Simrad AI50, a lot of Class B for the money
I took to the Simrad AI50 at first sight, but the more I learn the more I like. Above is the back of a unit I played with in demo mode at the NMEA Conference, and I’ve also been checking out the manual (available here). Here’s what I’ve learned so far. First of all, as indicated by those dual (daisy chained) SimNet cables above, the AI50 is a NMEA 2000 AIS transponder, the only one I know of. In fact it also puts out AIS plot data on 0183, but I think the included GPS is N2K, and so are some of the network features. Like easily initiating a DSC VHF call to an AIS target, without having to type in its MMSI number. (At the back of the manual, Simrad has nicely listed all the standard and proprietary PGNs the AI50 uses, but I still can’t tell if this feature will work with other manufacturers N2K radios, though right now Simrad has the only ones.)
And check out the SD card (cover removed) on the rear end photo. The AI50 can use it to record, and play back, vessel info and AIS targets, making the unit a sort of mini VDR. Might be useful for deconstructing a race, or an accident. I dare say that the card can also be used to flash Simrad devices on the network. I was also impressed with the included base map, which even has nav aids, though maybe just for U.S. waters. And I like “Buddy” tracking, which just means that you can list—or tag—favorite vessels, and you’ll be notified if they come into AIS range again. Altogether there’s a lot to like about a separate AIS plotting display, which can be kept at a different range and mode than your plotter/radar (one possible set up below), and Simrad’s version in particular. Especially as it will retail for around $1,500, not a lot of premium over other Class B’s. Of course, in the U.S. that’s not until it’s fully FCC approved, which we’re hoping is very soon.