Icom AIS Mod, bad idea?


It’s wonderful that the marine electronics world is still small enough that a tiny company with a good idea can get somewhere. But I’m not sure that having your Icom M504 VHF modified by Marine Werke so it can output AIS audio signals is a good idea.  For one thing, I believe only the included Shipplotter software can demodulate AIS audio, so a user can’t use this AIS target data with other software or plotters. Furthermore, to get AIS, you’ll have to tune the Icom to Channel 87 and I dare say that also scanning safety channels might significantly reduce AIS performance.

And finally, as noted at the bottom of Marine Werke’s page, the modification “may void various manufacturer’s warranty’s guarantees etc.” (I asked Icom, and it doesn’t sound like there’s any “may” to it.) On the other hand, I’m sure that many boaters like Marine Werke’s strategy of combining the antenna and cable expenses (without a splitter), and power draw, of VHF and AIS receivers. However, I suspect that if this can be done well, one or more of the VHF manufacturers are going to do it themselves. In fact, we’ve already seen hints from Icom U.K. and I’ve heard others. Stay tuned!
   Meanwhile, what’s up with Class B AIS? Well, I haven’t mentioned it since Shine Micro’s smart workaround because I haven’t heard much new. But I did recently participate in a John Gass organized electronics seminar for a J Boat rendezvous, and was glad to hear that many of the participants were well aware of Class B and quite interested in having it aboard. (That’s the seminar below; note loads of demo gear from the Panbo lab). I was also told recently that the U.S. Coast Guard was thinking of “going to flag level” with the issue. Maybe the FCC will finally do something?



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Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now excited to have Ben Stein as very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Panbo is going to the next level in 2019 and beyond.

21 Responses

  1. Dan (b393capt) says:

    This may be an ideal time to hound the FCC and a mass mailing to Congress. With the spectrum auctions mostly over, an election cycle coming up, and the FCC renewed focus on minor issues (e.g. Comcast’s blocking of some internet traffic, Janet/Justin’s wardrope malfunction, etc.) and the Congress’s renewed focus on reaching out to their local community during recess… and of course the summer weather and new and unfortunate accidents occuring on frequent basis … maybe something can happen?

  2. Dan (b393capt) says:

    Personally, I wish AIS “receiver only” products did not exist.
    I am a bit unhappy with posts I have read as recently as last week where the poster is preaching that AIS enables big brother to be watching and that boaters need not wait for AIS-B transievers, they should only own a receive product.
    Hense, it makes me wish AIS “receiver only” products didn’t exist. I would rather if people wish to benefit from the technology, they are required to contribute to the boating community by transmitting their boat name, mmsi, position, heading, and speed via AIS. If they want an on/off switch for clear sunny days … fine … but if they think they need to see other boaters, then they shouldn’t mind being seen and more importantly being hailable as well.
    A good VHF feature .. combine AIS-B into the radio (both channels please), and don’t send AIS information over NMEA unless the radio has a valid MMSI and boat name programmed, is receiving positional and speed information from the coonected vessels electronics, and the volume is turned up to minimum level to receive a hail. Add what ever other requirements such that no AIS information is appearing on your chartplotter unless your boat is transmitting useful AIS in return, and you bothered to keep your radio on to receive a hail.
    Sorry .. a little bit cynical today.
    But .. Why not ?

  3. Boats says:

    What we need is a NEMA 2000 VHF/Class B AIS transceiver approved for use in the US.
    AIS targets output via N2K in a standard format for all chartplotters.
    Icom… Standard Horizon… either way… I’ll put my money on one today.

  4. david says:

    It would appear that Icom is going to release a class b ais as an option with the 505 vhf set here,either as an add on or with the set.The 505 would appear to be the same or similar to the 504.
    I suspect the 505 is available in Britain or will be

  5. Did you know that a Sailor RT2048 VHF provides a discriminator output on pin 6 of the horn connector? Take a condensator of about 100nF in series with a cable connected to the audio input of your PC and run Shiplotter, and you will receive AIS on ch87.
    (Pin 2+3 are ground, preferably use a shielded cable).

  6. Butch Davis says:

    What David said. On THT this morning an Aussie boater said the ICOM 505 is selling in Australia with an AIS feature. It was not clear to me what features are available.

  7. Anonymous says:

    “Going to Flag Level” is just the next step in the slow dance of Bureaucratic Inertia also called “Pacing the Glaciers.” The only thing that can speed up a glacier is heat!

  8. Eric says:

    Not only does this void the warranty, I believe it is also against FCC rules for use in the U.S. Title 47 CFR part 2.1043 Changes in Certificated Equipment. This would be a class 1 permissive change which can only be done by the holder of the grant of certification, i.e. Icom, thus the “important information” at the bottom of Marine Werke’s page.

  9. caribelectronics says:

    Did anyone notice that Marine Werke added 0.15 amps at 13.7 vdc to 0.68 amps at 110 vac and came up with a total consumption of 0.83 amps !
    In my book .68 amps at 110 vac is equivalent to 5.4 amps at 13.7 vdc and that’s without allowing for converter inneficiency. Realistically the dc current is going to be over 6 amps.

