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Trail of the Missing Link

Automatic Identification System (AIS) becomes a seamless electronics suite element.

March 1, 2013
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A lot of anglers have taken to AIS as a new utility and uncovered some pretty clever ways to use it to provide them a competitive angling edge. As an integral part of the total fishing network, AIS is certainly here to stay, even if it is in its infancy.

As both DSC and AIS are integrated in networks and become more intuitive, they’ll likely pick up users. With the right software, your plotter screen becomes an extended VHF radio screen. This is more than a clever stunt. When your VHF and plotter are linked up, and NMEA 2000 allows this to happen, the network is tightened up, various operations are simplified and life gets easier.

Both position polling and contacting vessels with a MMSI number listed on their AIS info on your plotter become push-button operations. You are able to take advantage of the features your electronics suite offers without having to work at it, which means you can keep your mind on fishing or the emergency at hand.

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Right now, with a couple of exceptions, if you want to call an MMSI number target that appears on the plotter screen, revealed by either DSC or AIS, you have to go to your VHF and enter the nine-digit number manually.

There’s nothing besides software preventing this from becoming an automatic operation, and so far Garmin is leading the way in this refinement. That’s the only company that has taken the step to make it a totally integrated function.

Via NMEA 2000, Garmin plotters automatically feed the MMSI number that appears on the screen into your VHF. FCC requirements prohibit initiating a VHF call from the plotter, says Garmin’s Greg DeVries. So the plotter transfers that particular button push to the VHF, from which you make the call. No need to enter multiple digits on a small screen in a moving boat.

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“With our plotters, you put the cursor on the target on the plotter, it sends the MMSI number to the radio, you pick up the radio and accept the message from the plotter, and you are connected to that vessel,” says DeVries. “It takes a lot of the work out of it.” The integration with NMEA 2000 is the key. The primary use as DeVries sees it is as a safety feature: “Say you are in a shipping lane and your boat is disabled. You have a ship bearing down on you, and it appears as a target on your plotter. You touch the plotter, pick up the mike and talk. It’s that fast.”

Garmin is currently the only manufacturer that has wrapped up this integration, but a couple of others have it in the wings.

“While our VHF can send some data to the plotter, the radio integration has been basic,” says Jim McGowan, Raymarine’s product training manager. “Up until now we have not had full network access from the VHF. Right now we cannot tag a target and call it.”

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With AIS increasingly in the mix as part of an electronics suite, there is more priority for the radio to be a participating member of the network, McGowan acknowledges, and Raymarine is committed to the necessary software and hardware upgrades. Connectivity is accomplished with standard NMEA 2000 messages, which the current generation of Raymarine VHF radios do not have.

“Sometime next year we are looking to add features to the network, and Raymarine’s next round of upgrades promises to incorporate an enhanced data connection,” McGowan says.

John Luther, product manager for GeoNav, says the company’s 10- and 12-inch self-contained multifunction displays, the G10 and G12, are limited in that respect. “This is not something we focused on initially,” he says. “We are doing some AIS integration. Our plans are to reserve some of those features for the GIS 10 and GIS 12 systems with the integrated network. In those products, the components will be able to talk to each other much better.”

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Standard Horizon’s new CPN700i and CPN1010i plotters will also incorporate the AIS-MMSI direct call feature in the upgraded software, to be delivered with those plotters by summer, says vice president Jason Kennedy. Until then, Standard’s GX2150 Matrix AIS+, which is a VHF with an integrated AIS receiver, will automatically initiate communication with a target vessel. The GX2000, a simple VHF, also features the AIS target direct calling when you connect it to an external AIS, says Kennedy.

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