August 2006 Archives

AIS-equipped weather bouys, multitasking big time

Aug 3, 2006

NOAA bouy vis SeaCasI’m still looking for more detail on this story—like how many buoys, and when?—but I understand that the U.S. Coast Guard and NOAA are working together to put AIS transponders on many of the offshore weather collecting buoys. Of course that means that the buoys will show up as targets. But also broadcast will be the sensor data—current, wind, visibility, etc—which will supposedly then get ashore (and into the satellite and other services) more frequently, plus be available direct to anyone with an AIS receiver and the right software. But that’s not the only purpose, by any means. The transponders are apparently set up to forward received target info via Iridium to the USCG Maritime Domain Awareness Program. Hence, “the buoys would form a ‘picket line’ around the continental and southern Alaska coast that would detect AIS-enabled ships as they pass in near real-time to enhance maritime security, as well as support safe marine transportation for commerce.”
     (Images graciously passed along by Fred Pot)
NOAA AIS bouy 2 via SeaCas

PS 8/8: I stand corrected: while the transponders described above are being “discussed”, what the USCG is actually working on right now is simply placing “AIS receive-only equipment on certain weather buoys in order to receive AIS signals from ships further offshore than can be done with shore-based receivers.”

Expanded US AIS requirements, good for Class B?

Aug 2, 2006

Navsim AIS Collision

Above, and bigger here, is how NavSim’s new NavCruiser Pro indicates dangerous CPA situations. (And, please folks, if you want to show off how well your AIS application presents CPA info, don’t hesitate to send me screen shots.) But today my real subject is the Coast Guard’s desire to add some 17,000 more vessels to those already required to carry AIS in U.S. waters. Here’s some of the language from a notice about the proposed rulemaking, which may take effect in 2007.
   The vessel groups affected are all commercial self-propelled vessels 65 feet or greater (including fishing and passenger vessels), towing vessels 26 feet or greater and over 600 horsepower, vessels carrying 50 or more passengers or certain dangerous cargoes; dredges and certain high speed passenger craft; operating on U.S. navigable waters. We estimate that the number of vessels affected by the AIS portion of this rulemaking is approximately 17,400 foreign and domestic vessels

It is my understanding that this new AIS fleet—which includes, yipee, the Maine state ferries that criss cross my Bays in all conditions plus many of the fishing boats that meander around unpredictably on the offshore Banks—will have the choice of Class A or Class B transponders, and the latter will be on the market this fall. So in the next year, seeing AIS targets will become even more valuable, and the ability to transpond yourself much less expensive. But remember that Class B units only broadcast dynamic data once every 30 seconds, at best. Won’t that make single channel receivers seem noticeably slow on the update? There are other issues with Class B, but they’ll have to wait.

To transpond or not, part 2

Aug 1, 2006

SoZ AIS Panbo crop

Here, and bigger here, is some gear installed at the communications desk just behind Spirit of Zopilote’s helm. Mind you that the 64’ SoZ is not required to carry AIS; skipper Bruce Kessler—a guy with approximately 25,000 hours at sea—voluntarily equipped himself with that full-on Class A Furuno FA-100 transponder. “I figure it's important to us. We travel outside, we travel in the shipping lanes.” Kessler says (I’ve been listening to the interview tapes today). Of course he values the AIS target information showing on Nobeltec Admiral above and at his helm, but he also knows that at least some ships are seeing him in similar detail. Several times during his East Coast transit he had ship officers or pilots radio him—”call me by name, instead of ‘boat at …, course of…etc.’ and say something like‘we have a little problem here, that other vessel over there is…and would you mind moving a bit more to starboard…’.  It’s just how we were hoping this would work!” 
   Not that the Furuno unit has been flawless. Apparently it’s been back for servicing once already and still won’t interface nicely with SoZ’s electronic compass. That’s why her AIS target at rest wasn’t quite right when I first spotted it a month ago. Nor is it easy to input data like the vessel’s dimensions, but that gave me an opportunity to fiddle with the thing. (Unlike a month ago, SoZ’s AIS target now shows correct dimensions, which are actually input relative to its GPS antenna, which means there’s some math involved, which may be why it gets messed up so often, as in yesterday’s entry).
   At any rate, Kessler is a good example of a serious cruiser who has chosen to transpond, and is glad of it. But I’m sure he’s too damn salty to count on it. Which is good because—you might find this surprising—many ships out there don’t actually have a decent way to monitor the AIS data being received by their own transponder. In fact, take a look at the picture above again. That teensy plotting screen on the FA-100 (now superceeded by Furuno’s newer FA-150) actually exceeds the minimum specs for the Minimum Keyboard and Display (MKD), which is all that a ship is so far mandated to have in the wheelhouse. Transpond away, but you may not be noticed.