The horrid run of foul weather has finally broken here, and I’m happily on Cape Cod for a few days of “researching” a cruising story…so posting may be irregular this week. I did have a couple of very illuminating conversations about AIS listeners last Friday that I want to start sharing. It seems that the technology is moving even faster than we realized; two reliable sources predict that most every brand of plotter will read AIS target messages by next February’s Miami Boat Show! I also heard an interesting report on receiver quality. One of my sources says he tested a SeaLinks RadarPlus dual channel listener against a low cost Chinese-built model, and—given the same antenna and circumstances—the RadarPlus “saw” twice as many targets at almost twice the range. I look forward to my own testing, and yours, but right now I have to go boating.
May 2005 Archives
One of the things I enjoy about the marine industry is how an inventive boater—there are lots, particularly sailors for some reason—can still get a product to market. You’re looking at the world premier of Navlight Indicators…Larry Schaffer sitting in a rented booth at Strictly Sail Miami, ready to explain his very clever navigation light accessories. He has since put up an informative Web site, so I’ll just note that he’s created little LED’s that will show you just how your running/anchor lights are switched, plus a current sensor system that will make them blink if a light fails. You can get a dedicated panel that showcases the idea, or parts so you can upgrade an existing panel. Good job, Larry!
Rugged waterproof build, 3 levels of LED light going all the way from “holy cow” bright to 28 hours on 3 AAAs dim, this Friday’s gadget is the best boat headlamp I’ve had my mitts on. Plus the accessory red gizmo adds backup or can protect your night vision. The $39 EOS and $10 Pilot are also good examples of the amazingly detailed product reviews some outdoor folks are putting on the Web, like here, here, and here. So I shall say no more. Have a great weekend.
Comar has a new SLR100 single frequency AIS listener for £299 suggested UK retail (the SLR200 is £575). Since they now make both single and dual frequency, I asked them about the differences. It turns out that their receiver, unlike Nasa’s, automatically switches channels every minute. “The main reason behind this was that just occasionally we have seen ships with faulty transponders that are only transmitting on one channel, so we wanted to ensure we at least caught those some of the time.” The downside of this approach is that infrequent data—like an anchored ship’s name, sent on one frequency every 6 minutes—might slip by the auto switching for a long time.
I’m also learning that the AIS system allows “competent authorities” to manage frequency use in busy coastal areas (apparently the transponders can be remotely controlled by such authorities). Comar confirmed that “Authorized authorities can command individual or all vessels to shift to another frequency. Both the SLR100 and 200 use synthesized frequency controlled radios so that they can also shift frequency. Although the high seas frequencies for AIS will always be the default, it may be that as more congestion occurs in busy areas channel switching will become more prevalent, Tokyo Bay for instance use 2 local frequencies.” Thank you, Comar, for the information. Seems like the frequency issues are a little more complicated than they first appeared, and I intend to keep on digging.
I wish I knew. ReggataNews.com has been posting some great photos of the yachts, but they almost never show electronics (generally the case for megayachts, unfortunately, as owners and charterers don’t often drive them). Above is a tight crop from a hi res image (more here, credit: Carlo Borlenghi/Rolex) of the 174’ (53m) Drumbeat. You can make out massively complex helm stations port and starboard (there’s redundancy!) and at least one large hooded ECDIS or radar unit. The guy in the middle may be “handling” 26,000 sq. ft. of sail with a little forest of joysticks. I must say that wearing PFD’s on this flying bridge seems a bit over the top. On the other hand, some of the boats that went too far north have been getting pounded. The skipper of Sojana reported dryly, "We're hammering along at 12 knots right on course, right down the great circle at 075 degrees true. Some of the electronics aren't working as well as they used to, but we are reasonably happy.”
Nobeltec just announced an InSight Sounder option for its VNS and Admiral charting+++ programs. The company can now supply the soft– and hardware for plotting, radar, AIS, and fishfinding, including a heading sensor and even a wireless display. Nobeltec has also established a relationship with SkyMate, the easy-to-use satellite messaging and monitoring system that I’ve followed with much interest. Their respective programs can now share a PC and sensors nicely, and maybe more (not much on either company’s sites yet). Finally, Nobeltec has slashed the price of its AIS listener (was it the first to offer AIS to yachts?), and is running some new rebate programs. And we can imagine that the lads in the lab are working on more ways to expand the total package.
Panbo—all AIS, all the time! I’m surprised to be writing so much on this subject, but there’s a lot going on, and you all seem so interested. Yesterday’s discovery was that ACR is giving away a PC simulation of its GlobalWatch Class A AIS set, an interesting all-in-one design that includes a qwerty keyboard. The software emulates all the machine’s functions, and thus is quite informative about the operational nuts and bolts of AIS, particularly its little discussed messaging and polling capabilities. There’s even a control panel that lets you manage the signals other vessels are sending. In this screen shot (bigger here), Dora has sent out a “Sinking!” alert and M/V Panbo responds (hey, it’s raining and ugly here). The software is in a zip file here, and seems quite safe and unobtrusive—I don’t think it writes even one line to your registry file.
The June issue of PMY includes my take on the Furuno/MaxSea alliance. I titled it “Keys to the Kingdom” because it’s truly a big deal for Furuno to give PC software access to its whole NavNet system. It really shows what Ethernet can do, besides string multifunction displays together, and I’m guessing it will “encourage” Garmin, Northstar, and Raymarine to develop or find PC programs to run with their Ethernet systems. Dedicated electronics and PC-based systems used to be parallel universes (with a few significant exceptions); now they’re coming together. Good!
I used to refer people to AISlive as a great way to learn what the technology is doing for marine safety, but unfortunately the revised public service has turned out to be rather limited. Yesterday I tried out a Xanatos Holding’s viewer and it accesses nearly as much data as AISlive used to (though it only covers the Vancouver, Canada, area). A bonus was spotting Le Grand Bleu, a remarkable 354’ megayacht that carries a 74'’ sloop as a tender! Xanatos is the developer of Titan AIS software, seems to be working on a Class B transponder, and has a good guide to AIS on its site. By the way, LGB’s AIS “static information” indicates that it’s a “Cargo” ship with a “77m” beam, which I imagine is a case of GIGO, the old database term for operator error, “garbage in, garbage out”.
Yike! Above is the OPC’s prediction for 8 pm tomorrow night, my time. Today, 20 of the mightiest sailing yachts on the planet will set off from New York in a Transatlantic Challenge meant to celebrate, and smash, the 12 day, 4 hour race record set by Charlie Barr 100 years ago (also well explained by Josh Adams here). Somewhere the famously hard-driving skipper may be chuckling. If I’d been invited to join the fascinating mix of swells, enthusiasts, and pros (some apparently obnoxious) making the crossing, I’d be feeling a bit like a squirrel in front of a truck. That low looks like a lot more weather than is normal this time of year. I’ll bet the onboard weather guys and routers like Commander’s are quite focused right now. It seems like communications and forecasting technology will play a big role in whether these boats get a sleigh ride or a pounding. I’ll be following the race with interest this week (and hoping to learn more about the electronics used).
Monday, 11 am update: the Grand Prix boats have headed way south and are now making 18 knots. Meanwhile the big low may stall right over Cape Cod, which is where I was supposed to go boating later this week. Drat!
Tuesday, 12 am update: the gale warnings here in Maine and on the Cape have been upgraded to storm warnings, NE gusts up to 50k tonight, but it’s still not clear how the racers will fare, though the ones who went way south are looking pretty smart right now.