Boat Beacon & MarineTraffic mAIS, yipee or yike?
At first Boat Beacon may look like yet another iPad or iPhone app for viewing online AIS tracking services like ShipFinder, but in fact it’s a very new and slightly disconcerting form of AIS transponder. In other words that “Panbo BoatBeaconTest” target seen above is not the test transponder I sometimes run in the lab but simply my iPad running Boat Beacon and using its online connection to send my position, MMSI, and “boat” data to a central server where it’s also getting the regular AIS data for those various vessels in the Bay. The concept doesn’t really have a name yet — except maybe for mobile AIS or mAIS, as I’ll get to — but I think it’s going be huge, and also confusing…
What’s confusing is trying to understand all the moving parts in a semi-integrated mAIS system. For instance, those vessels out in Penobscot Bay can not see my Boat Beacon target on their AIS displays (which might also be considered a good thing as mAIS will not mess with regular AIS at all). Then there’s also the fact that Boat Beacon would not be showing those vessels unless there’s a volunteer local shore receiver delivering AIS target info to MarineTraffic, ShipFinder, or AIShub, which are the three global AIS data servers that Boat Beacon shares info with. Plus of course your iPhone or iPad has to be online for any of this to work…
But if you are boating in such circumstances, Boat Beacon really is designed to be a collision avoidance tool. In fact, the developer — Steve Bennett, CEO of ElectricPocket — sails a 30 foot catamaran in the Bristol Channel with lots of ship traffic, serious tidal currents, and extensive sandbanks. And he’s written compelling story about how Boat Beacon helps him underway. That’s why Boat Beacon can overlay a bearing compass (Electric Pocket also offers a neat augmented reality bearing app called Compass Eye) and also why it can send you Closet Point of Approach (CPA) notifications, as seen below…
Yes, my CPA alarms are rather goofy as I’ve been testing Boat Beacon ashore, but if you were underway on, say, the Bristol Channel, you could be alerted about a fast ship situation that was developing so far away that even a regular AIS receiver wouldn’t have caught it. And Boat Beacon only costs $10.
Now notice that one of those alarms is for an “AIS target” named Panbo mAIS Test. It turns out that MarineTraffic is also supporting what it calls “position self reporting” or mAIS. Well, actually the free Android and iOS apps that “transmit” your “AIS info” are titled iAIS but maybe they changed their mind on that because it’s already used as a Digital Yacht brand (or was it Apple?). At any rate, mAIS works fine too and is especially appropriate if you’re just interested in the other use of mAIS, which is simply to get your boat on MarineTraffic so your friends and family can see where you are…
As shown below, both mAIS and Boat Beacon positions, and tracks, show up on the MarineTraffic web site (or its viewing apps), and remember it doesn’t take a local AIS receiver to get them there. I’ll experiment soon but I suspect that I’ll be tracked almost anywhere Gizmo cruises along the Maine Coast and certainly further south, thanks to improving cell coverage. But mAIS only shows up on MT while Boat Beacon is also tracked on the ShipFinder web site and apps, and I’m impressed with how SF has evolved…
For instance, I like the way ShipFinder can show show, and even play back, a fair bit of track history. On the screen below, it’s a quick way to understand exactly what the Maine State ferries — which just got AIS, finally! — do. Note though that SF has “ship estimation” DR function that you might want to disable, or you’re apt to see a vessel motoring up hills like the Isleboro ferry at top. And, by the way, the real AIS traffic seen on these screens is coming from a new AIS receiver setup here at Panbo HQ, which I’ll write about soon.
But how about this whole concept of mixing “AIS” target info from cell phones and pads with the real thing? What could go wrong? Will the folks who issue MMSI numbers object? Will apps like this encourage more volunteers to put up receiving stations? Will the authorities get involved in a positive way? Remember the desire of DHS to get boaters to volunteer their postion? Well, one aspect of Boat Beacon I didn’t mention is that you get much more AIS data if you send in your own. And it also supports easy messaging between Boat Beacon users. Consider the possibilities!
AIShub, how you too can put AIS targets online
May 11, 2012
DY AISnet, making a good thing easy
October 1, 2010
MarineTraffic.com, appreciating the nuances
August 3, 2012
The new MarineTraffic Internet AIS service, cautiously optimistic
March 6, 2014