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There are very few things on our electronics want list right now. One of the things that is at the top of that short list though is some form of AIS system. The question is not whether we get AIS or not but rather, do we go receive only, or transmit and receive?

I have had very good experience with both of the following.

In the receive only category, I like the Standard Horizon GX2200B AIS/GPS VHF radio. We have its predecessor installed on ZTC.

As far as transceivers go, I like the Vesper XB-8000 w/Built-In WiFi. We put that on the Leopard.

If money were no object I would go with the Vesper unit. Unfortunately, it would also require an Ais Antenna Splitter, bringing the total investment for a transceiver to about three times the cost of a proven receive-only system.

Decisions, decisions.

28 Comments

  1. We’ve debated it quite a bit and finally decided that if we’re going to spend money on it anyway, we’re going to go ahead and get a transciever. We’ll be spending quite a bit of time in some high traffic areas of the ICW, and anything that can help avoid collisions or help the Coast Guard find us if we’re in trouble is a plus.

  2. It’s worth it to show up on the plotter of every freighter within 10 miles of you.

  3. Mike, when you get a chance, please comment on how the splitter worked for you on the Leopard. Was it the Vesper splitter? They claim theirs is better. I understand it will degrade the AIS signal when you transmit on the VHF, but is that only a momentary event? Did you notice any reduction in performance on the VHF side? Thanks!

    • Yes, we had the Vesper splitter and it worked as it should. I don’t know anything about degrading the signal. Everyone could see us, we could see them, and our radio worked great.

  4. Mike, we have a grand total of about $600 invested in our Class-A transponder setup. Older Class-A units are available on eBay at rock-bottom prices. It makes us very visible to other vessels (Class-A has a higher transmit power and more frequent updates) and we receive signals from further afield. The only trouble with it is that there are a handful of newer Class-B signals that it does not understand. We also have a Standard Horizon VHF with the built-in receiver so between the two of them we see everything out there.

    I strongly recommend adding a separate VHF antenna for an AIS transponder rather than using a splitter, The splitter has a loss in both directions and on both sides. If you go the receive-only route, one of the things I like about the Standard Horizon is that no splitter is required and so you don’t have to deal with the losses.

    • I agree, that’s a plus for the radio that I linked. As I mentioned in the other comment, the Vesper splitter worked just fine for us. Installing another antenna and running another cable is not something that I am going to do. More power to you though.

  5. After much discussion at the time I was upgrading our systems, we opted to put in a receive only system. We use Furuno hardware with a splitter, which works beautifully, but is far more expensive and less technically advanced than the systems you are contemplating, but this was a few years back. It was a cost issue – I was replacing almost all the electronics on the boat, and it was a five or six hundred bucks more on top of almost 25K in purchases I was making that spring.

    That decision is the biggest regret I have of those I have made for the boat in terms of equipment selection and choices.

    Get the transmit now, you will want it later. But then, like us, you will be looking at the sunk cost of the receive only system and saying “I’m not going to junk that AND get a new transceiver”, so you will never get the Transponder.

    We are about the only boat in our size range out here that doesn’t have one. Strangers can’t see us as well, and we can pass friends in the night and over the horizon and they’ll never know we are there. I don’t like being the “stealth boat” in a group of boats traveling together.

    I am a big fan of being seen, and being seen really far away. I don’t think there is a better argument for getting the transponder than getting you seen by big ships.

    • With the AIS receiver we installed on ZTC, we NEVER felt that we were lacking. We kept a good watch and were able to see, and deal with ships in our vicinity. To tell the truth, the only reason we opted for the transponder for the Leopard was for “advertising,” so that everyone could see where our charter boat went.

  6. The splitters are way over-priced. I think just installing a separate VHF antenna would be a lot cheaper than a splitter, and the redundancy would be a valuable thing. Some separation between the AIS antenna and the regular VHF antenna would be good. But remember that both radios are designed to work when sitting at the dock, right next to another boat…

    • I don’t think installing a separate antenna at the masthead, and running a cable for that, would be all that cheap or easy. I haven’t priced it out though.