  10. queimada says:

    Dan I agree, I’ve been waiting to upgrade my VHF until someone sells a unit that outputs AIS, DSC, etc. (I’ve posted here before about this as many others have)
    I don’t want two antennas and/or a splitter that might induce power loss. My guess is even if I had a two antenna setup my AIS unit couldn’t receive while my radio was transmitting so why not have everything in one unit. This sort of setup would simplify the NMEA wiring as well.
    How cool would it be to see a ship on your chart plotter and just double click on it to make an DSC call? (Though I don’t know if their is any protocol support for telling a radio to make a DSC call)
    Support for AIS Class B transmitter would be nice (Hello FCC?) … and since they are lower power I’d like to see all commercial (including fishing) boats be required to use them use them as well.
    I couldn’t find anything about an ICOM w/ and AIS option.
    Also caribelectronics, the way to connect a laptop, since they typically run in between 10 to 20v DC, is to use a DC to DC converter… much more efficient.

  11. Eric says:

    “Also caribelectronics, the way to connect a laptop, since they typically run in between 10 to 20v DC, is to use a DC to DC converter… much more efficient.”
    True, but Marine Werke’s test setup was for the laptop running on 110V AC You gotta wonder who’s actually doing the mod. Do they even have a licensed technician doing this?

  12. ibsailn says:

    We are working on an RFP for the Coast Guard Academy to get a few 44′ Sail Training Craft (based on New Navy 44’s) and they are interested in AIS. I am hoping I can get some USCGA higher-ups to pressure the FCC into finally approving Class B.

  13. Larry Brandt says:

    Let me toss this anecdotal comment into the AIS Class B pot…
    I recently was giving a radar seminar in Portland – the other one, the one in Oregon – at a local West Marine when a passerby stopped at the back of the audience obviously waiting for an opportunity to comment. At a pause, he asked when AIS B was coming; I gave him the stock answer we all know here on Panbo. Then I asked him why he wanted the Class B and how he would use it. His answer was enlightening.
    He said, “I am a tuna fisherman and I need it to sleep. It would be safer.” Alarm bells were going off in my brain at this point, and so I asked him whether he kept a watch. “No”, he said, “I can’t. I fish alone, and I am out there for several days. That’s why I need AIS Class B.”
    Upon picking my jaw up off the floor, my immediate thought was to say, “You, sir, are a bonafide fool”, but I bit my tongue instead. And as I happened to have a copy of COLREGS at hand, I picked it up, and encouraged him to get a copy and read it.
    Don’t you wonder what portion of the potential Class B market are idiots of this type?

  14. norse says:

    Rules aside, he has a point. But he should get a Class A AIS so he can enter the Navigation Status data: not under command. The fisherman is probably just drifting, but an undercrewed sailboat offshore would probably be sailing.
    Better an idiot with AIS than without one, so the better question would be what portion of boaters are idiots and what portion of them would use AIS?

  15. Dan (b393capt) says:

    Still no information available from that Buzzards bay accident investigation, other than the owner of the 60 foot boat is being charged with homocide.

  16. AGajdos says:

    Guys, one little technical comment: shipplotter can “decipher” 🙂 ais audio – but right after that it can share it with the world in several formats. Therefore any pc-based plotters will have immediate access to such data (and it’s also possible to output the data stream on the good old serial interface, thus enabling oldstyle installments to process them).
    While I think that the mod is a good idea, I can’t see a reason why NOT to buy a Class B transponder – and then you have a dedicated receiver (of BOTH channels at the same time) and you are VISIBLE.
    Very, very, very big difference.

  17. Joe Dell says:

    ANY scanner or radio that can be modded to have a discriminator output can drive Shipplotter. Don’t mess up a good VHF to do it! Also note that a $180 AIS receiver from http://www.milltechmarine.com/SR161.htm works much better and is much easier to set up.

  18. Sunny says:

    French Navicom recently issued RT-650 DSC VHF radio with built-in AIS reciever.
    Isn’t it a solution?
    Can it output AIS targets and DSC received positions to a chartplotter at the same time?

  19. del says:

    I have seen a prototype of this unit and it was quite impressive, even if the display is a bit on the small side…
    “Réception des signaux AIS (Automatic Identification System) avec lecture sur écran LCD (graphique radar ou texte) et sortie NMEA pour PC ou traceur.”
    ….so, yes it has an MNEA output for a plotter, but it’s not clear if its AIS only or AIS and DSC – and I didn’t think to ask the chap who was doing the demo (my French isn’t that good anyway….!!)
    Note that the price is “indicatif”, so I guess this means that it isn’t actually on sale yet?

  20. Dan (b393capt) says:

    Maybe if they combine a VHF radio and AIS … they could modify the boat name to show what channe lmy VHF is monitoring ?
    09_Breeze Pleeze or c09Breeze Pleeze

  21. Dan (b393capt) says:

    why 09_BreezePleeze … what good is knowing my boat name if you can’t reach me. I could be on 68 (racing), 69(cruising club), 9, 16, or another channel I was talking on and simply forgot to switch to 16. Maybe show an xx_BreezePleeze if the volume is turned all the way down (opps!) and I won’t here you unless you ring me via DSC.
    I realize DSC could be used to reach me in any event … but it seems like the user interface on these radios are going to make it very unlikely that feature is used much. Also, if I am the fog negotiating with multiple boats … I would rather not have to start DSC hailing and answering DSC hails from multiple boats to negotiate passing. I suspect if everyone nearby can see what channel other boats are on … there will be a crowd mentality to all switch to the same channel at various choke points along a route.
    Why not?

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