Online AIS plotting, free sites & photo obsessions


So far, the best (free) Web AIS coverage I can find for New York Harbor is provided by Though you have to register to get even a two hour target delay, the site is helping me understand the scene, VHF chatter included, and also illustrates an important point about AIS today. A lot of medium-sized commercial vessels—like all the up-to-150 passenger Water Taxis I see constantly buzzing around lower Manhattan—are not mandated to carry transponders, and don’t. But the U.S. Coast Guard is hot to change those rules, and in fact just issued a draft of the new mandates that I’ll discuss tomorrow. In the meantime. let’s take a closer look at Vesseltracker and its cousins…

There are many Web sites tracking AIS targets, and it’s amazing how much they vary in style, extra features, and even motivation. Vesseltracker, for instance, is a business offering professional subscription services in addition to its free viewer, but also has some very active “community” functions, like vessel photo sharing. I found this shot of NY Pilot No. 1, and then learned it was taken by “MSC Michi”—who is site champ, with 3,800 different photos uploaded to date, and he has close competitors! At any rate, it’s been a while since I tried to list free AIS viewers, and there have been subtractions, additions, and modifications:
   Shine Micro Live AIS no longer covers Boston and Maine but excels in the Puget Sound area, and also has Long Island Sound and Chesapeake Bay (if you use the Google Maps version). is still doing a nice job with San Francisco bay, including a neat animation of the last hour’s traffic. Unfortunately AISLive—the big daddy of AIS plotting sites, now covering 2,000 spots in 100 countries—no longer has a non-subscription viewing area. But the Siitech viewers, which usefully count AIS types, have quite a bit of coverage, as does Vesseltracker.
   A group of ShipPlotter enthusiasts have got the UK covered pretty well at ShipAIS, but there’s also OrwellAIS, which covers just a small area around Suffolk—but includes interesting twists like databases of vessels seen, even a Class B list—and Saltdean covering the Southeast coast. And Live AIS World is a grab bag of enthusiast sites (and dead links). You all may have some good additions to this list, but I’ll close with a newish site called Localizatodo; it only covers Spain, Portugal, and the Canary Islands, and is only in Spanish, but has some excellent features like track history, illustrated below and bigger here. I imagine that eventually all the best viewing features and public coverage areas will pile up on a few big sites. And, if the USCG gets it way (very likely), there will be lots more vessels to track in a year or two, even outside the U.S.


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. Boats says:

    Here is a site for those in Oregon. It’s run by the local Ham Radio group.

  2. Kees says: is another one that seems to have good coverage, is free and low delay; it’s hosted by a Greek university.
    In particular for you east coasters, here’s a reminder of why we like AIS over here in NW Europe:

  3. Norton Rider says:

    I was just looking at Shine Micro’s live AIS (google maps version) and noticed a interesting thing. There’s an AIS target high and dry, miles from the water, in Lynnwood, WA (north of Seattle, just west of I-5, south of the I-5/I-405 junction).
    Is it common to have ground transmitters away from shorelines sending AIS signals?

  4. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Thanks, Kees! I forgot about I think it may use the same New York Harbor target feeds as vesseltracker, but does a better job of plotting them, tracks included.

  5. Roger says:

    IMO not happy!
    “Maritime security – AIS ship data
    At its 79th session in December 2004, the Maritime Safety Committee (MSC) agreed that, in relation to the issue of freely available automatic information system (AIS)-generated ship data on the world-wide web, the publication on the world-wide web or elsewhere of AIS data transmitted by ships could be detrimental to the safety and security of ships and port facilities and was undermining the efforts of the Organization and its Member States to enhance the safety of navigation and security in the international maritime transport sector.
    The Committee condemned the regrettable publication on the world-wide web, or elsewhere, of AIS data transmitted by ships and urged Member Governments, subject to the provisions of their national laws, to discourage those who make available AIS data to others for publication on the world-wide web, or elsewhere from doing so.
    In addition, the Committee condemned those who irresponsibly publish AIS data transmitted by ships on the world-wide web, or elsewhere, particularly if they offer services to the shipping and port industries.”

