MIBS, AIS edition
When we got excited about the Standard Horizon GX2100 AISrx/VHF (now well documented at SH), did anyone realize that the already versatile CMP30 RAM3 remote station would also show the targets? Well, there it was in Miami, looking pretty much like the photo above. And GX2100 love hasn’t waned; the set was one of West Marine’s show highlights and it won the NMMA Innovation Award in the Electronics category. Of course there was plenty more going on in the AIS department…
Indeed, Icom had the much anticipated MR-500TR Class B AIS transponder prominently displayed in front of its booth. Unfortunately it was in a glass case, so yours truly couldn’t push buttons, and, since it’s not quite FCC approved yet, Icom USA can’t yet reveal a price. But it’s looking good, as is its rather hunky GPS antenna, in my opinion. An Icom representative said that people seemed to either love it or hate the big mushroom, and that the latter can use another antenna.
Also awaiting approvals is ComNav’s Voyager X3 Class A AIS (with NMEA 2000). But I was able to work through its menus, like the voyage data screen seen below, and I’m even more excited about this second generation transponder. Plus there’s the news that other companies may sell essentially this same unit for well below $3,000 and it is even slated for IMO approval. That’s big news for bigger yachts (and big competition for the likes of Furuno); it may also mean that the USCG will be more likely to specify Class A when it finally mandates AIS on lots more U.S. commercial vessels.
It seemed fairly easy to input Class A voyage data (like destination, ETA, etc.) on the X3 transponder, but might be even easier on Digital Yacht’s new SmarterTrack PC software, whose ‘Lite’ version is designed to be a full transponder interface as well as an AIS plotting program that will ship free with DY’s various AIS products. The screen below, though, shows the full $400 navigation version which supports Navionics chart cards of all formats. Click on the screen and check out the immense control a user gets over how targets are displayed. Note too that the program saves static data on every MMSI it sees, so the vessel name, etc. pop up instantly instead of having to wait minutes for the static data transmission. But don’t be fooled by that “Show Class B” check mark on the top bar; you can’t make them all disappear, just the ones that are not “threats” as defined by your CPA/TCPA settings. It all looks smart, and close to how the IMO envisions efficient AIS plotting, and I look forward to trying the program. (DY was also showing a beta version of its little C-Map plotter/AISrx, and still has lots more interesting product ideas left.)
One thing I’ll look for in SmarterTrack, and other AIS plotters, will be an alarm system as complete as what’s in the Vesper Marine aisWatchMate. I finally got to see one in the flesh and it did not disappoint. For instance, I hadn’t considered the value an alarm filter based on your own boat’s speed before discussing it with U.S. distributor Steven Gloor (whose card also lends scale to the photo). If you’re, say, a fisherman who often slows way down and dawdles around this way and that, you might well avoid unneeded CPA alarms by applying such a filter. Which you can have assigned to one or more profiles designed for different boating situations. Vesper’s manuals remain succinct, but I hope MFD and charting software developers check them out, maybe even purchase a unit, to appreciate what full-bodied, effective AIS alarming entails. If your product alarms a lot when users don’t want it to, like when driving into a harbor full of moored ships (see Target Speed filter below), then your users will be tempted to minimize alarms altogether, and may resent you.