Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Most Valuable Products: AIS

We recently upgraded Sea Gem's VHF radio to a model with AIS, and that investment paid dividends during our trip from Miami to New York.  The greatest fear of many sailors is being struck by a large commercial ship.  Sea Gem is a big sailboat, but to a thousand-foot tanker, she's little more than a bump in the road. 

Our AIS is hooked up to our computer, which enables us to easily see nearby commercial vessels (or not-so nearby--we could pick up larger vessels from nearly 100 miles away) relative to our boat's location.  The software depicts the commercial ships graphically and indicates their position and course and, by color (green, yellow, red) how close they will come to us.  If anything looks problematic, we can double-click on the vessel, and the software provides its name, VHF contact information, size, destination, and calculates how close it will pass to Sea Gem, and at what time.  If needed, we can easily hail the ship (by name) and discuss a possible change of course early on, obviating the need for any last-second, white-knuckled maneuvering.

AIS Display
During our trip north, we passed through several heavily trafficked commercial shipping lanes, and the AIS was a godsend.  On several occasions, the AIS enabled us to either adjust course or contact approaching ships (at least one of which had not spotted us before we called) to ensure that all of the commercial ships remained tiny, harmless specks on the horizon.   I certainly won't say that we would have had an accident had we not installed the AIS, but I do think that we'd have arrived in New York with a few more gray hairs.

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