  6. ibsailn says:

    Anybody know who covers the Malaca Straights….I want to watch the end of the Volvo Ocean Race Leg without waiting for the every 3 hour position reports and know the boats were required to be using AIS when in the straights?

  7. I run and I have thought about the security aspects of providing AIS data live on the internet. The local paper prints lists of ships visiting the two local ports along with their estimated times of arrival. The Port of Felixstowe publishes on its web site a sailing schedule including estimated times of arrival. So, irrespective of AIS a terrorist has easy access to all the information he / she requires. Not only that, AIS technology is sufficiently cheap and portable that a terrorist would have no problem buying equipment to view his / her own AIS information. The same if true for pirates, they would simply have their own AIS equipment and are hardly likely to be connecting to the internet to view AIS information about ships within VHF line of sight.

  8. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    I agree with you, Martin. AIS information is in the public domain and available to bad guys if they want it, regardless of who puts what on the Web. I think you, and other AIS Web site proprietors, are doing a service, not a disservice.
    I also note that the IMO concerns date from 2004, and I don’t recall hearing much about it since then.

  9. deckofficer says:

    The IMO concerns are still relevant. They have had the effect of forcing the AISLive service to require users of that service to register and to use a proper login procedure.
    AIS sites without a proper login or any security are just a open invitation to wrongdoers ; it is just plain common sense.
    In addition , many sites are inaccurate in decoding and displaying AIS data and we have recently seen the sad spectacle of users of such sites complaining to the Authorities about such things as ships passing on the “wrong side” of buoys etc when the ship in fact passed on the correct side of the buoy.
    These users of the sites seem to have no comprehension of how much trouble and time they are causing to both the Ship’s master and officers, owners and the Authorities themselves.
    In short, they are decreasing safety at sea and making life miserable for the seafarers that they are wrongly accusing.

  10. Anshuman says:

    As a mariner, I frankly don’t see any REAL link between AIS and security. In fact the first AIS paper put in at the IMO by Sweden and SAAB clearly outlined it’s use as an aid to navigation (esp. situational awareness – and a real time idea of the hdg of the vsl) – this was back in 1992 when the first draft of the AIS rules was conceived.
    Today, practically speaking too, mariners use AIS for situational awareness – esp. when it is displayed on an electronic chart or next best, on a radar.
    Reg. ship tracking for security – terribly easy to ge it in daily shipping news papers. If you have the bl number for a cargo on baord, every liner container company allows you to track the vsl on a chart, real time, from their website.
    reg. ppl reporting about passing buoys on the wring side, if you have not done it, it is impossible to prove otherwise as long as you have plotted the positions on the chart regularly. All authrities are well aware of any gps limitations / datum shifts in their waters.

  11. Anshu says:

    What prevents a terrorist from
    a) Bribing the local agent (oh yes – he has enough dough to get a grenade launcher and explo to blow the ship, but not enough to.. uh.. .tip the agent.. huh?)
    b) placing his cargo on the desired ship… that way the shipper on his own tells him where the ship is (eg: a container ship..)
    c) visit the local pub and get all this info free of cost.
    Security concerns? I don’t believe there are any with thses sites.
    Actually these sites allow the seafarer’s family to keep track of where his ship is (and when to expect a call from him / call him on the mobile) – I definitely know some of my friends who are doing this.

  12. deckofficer says:

    Sadly, some of the ‘AIS ShipPlotters’ have been reporting ships and making life miserable for seafarers ; it is not a 5 minute job to get the Coastguard off your back when you get into Port, particularly when you are tired after a long passage.
    The ‘AIS ShipPlotters’ have also reported ships to the authorities for having ‘faulty transmissions’ when the ships’s transmissions have been totally fine. They have even reported AIS equipped buoys as being ‘faulty’ and ‘jumping’ 600 miles….
    The ISPS code is already in place, both ashore and onboard since 9/11, to deal with the likes of Ships Agents and ‘talk down at the bar’. It does not help us mariners at sea in our efforts to improve security that our movements are shown (and discussed) on these ‘AIS ShipPlotters’ websites.

Join the conversation

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *