Furuno FA-50 Class B AIS, first impressions
I don’t know why Furuno has been quiet about it, but on Nov. 6 the FCC certified its FA-50 Class B AIS transponder (select “AIS” for Equipment Class here). While the product is described at the home site, and is for sale in Europe, it is not yet listed at FurunoUSA. But, as seen above, and bigger here, I’ve been trying one in the lab. And, yes, that is a first-ever-for-transponders Ethernet LAN connection, but there’s a “gotcha” to its use. While you can access the FA-50’s extensive set-up and diagnostic menus with any browser on any computer, you can not get GPS and AIS target info to anything but Furuno NavNet hardware or MaxSea software via Ethernet (also true of the FA-30 receiver, I think). That seems a shame as charting programs like Coastal Explorer and The Capn happily accept Ethernet AIS data (apparently using a format that’s become fairly standardized amongst the Web AIS viewing systems). But the FA-50 does offer conventional NMEA 0183 output, and possibly superior Class B performance…
I say “possibly” because the FA-50 is the only Class B Transponder I know of that is not built using SRT’s circuit board (Shine’s not-yet-certified SM162B the interesting exception). And Furuno, which knows a lot about AIS, says it’s seeing excellent FA-50 sensitivity. I’ve managed a few A/B tests with distant targets and may have seen a hair better range (damn shame that AIS B finally became available just before Maine’s winter boating lock-down).
The FA-50 will also automatically manage redundant GPS receivers on a NavNet 3D network, and while it seems primarily designed for that environment, it does ship with a MaxSea “AIS Viewer” that’s pretty impressive (with one surprising exception). Check out the full size lab screen shot. The user can have a target’s CPA graphically displayed, and even customize the info shown in the Properties box, among many other target display choices. But what’s missing? Yup, the target in sight is another test Class B transponder and the viewer, almost a full copy of MaxSea 12, does not understand the Class B static data message (24), and hence isn’t showing vessel name, type, and dimensions. Doh! Word is that this is fixed in MaxSea Time Zero, which is promised for early 2009, and a version of which will become the AIS Viewer. Maybe that’s why Furuno is going slow with the FA-50?