Staying in Touch

I take my Bayliner out on fishing runs through the congested waters off Norfolk. There’s a lot of commercial traffic as well as military. I’d like to get AIS so I can see who’s around me in the early morning darkness, but my chartplotter isn’t that old and I don’t want to have to redo my electronics and spend a grand. I also don’t have the room to put in a standalone unit. Suggestions?

– Paul Gardner, Norfolk, Va.

Automatic Identification System (AIS) is a collision-avoidance system that allows the exchange of information between ships in an area, including their identity, course, speed and closest point of approach (CPA). It’s a valuable safety addition to your onboard electronics. Proprietary black-box AIS is available with most manufacturers’ multifunction displays and will set you back about $600 for a receiver (that reads incoming information) or $1,200 for a transponder (that broadcasts your information to others). But if you already have a plotter that may not be compatible with a black-box solution, maybe you can get the same benefit with a new AIS-enabled VHF radio.

ICOM’s M506 fixed-mount VHF has integrated dual-channel AIS that shows real-time vessel traffic data on a 132-by-96-pixel display. It also has a 25-watt loudhailer with preprogrammed fog signals and digital selective calling (DSC). There are five models of this radio, so be sure to get the AIS-enabled version that retails for about $650.

Standard Horizon has the GX 2200, a fixed-mount VHF that also displays AIS target information (MMSI, call sign, ship name, BRG, DST, SOG and COG). It alerts you when a class A or B AIS ship may be approaching too close to your location via the CPA alarm. It sells for just under $400.

Both of these are AIS receivers, so you can get information from ships around you, but you will not be transmitting your own data. By combining a VHF radio with AIS, you save money and dash space, and it’s a good way to get familiar with AIS before committing to a whole black-box solution or standalone platform.

New VHFs keep you safer in crowded harbors or busy shipping lanes by providing AIS information as well as having rudimentary navigation capabilities with built-in GPS, waypoint storage (up to 100) and information that will help get you home, such as compass heading, distance and time to waypoint, and speed over ground. And who couldn’t use an updated VHF, which is one of the most important pieces of equipment on board?

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