Ship Finder, networked AIS for the iPhone


Should I rename the blog iPanbo?  I know I’ve been focused on these marine apps a lot, but, as noted just last week, the developement velocity is awesome.  I first heard about Ship Finder this morning from the good gCaptain, who is working on a similar app (with more of a professional slant, natch), and judging from Ship Finder’s web page, I didn’t even think it was Apple approved yet.  But I learned otherwise when the enthusiastic developer showed up here, had copies running on iPhone and Touch in minutes, and, wow, it’s good.  This, mind you, is not AIS as presented on iNavX, which functions like a little plotter; this is AIS web style, collected from multiple shore receivers, plotted on Google maps, and often annotated with much more info than what is actually sent over the AIS system.  I hadn’t realized how usefully these “live” AIS feeds could work with an iPhone’s display power, portability and always-on internet connection…

But now I’m picturing the time, maybe not too far off, when I can know what’s going on AIS-wise out on the Bay, or elsewhere, wherever I am.  In fact, I already know via web AIS on my PC that the gorgeous S/Y Rebecca anchored in Camden’s outer harbor yesterday afternoon (I even watched her back down), and I hope to see her in the perfectly fair aluminum flesh soon. I dare guess that a future version of Ship Plotter might make it easy to take a picture of her and add it to a communal database, like the one at MarineTraffic. Which is not to say that a boater underway wouldn’t make use of Ship Plotter info (assuming he or she lacked their own AIS plotter).  The data I’ve seen so far was very fresh, and definitely could be used to ID and call a moving ship by name.
    But there is a major caveat to Ship Finder 1.0.  While it works great, it only supports five feeds for U.S. waters and some of those appear to be coming from a single receiver.  However, the developer is keen to add more U.S. data, and a user can already add a custom XML feed created with Ship Plotter software.  In other words I could set up a receiver here at Panbo HQ and serve it to any local Ship Plotter or Ship Finder users interested.  But, heck, I think I’m willing to serve it to anyone anywhere — whether they’re viewing on a PC or via all the smart phone apps that will surely follow Ship Finder — and have been meaning to look into the possibilities. Besides Ship Plotter, there seem to be easy data sharing techniques supported by Marine Traffic, maybe Siitech, and probably others.  I realize that there are companies building out serious AIS listening networks, and understandably charging for the data, but I think there’s room for amateur networks too.  Has anyone tried AIS serving?  Interested?

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.

14 Responses

  1. Mark says:

    I share live AIS data with other amateur users via “Shipplotter.” There’s a single internet server that gathers and redistributes the data. This system as been running for several years. Visit
    I’m thinkin’ there may be some issues with naming rights.

  2. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    I’m not sure what you mean, Mark, but if you’re referring to the link above that was labled Ship Finder but went to Ship Plotter, no worries. That was my fault, and I fixed it. The existing link to Ship Plotter really is the software site you’re using.
    Is Ship Plotter hard to set up? Is there any cost beyond AIS receiver and antenna?

  3. Devon says:

    Thanks for the great article Ben and for introducing me to gCaptain a while back, it’s nice to see how the pro’s operate their gear.
    Maybe we should start a forum thread to share AIS feeds then lee could provide a link from within his app. Copy and pasting is now enabled on the iPhone so I think this idea is doable.

  4. Mark says:

    Shipplotter is actually pretty good software. You have to buy it, but its cheap, updates are free, and there’s no additional fees to access the server for sharing. It’s up to you to supply a receiver system. The program accepts either NMEA serial data or discriminator output to a sound card in your computer.
    The program can be configured for charting aboard a vessel, or for shore-based use. You can load charts for it to display, or you can download satellite photos. It really is a powerful & versatile program, and gets updated regularly. Absolutely a bargin!
    I’ve had it running 24/7 at home 3 years now, connected to an SR162 receiver. I use the same program on a laptop when troubleshooting & setting up AIS systems. Give it a go! You can use a trial version, but to enable sharing you have to make a one-time payment. Just do it, you won’t be disappointed.
    To clarify, you need an internet connection to enable sharing received data with other Shipplotter users world-wide, and to download satellite photos. Aboard a boat (no internet) the program is much like any other charting software, displaying the local AIS targets from the boat’s receiver.

