Simrad AI50, a lot of Class B for the money

Simrad_AIS_hind_end_cPanbo

I took to the Simrad AI50 at first sight, but the more I learn the more I like. Above is the back of a unit I played with in demo mode at the NMEA Conference, and I’ve also been checking out the manual (available here). Here’s what I’ve learned so far. First of all, as indicated by those dual (daisy chained) SimNet cables above, the AI50 is a NMEA 2000 AIS transponder, the only one I know of. In fact it also puts out AIS plot data on 0183, but I think the included GPS is N2K, and so are some of the network features. Like easily initiating a DSC VHF call to an AIS target, without having to type in its MMSI number. (At the back of the manual, Simrad has nicely listed all the standard and proprietary PGNs the AI50 uses, but I still can’t tell if this feature will work with other manufacturers N2K radios, though right now Simrad has the only ones.) 


And check out the SD card (cover removed) on the rear end photo. The AI50 can use it to record, and play back, vessel info and AIS targets, making the unit a sort of mini VDR. Might be useful for deconstructing a race, or an accident. I dare say that the card can also be used to flash Simrad devices on the network. I was also impressed with the included base map, which even has nav aids, though maybe just for U.S. waters. And I like “Buddy” tracking, which just means that you can list—or tag—favorite vessels, and you’ll be notified if they come into AIS range again. Altogether there’s a lot to like about a separate AIS plotting display, which can be kept at a different range and mode than your plotter/radar (one possible set up below), and Simrad’s version in particular. Especially as it will retail for around $1,500, not a lot of premium over other Class B’s. Of course, in the U.S. that’s not until it’s fully FCC approved, which we’re hoping is very soon.

Simrad_AI50_manual_cut

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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.

17 Responses

  1. Russ says:

    I can’t find any reference in the NMEA 2000 PGN V1.21 that refers to VHF messages outside the context of AIS.
    Is there such a thing as a VHF PGN that would allow this unit to work with a non-Simrad radio?

  2. David Sheekey says:

    Thank for your kind comments on the AI50. As you rightly say, SimNet is basically N2K and sends the AIS data and position as N2K PGNs. Note the GPS antenna is RF and not N2K, as the GPS engine itself is contained within the product.
    With regards to the DSC radio functionality, this is a Simrad proprietary function and will not work with other manufacturers radios. The function will work with the RS80 range of radios, but will require a software upgrade, which we expect to release early next year. It really makes sending routine DSC calls a doddle.
    The Navaids in the US is an added bonus, that was never in the original spec! Please remember that the map is not a full chart and should only be used as an aid to visualizing the relative position of your targets.
    Like you we patiently await the issuing of the FCC waiver to complete the approval process in the US. The GMDSS taskforce minutes implied early November. Is ‘early’ another of those words that has a different meaning in the US to the English meaning?
    Regards
    David Sheekey
    Product Specialist – Simrad

  3. Dan (b393capt) says:

    Very impressive … Buddy lists, integration with VHF to call a target without typing in their MMSI. This sounds like 50% or more of my wish list from an earlier post.

  4. Patrick Harman says:

    Ben, thanks for keeping us updated. I am seriously interested in having a class B AIS transponder on my boat. $1,500 is a little steep at the moment. I wonder how long it will be before they are affordable for the masses.
    Pat

  5. Fred Pot says:

    The list of PGN’s in the manual exclude one for the Class B ”CS” static data report (messages 24A & 24B). Does this mean that a Class B transponder will only show as a target with an MMSI number but that Class B Static information cannot be dislayed on any device on the NMEA2000 network?

  6. David Sheekey says:

    Fred, the reason you do not see a PGN for message 24 is that NMEA have not yet published one. We have made this problem known to them, but as yet there has not been any action.
    As with the DSC radio, we have implemented proprietary PGN’s so products from the Navico brands will be able to display static data on their screens.
    Best regards
    David Sheekey
    Product Specialist – Simrad

  7. Dan (b393capt) says:

    This is alarming. Why are these work arounds needed? Why can’t manufactures get PGN’s issued by NMEA?

