Cautiously Optimistic on MarineTraffic Internet AIS

These days I feel obliged to include a warning every time I write about AIS over the Internet. What you see in a nice app like ShipFinder HD probably does not include every vessel that is transmitting AIS info, even in fairly well-covered areas like the Miami/Lauderdale area, and many areas aren’t covered at all.
Author:
Publish date:
 The MarineTraffic website draws on data from hundreds of AIS stations around the country

The MarineTraffic website draws on data from hundreds of AIS stations around the country

These days I feel obliged to include a warning every time I write about AIS over the Internet. What you see in a nice app like ShipFinder HD probably does not include every vessel that is transmitting AIS info, even in fairly well-covered areas like the Miami/Lauderdale area, and many areas aren’t covered at all. That’s because what most of us see on computers, phones or tablets that are connected to the web is target data collected by patchy networks of volunteers, whose shore antennas may miss weaker 2-watt Class B AIS transmissions, even from fairly close by, or stronger 12-watt Class A signals that are obscured by buildings or terrain. (Or they may suddenly go offline because the volunteer’s kid trips on a power cord!)

One particularly good source of free Internet AIS is MarineTraffic (MT), which seems to have attracted a large number of volunteer listening stations and recently added a slew of new features along with a completely redesigned web interface. However, MarineTraffic has simultaneously become a commercial AIS tracking operation, and I’ve had unhappy experiences with that kind of transition before. Currently, MarineTraffic seems to have the best global coverage with the most user features among the free sites, but will a hunger for subscription revenues mean decreased AIS tracking for freeloaders like me?

 An example of one of the many types of MarineTraffic screens

An example of one of the many types of MarineTraffic screens

So far so good, and I especially like the “free forever” notation on the basic membership plan. The overall plan list is also a good place to see all the features MarineTraffic offers, including satellite tracking of vessels beyond shore stations. Thus far, about the only new limitations for free users that I can detect are a limit of five vessels in “My Fleet” and only three days of vessel-track history. I think those features remain pretty useful, and I particularly like being able to tag friends’ vessels so that I get emailed when they enter or leave a specified port.

My own personal My Fleet isn’t limited to five vessels and my screen remains ad-free, because MT gave free premium subscriptions to all its volunteer station-keepers when the plans were introduced, and I was maintaining a receiver here in Camden, Maine, at the time. That was a nice gesture. It’s also neat being able to zoom into targets on a high-quality (Jeppesen C-Map) nautical chart anywhere in the world—another perk of a premium subscription.

There really can’t be too many AIS receiving stations, and I continue to think it’s a great opportunity for marinas and other coastwise marine businesses to “add a little value” and do a little marketing at a low cost. In fact, one reason I’ve been lax with my home station is that Wayfarer Marine set up a reliable station in Camden Harbor, and the in-house installer, Alden Cole, enjoys maintaining a volunteer station so much he also minds a home system high in the hills behind town.

Beyond that, there’s a station at the Lyman Morse boatyard in Thomaston, and retiree Walter Barnard recently opened another station in the north bay, while yet another station just popped up in Searsport.

Unfortunately, while it looks like the east side of Penobscot Bay will be well covered on MarineTraffic when spring arrives and lots more boats finally appear, the same cannot be said everywhere. Indeed, in many other places around the U.S. coast, there’s no Internet AIS coverage at all. If you have a spot and a few hundred dollars to invest, please consider becoming a MarineTraffic volunteer. In the interest of free-market competitiveness, I think we volunteers should also hedge our bets and contribute our feeds to other sites like AISHub, ShipFinder, and FleetMon as well, so MarineTraffic doesn’t end up cornering the market.

For more on Internet-based AIS, search “how to put AIS online” at panbo.com

Related

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell.Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.comGuaranteed result What you see on the end of this halyard isn’t a beautiful Flemish Eye worked by a rigger, but it will make a big difference when you have to “mouse” a line through the mast. If the ...read more

dometicadler-700x

How to: Upgrading Your Icebox

The time has come when the prospect of cold drinks and long-term food storage has you thinking about upgrading your icebox to DC-powered refrigeration. Duncan Kent has been there and done that, and has some adviceFresh food must be kept at a refrigerated temperature of 40 degrees ...read more

Jet-in-Belize

Cruising: Evolution of a Dream

There’s a time to go cruising and a time to stop. As Chris DiCroce found, you don’t always get to choose those timesAlbert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, ...read more

01a-rosemary-anchored-at-Qooqqut,-inland-from-Nuuk

Cruising: A Passage to Greenland

When a former winner of the Whitbread Round the World Race invites you to sail the Northwest Passage, there is only one sensible answer. No.More adventurous types might disagree, but they weren’t the ones facing frostbite of the lungs or the possibility of having the yacht’s hull ...read more

Allures-459-2018

Boat Review: Allures 45.9

Allures is not a name on the tip of many American sailors’ tongues, but it should be. After the debut of its 39-footer last year, the French company has made another significant entry into the U.S. midrange market with the Allures 45.9, an aluminum-hulled cruiser-voyager with ...read more

ZP-Sail-Away-pic-No

Jury-Rigging on Charter

A little know-how goes a long way on vacationThey say cruising is just fixing your boat in exotic places. Maybe that’s why so many people prefer to charter. After a week of sailing you pack your bags and step off your charter boat without another care in the world, leaving the ...read more