk—i.e. a new rule mandating the use of state registration numbers as AIS vessel name—I want to be extra clear that Bullship and other dumbass yacht names will be on those target screens, if their owners equip them with Class B. I don’t know why the USCG made made a big deal of an idea it would change its mind on almost immediately (perhaps with some Panbot guidance), but I do know my reporting was accurate (thanks to the amazingly effective Pulse smartpen). More goofy boat names that may be coming to an AIS screen near you can be found here, and on this blog (which borrowed my photo!) and don’t forget the possibilities of the vessel name/home port transom combination: 


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.

12 Responses

  1. GWB says:

    Well, gee, the obvious answer is to legally mandate all recreational boat owners to install Class B AIS, and to also mandate they register their boat names with a ratings board who will then decide whether or not the name is appropriate, or already duplicated, for AIS broadcast.
    I suggest John McCain and/or Sarah Palin be appointed to head said ratings board after the election.

  2. Bob says:

    As I travel the American inland rivers… the commercial captains could care less about my name. Unless we are Tow Boats we are are all just pleasure boats to those guys.
    So as not to confuse the commercial (who are the only one I worry about) I just put the name “plesur boat99” into my Furuno AIS system. They actully appreciate it and will respond quickly when necessary and then ask my real name.
    I had caused confusion at times as the Tow Boat captains thought I was another tow waiting at a lock.

  3. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Thanks for the post, Bob. What you’re doing makes some sense, but keep an eye on USCG/FCC regs. As far as Class B goes, I would not recommend using any static data except the actual vessel name, MMSI, type, and dimensions that correspond to the real boat and the real boat’s records.
    If this data doesn’t line up, the boat owner, or the transponder installer who messed it up, can get seriously fined. And note that FCC is thinking about applying the same “inaccurate data” warnings to Class A users.

  4. Bob says:

    I understand… but when cruising the Tenn-Tom waterway you don’t see anything except Tow Boats and a few small fishing boats. Not much in the way of Government intervention such as USCG/FCC.
    But once we arrive in Mobile the name proudly changes back to Istaboa and all is right with USCG/FCC.
    Most of the Tow captains are too busy dealing with the multiple hairpin bends to dig into all the info, such as vessel type, AIS has to offer.
    This is our third trip on the Tenn-Tom with AIS A and I think most of the captains have come to know us anyway… which will make the nickname unnecessary. We will see.
    PS: Most of the locks are getting AIS receivers. This will be great at keeping folks honest as to their place in line for locking priority.

  5. Bob Austin says:

    A possibility is to use some prefix such as P/V (Pleasure vessel) as a designator before the boat name.

  6. bcl says:

    All that would be unnecessary if the ship type is set properly in Message 5 (or 24). Granted, the ship type table ( in M.1371 does look like it was formed by a committee…
    The proper type for a pleasure craft is 37

  7. Tim Flanagan says:

    Will that “type” data (37 – pleasure craft) be visible to others in a human-readable format? If so, it shouldn’t be necessary to use a prefix such as P/V.
    Would “P/V” be clear to most users, without some sort of standardization? There seem to be so many variations. S/V, S/Y, P/Y, M/Y, M/B, etc. And since Type 37 = “pleasure craft”, shouldn’t the prefix be P/C?
    I’m all for clear identification of AIS targets by type, ESPECIALLY with Class B’s potential to bury bridge crew in targets, but I’m not sure we’ve hit on the best solution yet.
    UNLESS, of course, that Type data is received and displayed on the AIS equipment aboard most vessels.

  8. In response to Tim’s question…
    The vessel classification codes have been standardised by the International Telecommunications Union (ITU). That of “Pleasure Craft (PL)” is one of eight standardised General Classifications.
    There are also a number of more specific Individual Classifications, e.g., Aircraft Carrier, Ketch, Factory Ship, etc., etc.
    The full list can be found at
    When applying for an MMSI in Canada, the applicant must provide the General Classification for their vessel and may also provide one or more Individual Classifications.
    Cheers, Bill

  9. Bob says:

    In response to Bob Austin and BcI…
    I have used the PV as a prefix which confused some of the Tows. They thought “Power Vessel”.
    And I have all setting set correctly. Type and designator.
    You have to understand… when a Tow Captain is pushing 6 barges through as many as 3 180 degree turns in about a mile of river for about 150 miles…all they have time to look at is the river ahead and the ship symbol/name on their electronic chart. They won’t go to the trouble to find out my type, use, or status. For the most part they use Furuno’s AIS 150 and Chart Navigator Pro. I use the same system.
    If I am a Tow they will start setting up to pass me then call to consult. If I am a Pleasure Boat they will just call to let me know which side to pass on. without going to the trouble of setting up.
    This waterway is a very unique one as far as Rules of the Road.

  10. Jan Welde says:

    Is here anybody who can give me the correct “ship type” identificator for a “Traning vessel” / “School ship” under Norwegian flag operating mainly in Norwegian waters?
    Thanks in advance.

  11. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Jan, I don’t think that the international authorities have created a Vessel Type designation that fits yours well. You can see the available Class B types here:
    If your school ship is a sailing vessel, I’d say that’s the best choice. Sailing Vessel does not necessarily mean that the vessel is sailing. Navigation Status — which includes “Underway under sail”, “underway under power”, etc. — is a separate field that’s only available on Class A transponders.
    I believe that the U.S. Coast Guard plans to add more types for U.S. waters. It’s possible the Norwegian authorities have done something similar. I’m not sure how those types will display on vessels from outside the country that defined them, though, as they are transmitted as codes.

  12. Jan Welde says:

    Thanks a lot for your quick reply Ben!
    In my case it is a class “A” AIS, and my training ship is a former icebreaker and resque vessel from the Baltic sea – so it is certainly not sailing…

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