  8. Dan (b393capt) says:

    David Sheekey Product Specialist – Simrad wrote “With regards to the DSC radio functionality, this is a Simrad proprietary function” … does that mean Simrad is patenting this functionality ? Does the invention of this functionality pre-date the idea appearing here on Panbo ?

  9. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Please be nice, b393capt. It’s wonderfully informative when an insider like David chooses to comment here on Panbo, and I don’t want you guys to chase them away.
    Besides, the idea of using an AIS targets MMSI # to quickly initiate a DSC VHF call is certainly not original to Panbo, and David said nothing about patents.
    I am curious if Simrad had to make the function proprietary because the PGN doesn’t exist in the standards, or if Simrad chose to make the function proprietary just because it could (a certain % of proprietary messages are legal). If it’s the latter I’d be a bit dissappointed but it’s not the end world. After all, right now, no other company even has a NMEA 2000 AIS or VHF.

  10. David Sheekey says:

    To b393capt, the original comment should probably have read “SimNet proprietary” function. As Ben rightly suggested the need to do this was that n2k did not have a completely appropriate PGN to do what we needed to do.

  11. Dan (b393capt) says:

    David … Ben’s right.
    Please accept my apology for snapping at you.
    Welcome to Panbo & Happy Thanksgiving.

  12. Dan (b393capt) says:

    David … tell us some more about this nifty N2K AIS unit, and about yourself. Are you a boater ?
    I am impressed with how the product has used N2K, how it appears to move DSC towards being so much more usable, and how it just jumps way ahead of the competition in many respects.
    I am curious if the display and the AIS functionality are themselves individual components speaking N2K to each other, so that other SimRad (or even competitor) chartplotter’s can potentially gain access to the entire feature set from another display on the N2K network, e.g. using the buddy list function for example. Where is the buddy list stored, on the AIS component or the display component? Are there PGN’s to access and change the buddy list ?
    I am unclear about N2K in a lot of respects, but if the answer to the above is yes, do you expect these PGN’s will have a trailblazing effect to drive common functionality in future VHF radio’s, AIS, and chartplotters? Is this something where Simrad promotes the PGN’s to NMEA to become standards with hopes they are adopted, perhaps at the very least, by other VHF radio manufacturer’s?

  13. Dan (b393capt) says:

    Lowrence now has an N2K VHF radio announced, and it does buddy lists also, allthough very different then with AIS.
    Maybe NMEA should come out with a specification of PGN’s that define how multiple components can use buddy lists. Otherwise, people may still be locked into a single vendor for many components on their boat.

  14. Anonymous says:

    Simrad and Lowrence being linked under navico i wouldnt be supprised if their radio works aswell

  15. Jim says:

    Waiting – oh so patiently waiting – for the A150 to be approved and released in N America. Have an option to have a friend bring me one from Europe next month. I would REALLY like to have one on-board for Singlehanded Transpac Race next summer and wondering what best guesses are for when FCC approval may eventually happen???
    Should I wait for them to go on sale here, or get one fron Europe – have been told I could be in deep doo-doo if US coast guard finds me using non-FCC approved equipment.
    Simrad N-Ameica distributor in Washington state told me they have a bunch waiting (in warehouse in Tulsa) for FCC approval, but like the rest of us have no idea when that may happen.
    thoughts????

  16. Dave says:

    AI50 looks like a nice integrated unit. However power consumption seems high: Simrad web page claims

  17. Tristan says:

    Hi Guys,
    I have the AI50. It is a great device. I would like to display or play the recorded data from SD Card. I can see the data on a PC as a txt file, but I would like to have a program / software to show the recorded data. Is there any software to do it.
    Thanks and cheers
    Tristan
    SY vitevite

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