AIS Demonstration on Boston Harbor
August 25, 2011
By now you have probably heard of the Automated Identification System (AIS), which lets you to monitor the location, speed and course (along with other information) of large commercial and passenger vessels—and make your presence known to them. AIS is a valuable safety tool, as it lets you “see” vessels that can’t be detected by radar, and subsequently avoid them. Some AIS units will also broadcast information on your vessel so that it appears on the AIS monitors of other boats using the system.
To demonstrate the benefits of AIS and show off the unique features of its WatchMate 850 Class B transponder, Vesper Marine invited a group of boating writers for a trip on busy Boston Harbor yesterday (August 24). As we idled out of Boston Yacht Haven Marina and into the harbor aboard Howie Hecht’s 32-foot Wellcraft, Vesper representative Steve Gloor walked us through the 850’s various functions and features.
As Gloor explained, one of the major benefits of WatchMate is its filtering function. Unlike competing AIS units, WatchMate lets the user set a host of parameters to eliminate unwanted data. This is useful in congested harbors, where AIS information for 50 or more vessels could clutter the screen, causing confusion. With WatchMate, the user can program the unit to alert him to boats traveling at 5 knots or greater, for example, which automatically filters out any vessels at anchor. The user can also set guard alarms to sound when an approaching vessel enters a predetermined zone. Having these filters reduces the likelihood that a boater will simply turn the unit off in busy waterways, thereby negating its safety benefits.
Speaking of safety, another valuable feature of the 850 is target prioritization, which lets the user see at a glance which vessels pose the most immediate risk. In other words, the first vessel on the list is the most dangerous one. By highlighting the individual vessel, the user can quickly access information on its heading, speed and more.
The WatchMate 850 ($1,099) transponder that Gloor had installed on Hecht’s boat was very easy to navigate. The 4 keys allow the user to access all of the unit’s functions quickly and easily. The 5 alarm and 4 filter setting are organized into 4 profiles: anchored, harbor, coastal and offshore. The user can either accept the pre-programmed parameters provided by WatchMate or customize the settings, which can then be saved for future use. There’s a lot of flexibility in the system.
Another useful feature is anchor watch. This lets the user mark the anchor position, and sounds an alarm if the vessel moves outside a predetermined radius around the anchor. The alarm will not sound as the vessel swings on the anchor given shifting winds or current.
WatchMate is designed to function as a stand-alone unit, although its AIS data can be shared with other devices. All models in the WatchMate line feature waterproof, relatively compact housings, allowing them to be mounted in exposed areas.
Of course, the WatchMate 850 has many more features that make it a valuable and possibly life-saving device for recreational boaters. And, as Gloor intimated, there’s more in the pipeline. We’ll keep you posted.