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?


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.

20 Responses

  1. norse says:

    This just in: “Congressional report: FCC chair abused power”
    I wonder if that had anything to do with the Class B AIS approval delays?

  2. Anonymous says:

    This is the same situation with the FA-30 which I’ve been using for the last five months, the Ethernet interface is proprietary so working with any third party software requires running a second set of cabling. It’s too bad that Furuno embraced standardized cabling, then used proprietary data formats.
    Another problem that both the FA30 and FA50 will share (and any other AIS receiver) is that the NN3D software will not display targets at ranges greater than 24 miles. So if you’re planning to use it with NN3D equipment, the greater sensitivity, if it exists, is moot.
    In practice, in any kind of seaway I have not seen many targets at ranges greater than 16 miles (with my antenna on the first spreaders – about 30′ off the water).
    MaxSea Time Zero has previously been promised for April 2008, October 2008, and now (according to one dealer) March 2009. We can only hope that the schedule slips were due to an extensive testing regimen so that when it does ship it will not take another year for it to have basic features while also being stable and usable.

  3. Andy Murray says:

    Correct NN3D limits ais targets to 24nm but do you really need more than this in the real world?
    Yes it is very nice to connect see what range you can get but and i would love to have 36nm for demoing live data but most customers are happy with the 24nm
    MXTZ is alive and kicking we have been running it on some of our customers boats since its launch in April.
    The new 1.4 and 1.5 versions of the software include many more features but you are correct the true “professional” version of MXTZ wont be launched till the back end of 2009.
    If you want the roadmap i have please email me service [at] globemarine.co.uk

  4. Anonymous says:

    Furuno FA-50, £974.95
    Digital Yacht AIT250, £489.83
    Both as listed today on Cactus Nav.
    So that’s £485 for an Ethernet port and a Furuno badge? Hmmmmm………

  5. Russ says:

    Yes, I think more than 24 miles is definitely useful.
    With a worst case closing speed of 30 knots (22 for the ship + 8 for me), 24 miles is about 45 minutes.
    If nothing else is going on and the target get’s all my attention, that is plenty of time. However, on a short handed boat that’s not always the case. Other things demand attention (reefing, squalls, sail trim, log entries, other targets/ships, etc.)
    If targets past 24 miles aren’t of interest, why does Furuno sell high power radar with range much further than 24 miles? Why not limit radar range to 24 miles?
    I’ve paid my money and bought the products, if I want to see targets out to 40 miles, why should NN3D artificially limit my ability to do so?

  6. Andy Murray says:

    Hi Russ,
    I see your point Russ, i will have a chat to some of the powers the be about this i know many (like me) were of the opinion that 24nm was plenty prehaps considering what you have posted we need to change our view here and pass that information above to the powers that be.
    Anonymous, UK Pound vs Japan Yen is hurting the price in the UK, will be interesting to see a USD comparason.
    Kind Regards,

  7. ibsailn says:

    Does anyone know if the targets would show up on an older NavNet Radar (i.e. as external arpa targets or something.
    We have a 1932 radar with the ARP10 unit.
    It would be a reason to get the Furuno unit if it meant the targets would show up there as well as the plotter.

  8. Anonymous says:

    What are you looking to do put AIS targets onto the Furuno M1932?
    If that is correct the M1932 is unfortunately not compatible with AIS input and i am not 100% sure if you can feed in external APR targets to show on the radar.
    I have seen some systems that convert the AIS AIVIM sentence into ARPA TTM for use on systems that do not “speak ais” but you lose all the data all you get is position. (This was an expensive IBS system not a small converter box)
    Kind Regards,

  9. Pat Harman says:

    Thanks Ben for the update. I have a couple of questions:
    1) Any guess on the street price?
    2) I assume Coastal Explorer will be able to receive the AIS class B data. Is this assumption correct?
    The 24 mile restriction is just plain dumb. I don’t like others making navigation decisions for me.
    By waiting I can let the kinks get worked out and the price to fall. I do, however, plan to own an AIS class B transmitter.
    Pat Harman

  10. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Pat, I think the MSRP for the FA-50 is about $1,900 but I don’t know what it will really go for. I’m pretty sure Coastal Explorer will receive GPS and AIS target data fine from the FA-50, but only via the NMEA 0183 port. I had not heard of the 24 nm target limit before, but apparently it’s in NavNet 3D, not the receiver or transponder.
    Geez, I just read Norse’s link about the FCC Chairman. It will be good to bid good riddance to that guy in January!

