Apps for Sailors: Smartphone AIS

While Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) have been appearing on more commercial and recreational vessels, many sailors still find it to be cost-prohibitive. As an alternative, I recently used a combination of smartphone apps and AIS websites...
Author:
Publish date:

While Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) have been appearing on more commercial and recreational vessels, many sailors still find it to be cost-prohibitive. As an alternative, I recently used a combination of smartphone apps and AIS websites to watch vessel traffic during a sail from Catalina Island. Though other boats couldn’t see me on their chartplotters, I could see where my boat fit into the traffic by using websites, and I found it to be very helpful and better yet, free.

AIS_OCT

To display my boat’s AIS information, I installed Mobile AIS (mAIS), a free app from MarineTraffic, registered my email address, and entered my vessel’s MMSI number. The app broadcasts AIS information over the web using the smartphone’s GPS position and cellular data networks. Once loaded, I clicked “Start” to begin reporting my position, including our status, position, course and speed. Periodic position updates continued until I selected “Stop.”

Within a few minutes, we were able to view our vessel on MarineTraffic.com, which maintains a worldwide network of AIS receivers In theory, the data is shared by a number of AIS sites, though there may be delays or vessel information may be out-of-date. In practice, we found MarineTraffic to be quite accurate. Since this data was not being transmitted through VHF radio frequencies, our AIS information was not displayed on the chartplotters of nearby vessels, only on websites. So even though we could see our boat and nearby boats on the web, we were not visible on their AIS.

In addition to viewing AIS online, there are several apps that display it. Ship Finder ($4.99), MarineTraffic ($3.99) and Boat Beacon ($9.99) display real-time AIS vessel information as well as other useful features such as collision detection, man overboard tracking and anchor watch. Like mAIS, Boat Beacon transmits position data over the cellular data network.

By combining my AIS and MarineTraffic.com—both for free—I was able to use my smartphone to help navigate the busy shipping lanes. Of course, this is not a substitution for dedicated AIS, nor should it be used for navigation, but knowing the speed and distance of approaching container ships helped us navigate a safer crossing. Using this technique, groups of racers or cruisers could follow one another on-screen, something that could be especially useful for longer distance or multi-day events.

Related

albintoilet

Gear: Albin Pump Marine Toilet

Head Start Is there room for a new marine toilet? Albin Pump Marine thinks so, having just introduced its line of Swedish-built heads—ranging from compact to full-size models—to the American market. The toilets feature vitreous porcelain bowls and either wooden or thermoplastic ...read more

07n_45R2699

Multihull Sailor: Classic Cats

If you’re looking for a decent sub-40ft cruising cat, you have few choices when it comes to new-boat offerings. It is a well-known fact that the multihull market has taken off in a way very few could have predicted. Despite Hurricane Irma’s recent destruction of a large part of ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com Thanks a bunch  This scene is very calm and seamanlike. No frantic rope throwing or shouting. As he passes the line to the gent on the dock, the crew on the boat says, quietly and clearly, “Would you ...read more

mcarthy-and-mouse

Experience: McCarthy and the Mouse

Sitting at the helm in a light breeze, my arms crusted with a fine rime of salt, my skin so dry I’d lost my fingerprints, I heard a clatter and a curse from below. There were only three of us a thousand miles from shore and only one on watch at a time. Usually, the off watch lay ...read more

2018-giftGuide

2018 Holiday Gift Guide

Brass Yacht Lamp Does someone on your gift list spend the whole winter missing the warm days on the water? Let them bring a little bit of nautical atmosphere home with this new lamp from Weems & Plath. The glass enclosure means the flame cannot be blown out even by ...read more

image001

Opinion: On Not Giving Up Sailing

E.B. White was 64 when he wrote his now-famous essay “The Sea and the Wind That Blows,” which begins as a romantic paean to sailing and then drifts, as if spun around by a pessimistic eddy of thought, into a reflection on selling his boat. Does an aging sailor quit while he’s ...read more

1812-JeanneaueNewsVideo

Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 410

Designed by Marc Lombard, the Sun Odyssey 410 shares much in common with her older siblings including of course, the walk-around deck. Other features that set the 410 apart from other models being introduced this year include the 410’s “negative bow” shape allowing for a longer ...read more