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For the past six or so years my guy and me have worked on refurbishing our sailboats. First, there was the Hunter 31…three solid years of work; and, now the Tayana 52. I’ve said it before, but we are pretty close to being ready to head out. Our plans are still to leave April 15th, perhaps (at most) forty eight days from now. Actually, this coming weekend we will sit down for yet another confab on a more precise departure date…but April 15th seems to be the day.

I’m ready.

And, so is my husband.

With the successful installation of our refrigeration system Captain Husband has been freed up to hoot and scoot on other things. High on that list is the installation our AIS.  At this stage, pending whatever it is we can break on our shakedown cruise, our AIS is one of two last big ticket items left to put on the boat…the other being a new ICOM M802-11 150W SSB and ICOM AT140 Antenna Tuner.  Obtaining an AIS in itself is not difficult but, on the other hand, a bit of effort is required to set it up.

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First, one must obtain an MMSI number.  Then, should one’s VHF not be DSC  capable, one must purchase a DSC VHF radio. We decided on a Standard Horizon DSC VHF. Once you have an MMSI number, you buy the actual AIS black box…the MMSI number is factory programmed specifically with one’s personal and unique MMSI number. We chose the Garmin 600 AIS.  And, finally, all of this is coupled to one’s multifunctional display…in our case, a Garmin 7212 MFD.  Voila, it’s done.

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So, what does an AIS transceiver get you? A lot actually. And, it’s all about safety.

Radar is a great thing. We have a 24” High Definition radar on our yacht. Radar is invaluable when it comes to avoiding certain objects while sailing. It is most great when dodging offshore structures at night. And, of course, a super tanker shows up splendidly on radar. But, radar has its drawbacks. First and foremost, they primarily give an image of something. Radar can be difficult to read…rain, sea state, etc can make reading a radar image quite difficult.

AIS is a different thing altogether. AIS is based on a ships information being transmitted via VHF radio at regular intervals. Some of the information that is broadcast via AIS consists of the ships length, beam, even a photograph of the vessel, course, destination, status (under way, anchored, under power, etc), speed, course/heading, direction vector and, very importantly, closest point of approach and time of closest point of approach. Closest point of approach is information that tells the helmsman that if neither their vessel nor the other vessel changes course or speed, then how close will they come to hitting each other and how long before that happens. In a crowded seaway, it tracks multiple ships and tells one which ship they need to worry about hitting first.

If one sails on lakes and bays AIS is hardly worth the several thousand dollar hardware expenditure. On the other hand, if one is sailing offshore, particularly at night, or in high volume seaways with much faster and enormously bigger ships it is absolutely invaluable from a safety aspect. One would think that dodging supertankers and container ships would be easy. At times, nothing could be further from the truth…nothing.

A Class B AIS transponder identifies your vessel to any other vessel that is also equipped to receive AIS…anywhere in the world. To give one a perspective, visit the Marine Traffic site.

Up until a few years ago not that many private yachts were equipped with AIS. That number is growing very fast. AIS targets can be  overlaid on one’s Chartplotter charts (as can RADAR). Provided one is within VHF range, a clear picture of the surrounding ships is available…along with a truckload of other information all designed to identify other vessels and keep everybody on the water out of each other’s lap.

Another thing AIS buys one is the ability, through DSC VHF, to specifically call another ship on the radio…by vessel name, directly to their bridge/helm. To be able to make that type of call is a huge plus.

Safety is absolutely paramount to us on the boat. I’ve often told my husband that I think I could handle our boat going down…but I really don’t ever want to find myself floating out in the middle of the ocean in just a life jacket. And, that’s why we have radar, AIS, dedicated life raft, hand held radios, strobes, dinghy, etc…including two EPIRBS,

A 406 MHz EPIRB, when activated, sends a distress signal radio beacon up to a satellite that is monitored world wide, 24-7, by the coast guard and search and rescue agencies of the different countries. When this signal is received, the GPS position and other data are relayed to the nearest search and rescue and very quickly, almost immediately, a rescue is initiated. Virtually every country in the world participates in the program. In short, an EPIRB is kind of like 911 for oceans. Thousands and thousands of lives have been saved by sailors equipped with EPIRBs.

Two EPIRBS came with our yacht. EPIRBs have to be serviced and recertified every so many years essentially to ensure they will work when needed. Both of the ones for our yacht were expired. We took them to a firm locally to have the batteries changed out and our specific information programmed into them, part of the recertification. The firm told us to keep both EPIRBS, even though one was obsolete. So, the uncertifiable one is a backup for the boat, and the good one with all of our information goes into the ditch kit. Always hoping we never have to use the EPIRB because if we ever do have to activate it WE WILL BE IN DEEP, DEEP, DEEEEEEEEP SHIT.

On a lighter note, we are installing a new stereo system in the boat. It’s a Clarion CMS2 system.  I researched and bought the system and intended to install it myself. However, somewhere along the way, we decided to have it installed by someone else. The original owner put in a fairly good Pioneer receiver some time in the past. The Pioneer had a good sound but didn’t have Blue Tooth and was incapable of adapting to MP3 players…so it had to go.

There is really not all that much left for us to do, though I suspect as we get closer to leaving things will pop up. We anticipate the AIS/Radar/MFD Chartplotter to be coupled by the end of the weekend, early next week at the latest. After that we’ll need to put our oven/stove back in…we removed it to clean it and its area. And, as far as the big stuff is concerned the boat is ready to leave the dock.

In other news, our screech owls are back and occupying the owl boxes we built.  There are two of them.  We’re thinking owlettes are on the way.

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