      • Easy? No, probably not. But if you have coax up the mizzen, then most of the battle is won. Defender has a VHF antenna for less than $50 (assuming you can’t find a used one somewhere… they don’t wear out). And 100′ of RG8X is less than $50 on Amazon (assuming you need it). That’s about 1/3 of the price of a splitter. And there’s that redundancy thing…

  7. We’ve got the Standar Horizon radio right now and it’s worked great, but I’ve decided to get a transceiver as an extra margin of safety. Do you have a coax up the mizzen mast? Our SM has a spare up the mizzen that I’m looking at using for a separate antenna for the AIS.

    We’re in NZ right now and coincidentally I’m looking at the Vespar also. Have you looked at the Watchmate 850? It’s not as flash and doesn’t have Wifi, but it’s really low power draw and own screen makes its anchor watch feature more attractive to me than the 8000. I’ll have the 850 tied to the Chartplotter in the cockpit anyway so the wifi becomes less of an issue for us.

    Have fun.
    Mark

    • Hi Mark. I’m not sure about the coax in the mizzen. I’ll check. At present we don’t even have a dedicated chart plotter. We’ve only been using our iPad and Navionics and Garmin Bluechart Mobile. I “think” that I can use the Wifi output of the Vesper to feed data to at least one of those apps. I need to check that too. As for the radio, it worked perfectly on ZTC. I fed the data to our Garmin 546 and it worked great.

  8. We went with the vesper vision for our boat. Transmits and receives. Have the vesper splitter also. We consistently see freighters 300 miles out from our location. I realize that range is more dependent on the freighters transmit power but in our buddy boat group, we saw more targets and could “see” farther also. Best bit of gear. And it transmits wifi. I have all my Raymarine stuff going into the Vision and that goes to my iPad running iNavx. It is a great system. Pricey though.

  9. I love my Vesper! Great customer service. Price was right too. As far as tx / rx I would have both. You can always turn off your tx. I sail in Hong Kong and the area is busy to say the least. The freighters are use to sailboats most of which seem to want to play chicken with them. When I am crossing a through fair it is not uncommon to get stuck in between lanes when you have 4 or more freighters tailgating in and out. With you transmitting they can see what your doing and they know your aware. A lot less massive horns blowing around you. Asian waters are very busy and going to Singapore or other areas I highly suggest a dual unit.

    Cheers, and Merry Christmas
    Mike

  10. Did you manage to find any integrated system where the VHF contains AIS receiver and transmitter and you need just one Antenna, one GPS antenna and just one power-cable?

    Even if it’s on the expensive side, I’d be interested.

    • Hi Jo. I am not aware of such a device.

      • Helo Mike,

        After some more research and talking to a people having solved similar problems, We’re contemplating following combo:

        Standard Horizon GX2000E as VHF. That’s the cheap brother of the GS2200 with the same software to display AIS but no receiver for it. It gets the GPS and AIS via NMEA 0183 and costs about $175 less.

        AIS and GPS will be handled by a dedicated AIS-Box with integrated splitter feeding the VHF and all things needing GPS. For example from the EasyTRX2S series: http://www.easyais.com/en/products/easytrx2s-is-wifi-a149/ It has also an external contact for a buzzer signaling CPA- and Anchor-Alarms, thus being able to handle this even if other components fail..

        Ipad as Chart-plotter with the AIS via WIFI.

        That was the smallest number of components I came up with having to pay for the least overlapping features.

  11. When we left Kingston in 2009, we had a receive only AIS installed (UK made), with a separate antenna mounted aft near the solar panels. The antenna is mounted on a base that is only about 12 feet above the water. Three years ago, we upgraded to a transceiver, and bought an EM TRAK MARINE ELECTRONICS Class B AIS B100 through Port Supply. When off the coast of Venezuela, I switched it into SILENT mode. On occasion, we have seen vessels that are more than a hundred miles away, and that must be due to shore-side repeaters. The range, of course is greatly influenced by antenna height (which changes with wave height) and power. In practice, on the open sea I would estimate that the minimum range we’ve experienced is about 12nm. That may not seem like much when a freighter is steaming along at 25 knots, but we’ve found that the alarm sounds with more than sufficient notice. If we had a ketch, I’d mount the AIS antenna on the mizzen. I don’t like the splitters because I’ve heard of people with impacted range.

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