ComNav Class A AIS transponder, with NMEA 2000!

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Dec 14, 2009
ComNav Compact Class A AIS.jpg

Very cool!  It looks like the compact and relatively inexpensive Class A AIS Transponder that SRT teased last summer is not only getting close to real, but that it will also -- nice surprise -- have NMEA 2000 output (in addition to regular NMEA 0183 HS and RS232 PC outputs).  The ComNav data sheet is available here (thanks, Dave!), but there are some caveats...

For one, the Voyager X3, as ComNav is calling it, is not yet FCC approved and therefore it's not yet for sale in the U.S.  And the price is not listed (I've asked), so we don't yet know if ComNav met SRT's hoped for "less than $2,000 retail."  Plus, the N2K output won't come until a software upgrade is issued in "late 2010."
   But given all those caveats, this sure looks like an interesting new option in AIS.  At 8"W x 4.2" H x 5.4" D, the Voyager X3 is sort of similar to the neat Simrad AI-50, only with the ability to transmit at 12 watts instead of 2.  A yacht carrying a compact Class A transponder like this will get seen a lot further away, and will also be able to input its navigation state and destination, just like the big boys.  And whereas we know that SRT actually builds these for OEM clients, we can probably expect to see it under other brand names soon.
   And what about SRT's promise for a small, inexpensive AIS receiver printed circuit board?  Well, I have no idea if Standard Horizon is using one in its new GX radio combos, but I'm pretty sure there's one inside Digital Yacht's new ANT200 seen below.  Yup, that's a complete true dual channel receiver just 4 inches in diameter, and it only costs $300 with it's own stubby VHF antenna.  Digital Yacht's got another interesting AIS receiver product I'll detail soon, and it sure looks like SRT is making good on its promises.



I've learned from ComNav that the expected MSRP for the Voyager X3 will be $2,999. So maybe I spoke too soon about SRT's promises coming true. In fact, you can already buy an ACR Nauticast2 Class A transponder for $2,999:

Then again, the price of SRT's original, and perfectly good, OEM Class B transponder has fallen nicely over time:

Posted by: Ben at December 14, 2009 3:06 PM | Reply

Ben: If we see retail discounts of ~20% on Comnav like we do on Furuno than $3,000 is still a pretty good starting price, about one third lower than the Furuno FA150.

But the Comnav is actually an inch *wider* than the Furuno and the "late 2010" date for N2K is ridiculous. Why bother, since anyone who wants one now will have to use 0183 directly (as there are no 0183-2000 bridges that support AIS at the moment)? I doubt that many who run 0183 wires now will pull them when the N2K firmware revision is released. (Though I guess maybe I would!)

But I do think the idea of putting N2K on a piece of "professional" gear is interesting, in that it acknowledges that recreational boaters are growing unhappy with the prospects (real or imagined) of second-class-citizen treatment of Class B AIS users.


Posted by: Adam at December 14, 2009 6:23 PM | Reply

Adam, The Furuno FA150 is actually a two piece system, with the black box FA1501 AIS transponder much larger than the FA1502 Monitor. That's not really clear on the web page, but it's illustrated in the install manual:

And an interesting link regarding SRT and expanding Class A mandates:

Posted by: Ben at December 14, 2009 7:06 PM | Reply

I think "transponder" is a misnomer for AIS equipment. The term was coined in Aviation for a radio that transmits a response when interrogated by radio from a ground based radar site. AIS does not wait for someone to ask it where it is, it just transmits and receives continuously. For that reason, I hold that "Transciever" is the proper term, and notice that most manufacturers seem to agree. Vendors are more sensitive to the language that customers might search for, and tend to use both terms in their literature.

Posted by: Sandy Daugherty at April 6, 2010 4:44 PM | Reply

We've been around this tree before, Sandy. I think you're right that AIS doesn't quite meet the definition of transponder because it's automatic. On the other hand, the time organizing scheme is interactive. Plus transceiver, while completely true, is too general.

At any rate, the USCG and other authorities use transponder, and that's good enough for me...

Posted by: Ben at April 6, 2010 4:52 PM | Reply

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