  11. Russ says:

    FYI, the first “Anonymous” post was me. For some reason the new TypePad / TypeKey login won’t remember me and sometimes doesn’t even recognize me.

  12. Larry Brandt says:

    What I would like to see, now that a fairly large assortment of Class B AIS units are now on the market, is a well-put-together matrix that compares various specs with mfr/model AISs. That would help me evaluate the range of products available.

  13. Richard D says:

    The range limitation is not the receiver of course, it merely outputs what
    it sees.
    Last year crossing the Gulf of Alaska we watched an oncoming Princess liner (995’length) for well over 100 nm with a CPA never exceeding 1 nm, mostly around 100 yards and eventually decreasing to less than 50 yards. I should mention that from the cockpit we couldn’t see the bow in fog and it was evening to night. It was comforting to have the several hour (closing speed of 24 knots) warning. At 12 miles we picked up the ship on radar and called the ship (by name). Had an immediate comeback from the Brit watch stander, arranged a comfortable passing and never saw the beast a mile away lit up like a city!
    The reason we could see the ship so far away wasn’t unusual propagation but rather USCG AIS repeaters along the coast (we were around 50 nm offshore). This is a good reason to have a display that can show targets at considerable range. We use Nobletec but all of the PC chart plotters will do the same.
    I was an instant convert to the AIS as a real stress reducer!
    Richard D.
    s/v RED

  14. norse says:

    Does anyone know anything about the Saab R4 Class B transponder?
    (Saab also has an R4 Class A transponder)

  15. Boats says:

    The FA-50 is now appearing on the Furuno NavNet site: http://www.NavNet.com
    It will output to NavNet 3D and VX2 and PC. It also comes with software for your PC.

  16. reginaowner says:

    I’m planning to get the FA-50 AIS box together with a MFD12 from Furuno.
    Can I plug the GPS antenna into the FA-50 and receive the gps signal at the MFD12 ?
    ….I want to minimize cables up to the MFD12 display in the cockpit….

  17. Anonymous says:

    The MFD12 should receive the position from the FA30 / 50 will test tomorrow for you on a vessel i am working on and report back.

  18. reginaowner says:

    Thanks Andy, looking forward to hear from you again.
    One more question:
    Do I need seperate cable from radar to MFD12 if I’m using a Furuno HUB101 in my configuration ?
    ( What’s the minimum of cables I need to wire up to the cockpit ? )

  19. Andy Murray says:

    Hi Again,
    We are just waiting for the battery banks to come so i can fire up the system and recommission it after its changes so will know shortly about the FA-50 i would imagine the MFD would decode the VDO sentence that is output.
    The power for the radar needs to come from the MFD or a 48V DC power supply.
    Two ways to do this
    The radar cable is dual (ethernet one side and power the other) you can take power from the DRS power port on the back of the MFD or cut the plug off this and wire into a DC voltage inverter.
    The ethernet cable has to go to the HUB101.
    What DRS do you have ?
    Kind Regards,

  20. Jeff says:

    Andy, I’ve been researching this whole AIS install and for sure will be going with a Furuno unit as that gives me the most options and integrates well with my Furuno system.
    What’s the practicality of putting an FA 50 on a 30′ boat? I fish and cruise a lot in crowded and foggy waterways here in the northwest.
    I love the thought of being able to see ships marking on my chart plotter and knowing course and speed. But then I got to thinking that I’m a heck of a lot harder to see for a big ship than vice versa and it might be a good idea to broadcast as well.
    Reading the info on the FA 50 it’s obvious that it’s a more complicated install. If I read it correctly you need an additional GPS antenna as well as a VHF antenna. It also mentions having a 10m seperation of two VHF antenna’s. Well that won’t be possible so how important is that seperation?
    Any thoughts appreciated.

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