  5. caribelectronics says: is awesome!
    Last time I looked it had 316 stations providing data from multiple world regions.
    You can easily access statistics from each station, including maximum and average ranges.
    Plenty of stations achieving max. ranges over 200 miles. Often the long ranges are achieved with high antennas e.g. Cyprus #169 Antenna height 300m (1000 feet).
    The graphs of average and max distance against date/time are interesting.
    You can also select a coverage map from each station built up from an archive of received AIS data.
    It’s an open “community based” project run by a university in Greece. Anyone can join and start sending data to the system. I’d love to give it a go when I can get the equipment and antenna together. They even provide code so that you can embed an AIS map of your area into your own web site. If you’re already running Shipplotter it’s easy to send the data to at the same time.
    It’s great to look at areas like S. North Sea/English Channel. Often over 1000 vessels showing, many with photos etc. available just by clicking on the vessel.
    What a place for a relaxing day sail!!!

  6. brian says:

    Can anyone explain how to get direct-feed AIS information using INavX via their “TCP/IP NEMA Client” function? Even INavX doesn’t seem to be clear on it. All they can tell me is to find a NEMA AIS data source on the internet and enter the host and port address. ?????
    Any help would be very much appreciated!

  7. Anonymous says:

    Any SW that can accept a TCP/IP feed of NMEA data can display such data. There are a few “community” type outfits that will let you log in to their feed if you supply your own. iNavX’s TCP/IP NMEA Client function is really intended for using the iPhone as a repeater on your boat. Their are a few organizations (Pilot Associations, for example) that provide members with TCP/IP feeds, but are limited to members’ use. Not sure why you would want an internet feed on your iPhone with iNavX, you’d have some latency to deal with not to mention a ton of data that would be of no practical use.
    Bob Etter

  8. To celebrate Ship Finder 1.3 (due out any day soon) including US ship locations we have changed Ship Finder Free to our California feed that includes LA and San Francisco!
    It has taken some time to get these feeds working and we will be releasing some promo codes for our paid app when it gets released. We are hoping in the next week.
    In the mean time, here is Ship Finder Free..…324177409&mt=8

  9. max stirner says:

    It’s a shame there are no free TCP/IP feeds for displaying targets on my chartplotting software… yet 😉

  10. M. Y. says:

    Hate to have to say it but Ship Finder (iPhone, iPod, iPad) simply doesn’t work… at the moment anyway (mid Dec 2010). I made the mistake of buying it from the app store instead of trying the free version. If you’re thinking of using this, TRY THE FREE VERSION first!
    For me, it simply didn’t work. I found a few vessels by expanding the scale outrageously (the whole West Coast) but even then it showed no traffic in San Diego, none at all! All the time, the excellent web site showed tons of AIS returns in the San Diego approach area and San Diego Bay as is normal.
    I don’t know what the problem is but Ship Finder, while it looks quite nice and is easy to use, is no fun at all because it simply doesn’t work. I hope they fix it soon!

  11. Bremer Speck says:

    M.Y., comparing Ship Finder to is comparing apples to oranges! Ship Finder is strictly an Apple iPhone and iPad app and not available nor working on the web. Whereas, is strictly a WWW product and not available for the iPhone/iPad.
    Ship Finder, by the way, does have a WWW product, which is much cleaner and nicer looking than the product. Their screen display is cluttered-up with advertising. Ship Finder’s WWW product has none of it. However, it has not been released to the public as yet!
    The one thing that most people, by my experience, do not understand is, where AIS data originates and how it gets displayed on the WWW or iPhone/iPad.
    The data is distributed by means of an AIS data feed. Neither Ship Finder nor marinetraffic own these data feeds.
    It is the owners (commercial and private enterprises as well as government) which “share” their data. Some share it with Ship Finder, some with and some with nobody or with all.
    This is why you see different results! Google this subject and you will learn a lot.
    It all depends on who provided the data and to whom!
    For example, I am the owner of AIS data broadcasting stations in Portsmouth, NH and St. Petersburg, FL.
    The data is going to both, Ship Finder and
    Call me a private enterprise. I set-up stations at my own expense because there was no coverage and I wanted to be able to see who is out there. Sort of a hobby of mine. Besides, I am a sailor, too.
    Anyway, I do hope this clears things up a little bit.

  12. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Thanks, Ronald. I know there are many ways to set up a shore AIS receiver that passes target data to the Web, but didn’t you use the Digital Yacht AISnet product?

  13. Bremer Speck says:

    Hi Ben, yes, indeed. I am using the “AISnet Internet Base Station” from DY in both places. Not exactly “plug and play” but it is easy to set-up. You need an always-on broadband connection, though.

  14. Anonymous says:

    hi i work for a pilot association and i am looking for an android app with a tcp/ip nema client. does ship finder have this functionality? we have our own ais antennas and do not want to rely on a 3rd party for ais data. i think it’s preposterous that iNavX is the only app, i know of, that has this capability.

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