Our proAIS2 software for configuring and checking our latest generation of AIS transponders is a useful tool, but only being Windows and Mac compatible, it does have its limitations.
With this in mind, we have developed an Android App that allows you to do pretty much everything that proAIS2 does, but wirelessly from your Android Smart Phone or Tablet. AISConfig is a free app, available on the Google Play Store, that works with our AIT1500 (NMEA0183 version), AIT2000 and AIT3000.
Being wireless, you will need a WLN10HS or AIS WiFi Server if using our AIT1500 or AIT2000, but this is a popular combination, so there should be many customers out there that will benefit from this new App and of course our “top of the range” AIT3000 has WiFi built-in so AISConfig is the perfect app for it.
Using AISConfig you can do all of the initial configuration, including programming of the MMSI number and then once setup, you can use AISConfig to monitor the status of the transponder, repeat the LED status (useful if the transponder is behind a panel) and to turn OFF/ON the Silent Mode, avoiding the need for a physical switch.
If AISConfig proves popular, then we will certainly consider producing an Apple iOS version, but for now AISConfig is only available for Android.
Digital Yacht have just released a new AIS Class B transponder intended specifically for easy installation on small yachts, motor boats and RIBs. It’s designed to simply plug into an existing NMEA 2000 network to provide compatible plotters and instruments with AIS data. As a transponder, it also sends vessel data to other AIS users. Class B units require their own GPS in order to ensure they transmit accurate data and this normally means another antenna outside the boat. The AIT1500N2K has a built in, highly sensitive GPS so it can work below decks on GRP boats cutting down on antenna clutter. All that’s required to complete operation is connection to a VHF antenna or suitable AIS-VHF antenna splitter such as the Digital Yacht SPL2000.
There’s a USB interface for programming and also for use with PC/MAC based charting applications. Digital Yacht also have an optional WiFi adaptor for the NMEA 2000 backbone to allow data transfer to a tablet, smart phone or iPad – details HERE
“Many boaters see the huge benefits of AIS and want to embrace the technology but are put off by a difficult and costly installation. The AIT1500N2K couldn’t be easier to fit – it even takes power from the boat’s NMEA 2000 network. This standard is now embraced on just about every modern chart plotter or instrument system to allow plug ‘n play interfacing” commented Paul Sumpner, CTO of Digital Yacht.
The AIT1500N2K is available now and will be on display at the London Boat Show 2016 Stand C021
When you are feeding cables through a boat, it is often necessary to remove bulky connectors to fit the cable through tight spaces, or you may need to extend the cable and fitting proper mating connectors is ideal. Soldering connectors can be fiddly and crimping requires a specialist tool that many people do not have, so using a solderless, quick fit RF connector is very tempting.
However, I learnt a lesson today that I hope others can learn from. I had not come across this particular type of connector before (see image above) and the idea is that you place the coax cable firmly up inside the connector where a sharp center pin presses in to the inner conductor of the cable. Then you tighten down the small screw shown in the image above and it cuts through the outer insulation and makes contact with the outer, shield conductor of the cable. At first sight, this seems a very clever idea but as I was to discover this type of connector can create more problems than it solves.
The boat that I visited had one of our AIT2000 Class B Transponders on which was giving a high VSWR reading in the proAIS2 diagnostics software. The VSWR reading is one of the built-in self tests of the AIT2000 where it measures the power it sends to the antenna and also measures the “reflected” power that comes back down the aerial. In an ideal world all of the power sent to the antenna should be transmitted in to the air, but this is never the case and a small amount is always reflected back to the AIT2000. If there is an antenna fault or a short or open circuit in the antenna cable then the VSWR reading will be very high (>5:1) and trigger an alarm.
On this particular boat, there were a number of these quick fit connectors used to extend the AIS antenna, but they appeared to be well made so I started by quickly connecting a spare VHF antenna directly to the AIT2000. Voila, on the next AIS transmission (every 3 minutes when stationary) the VSWR reading came right down to a very healthy 1.2:1. The installed AIS antenna was mounted on the mast so replacing it would be a pain, so just to be sure I thought I would check the extra piece of antenna cable that had been added to the cable. A quick DC continuity and isolation test showed a short between the inner and outer of the extension cable.
On closer examination of the quick fit connectors, I found that removing one of them, the short disappeared. My only conclusion was that either the small screw that is intended to just make contact with the outer shield had been over tightened shorting the inner and outer conductors or that blunt wire cutters had been used and some poorly cut strands of the shield had shorted to the inner. Any way the fault had been found and I quickly rejoined the “Quick Fit” connector to the cable. Just to be sure I repeated the continuity and isolation test and this time it showed the short had gone BUT there was no continuity on the inner connection.
In total I tried remaking the “Quick Fit” connectors three or four times and on every occasion there was no continuity on the center conductor and in the end I gave up and replaced them all with crimp connectors which I have never had a problem with. You might have to spend £10-£15 on a crimp tool (see below) but if you are regularly doing RF connections or you simply want the best possible connection then I would definitely recommend the crimp connectors.
The Garmin 400 and 500 series plotters are some of the most popular small boat chart plotters on the market and it is not surprising that we get many enquiries about how to connect our products to them. Normally customers just want to add an AIS receiver or transponder to their Garmin unit, but last week we had an interesting enquiry from a customer that wanted to add AIS, but also wanted a wireless solution for his iPad.
This particular customer only wanted to receive AIS targets and so our iAIS was the obvious choice but had he wanted a transponder then we could have done a similar setup with one of our AIT2000 and WLN10HS units. As we were discussing how the two systems would wire together, I realised that with the two NMEA 0183 ports that the Garmin has and the NMEA 0183 input (4800 baud) that our iAIS has, that we could also have GPS data and other NMEA data from the Garmin transmitted wirelessly to the iPad with the AIS data.
The benefits of this arrangement, are that any iPod Touch, iPhone or iPad can receive AIS and GPS data anywhere on the boat, even if they do not have their own internal GPS, such as the Wi-Fi only iPad and iPod Touch. Even 3G iPads and iPhones that have their own internal GPS, will benefit from the always on, Garmin GPS which should be more accurate, particularly when you take your iPad/iPhone below deck.
Of course a suitable App will be required to read the AIS and GPS data, but with some recent new app releases, the number of available Navigation Apps that support wireless NMEA are growing. This particular customer intended to use the popular iNavX app, but other apps worth considering are; iSailor from Transas, iRegatta from Let’s Create, the new Imray app or the SailTimer app that I recently wrote about.
The customer was delighted with the proposed solution and I quickly drew up the following connection diagram and sent it to him. I hope that by publishing this article, many other Garmin 400 and 500 series owners might benefit from a new wireless AIS solution.