This project essentially started 6 weeks ago, but today it is finally complete! Back in April we had a new AIS receiver delivered, and soon after determined the installation would be trickier that expected. The AIS receiver enables us to see commercial tracking and get GPS coordinates, range, heading, speed, and more – in a fashion that is superior in many ways to radar (assuming commercial ships are using their AIS transmitter as required now by international law). The project took so long because of needing to get more information or equipment, and because of other trips (like the backpacking vacation) and projects at home keeping me from getting back to Tahina.
We first had to figure out our navigation network diagram (the manufacturer did not include this information in our boat manual for some, unfortunate, reason). So, I had to track dozens of wires to figure what went where. Next, I called the manufacturer and got some tips (better explained than in the manual) on how best to configure the network. On that trip, I realized I would need to run a different wire between the helm and the nav station in order to connect four wires (instead of the two wires currently run). At the time, I tried going to local marine stores and couldn’t find a suitable wire.
Back home, it hit me I could use a simple ethernet wire for the wire run. So, the next time I was out my Dad helped me run the wire when he was out for the rip-roaring sail – this was a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, we ended up having to buy a wire “snake” to get through the nooks and crannies of our boat, and then puzzling out a tricky situation getting the wire to run down a narrow pipe to get it to the helm. This ended up taking several hours, and we ran out of time (and energy) to complete the AIS install again.
Today, I finally felt ready to complete the install. It took a few hours to strip all the little wires, connect them at the helm, then mount the AIS receiver unit and connect power and the rest of the wires, cut another wire to connect to the VHF dataport, and I had to solder the wires to the plug for the VHF. After everything was hooked up, I fired up the navigation system and amazingly enough: it worked! You can see from the screenshots below that in this view we could see two ships (triangle shapes in “magenta” with names by them) up the Cape Fear river (about 8 miles away) on the chartplotter. And, when I select one of the ships I get a bunch of data including the name of the ship (“INTEGRITY”), size, vessel type (“Tanker”), position, status (“Under Way”), Destination (“Charleston”), and more.
The AIS will be a great addition to our situational awareness (especially at sea) because we will not only see the ships on radar, but also know more about them and their exact positions. Further, the data enables us to know with great precision whether a boat will cross our path well in advance. Our navigation software can take this information and issue an alarm automatically if a ship will pass within a certain distance. This gives us plenty of opportunity to take corrective action and/or contact the ship to verify they know about us.
The other wire I made to our VHF from the AIS has the added benefit of getting GPS data to the VHF and our radio is capable of using the new DSC which supports the Maritime Distress Safety System allowing us to receive or transmit emergency data about ships. This info is now integrated into our boat network allowing us to check this information on the computers and chartplotter. Very cool!