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Smartphone AIS

Jan 22, 2014

I recently purchased a Samsung Galaxy Centura (an Android-powered smartphone) for my wife Thelma. They are truly amazing high technology devices, but what’s more amazing is the multitudinous apps that can be downloaded either free or for a nominal fee. I found one that cost only $9.99 from Google Play that has the potential to save one’s life.

Boat Beacon-AIS Marine Navigation is surely a must-have app for boaters who do not require AIS carriage (<300 tons) and do not want to spend the money for one, but would like AIS traffic information. Boat Beacon is available for both iPhone and iPad and for Android-based phones and tablets.

With this app you can receive real-time AIS ship information, over the horizon collision, SART and MoB detection from harbors, ports and coastal areas up to 15 miles out to sea. Such information includes bearing, range and closest point of approach (CPA) calculations. If a potential collision course is detected, an alarm goes off and bearing and distance information to the other boat is provided along with speed, course, location, name and length. This is all received on your smartphone/tablet with no VHF AIS receiver, transponder or antenna required. You will need GPS and an Internet connection.

You will be able to use the transmit option which transmits your boat’s position, speed and heading to global AIS systems (such as Marine Traffic, ShipFinder or AIS Hub) and other Boat Beacon users. Remember, however, that you will not be visible to other ships on their AIS systems unless they also use data from the same land based AIS networks. If you want to be seen on global AIS systems like Marine Traffic, ShipFinder or AIS Hub you will need to have and use an MMSI number. These numbers are free and can be obtained from the following websites: (the USCG approved agent) or in the U.K. visit

This app has a live map view with compass overlay that rotates with you so you can look in the direction of the ships on the map to locate them. You can share your boat’s track and position with friends and family instantly and in real time via e-mail, Twitter or Facebook. You can also be followed on AIS systems like ShipFinder or any others that have a free Web viewer. So much for the app itself, now we will give a few cautions about its use.

First: This app is only meant to be a help and should not be relied upon to determine precise locations, proximity, distance, or direction. In other words, IT IS NOT FOR NAVIGATION!

Second: Navigating a vessel is an exercise in multi-tasking and you must not let the Boat Beacon app distract you from your many other duties while conning your boat.

When I was flying small aircraft we were trained above all else to fly the plane, especially during an emergency.

In spite of all the tasks that need attending to during an emergency such as communicating the situation to the FAA, the primary task is to stay in control of the aircraft, since if you stall and crash nothing matters anyway. The same thing applies to staying in the control loop of your boat, so conn the boat and keep up your situational awareness. Don’t let an app distract you from staying in control.

Third is to keep your head on a swivel and continuously look around for other traffic, flotsam, etc.

These apps are a wonderful adjunct to our mariner tool kit and in closing I will mention just a few more that are very helpful for boaters and these are free from Google Play and include: TideApp, Boat Ramps, Boating Weather, Radar Now!, and Color Flashlight. There are similar apps available on the iPhone and iPhone as well. Next newsletter I will have some more helpful things that can be done with a smartphone, such as controlling equipment.

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Jan 23, 2014 04:25 pm
 Posted by  Arek

Very interesting article.

Is the position of other ships up to date?
I was testing Marine Traffic on my tablet last year, but there was significant delay.

Did you had chance to compare it with real AIS performance?



Jan 24, 2014 05:19 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

This is a cool app, however it is NOT REAL TIME!!

The data displayed from the web is provided by a network of volunteer receivers (I operate one). There are large gaps in the coverage of the marine area. Usually the metropolitan areas have fair coverage. There are also significant delays in the data fed to your app. I have seen delays as much as 15 minutes. Do not be misled into thinking this is as good as having an AIS receiver on your boat. It is wrong to think this app is useful or should be used to assist in navigating a boat!

Jim Cole

Jan 24, 2014 07:23 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

I am disappointed that Ocean navigator would allow something so misleading to be printed. An AIS app is not a safety device and it shouldn't be presented as one. This is misinformation and simply compounds the confusion people have about AIS. Hugh Moore

Jan 27, 2014 08:11 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

From Silverheels III
Disappointed in the extreme to see an article in a magazine purportedly expressly written for OCEAN Navigators. You have given the American source for MMSI as Boat US. Boat US assigns MMSI numbers for vessels sailing in American waters only. A MMSI received from this source will not be included in the international database used by worldwide SAR agencies outside the USA. The correct and only US source of maritime radio certificates, vessel radio station licences and the accompanying MMSI is FCC. When you're planning on cruising internationally, you should apply only to FCC for your vessel's radio station license and you will be assigned a callsign and MMSI recognized worldwide.

Canadian MMSI application portal:

United States of America Maritime FCC station licence (including MMSI) a License

Americans will find that their MMSI number has been included with their callsign on their 10 year paper FCC radio station licence for international travel. (see application portal above)
This is a paper station licence with your vessel's callsign, not to be confused with the Restricted Operator's Certificate (Maritime) which is a card issued to you personally, not associated with your boat.
An American MMSI assigned by Boat US is not recorded in the ITU database. The US government-issued FCC MMSI always ends with a zero.

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