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Affordable AIS: accessories for popular chortplotting systems.

Things change at the speed of light in the world of marine electronics today. Advances in Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) continue with expanded communications capabilities, significantly reduced prices and lots more product availability.


Let's take a look at the black box options out there that will couple up to your chartplotter, provide either AIS receive-only or both transmit and receive capability, all while not busting your boating budget. We found three top brands with retail prices under $500.

Before you proceed with adding an AIS unit to your boat's electronics package, make sure your chartplotter display is compatible with the network connection on the AIS unit you choose. Also keep in mind, even if the hardware is compatible you may have to update the software in your plotter to get things working right.


Garmin has recently added two new AIS units to its vast lineup of marine electronics products. The receive-only Garmin AIS 300 retails for under $500 while the full Class-B Garmin AIS 600 is priced at around $1,400.

The Garmin AIS 300 is a black box unit that will display data on a compatible chartplotter using a NMEA2000 network or a high speed NMEA0183 connection.

Because the AIS 300 has a built-in VHF antenna coupler all you need to do is route your VHF antenna cable through the AIS 300 and then back to your VHF radio. No need for a second VHF antenna.

The AIS1000 can simultaneously display up to 100 targets. Alarms and safety zone settings in the AIS1000 provide collision avoidance. You can set a safety zone around your vessel or time of closest approach alarm as desired. The Garmin AIS 300 is waterproof to a high standard and carries a 1-year warranty.


Icom recently added the receive-only Icom MXA-5000 black box AIS to its lineup. This unit retails for under $500, has dual channel receive capability, and will display data on a compatible chartplotter using a NMEA0183 high speed connection or a PC via a serial connection.

This Icom AIS features a built-in VHF antenna splitter that saves the expense of adding a second VHF antenna just for the AIS. During installation you'd simply route your existing VHF cable to the AIS then on to your VHF radio.

West Marine

The West Marine AIS 1000 is a full Class-B AIS transceiver designed to display data on a compatible chartplotter, dedicated display, or on a PC with compatible software.

Any Class-B AIS needs either an internal GPS or an input from an external GPS. The AIS 1000 has its own internal receiver and ships a GPS antenna.

The transponder unit needs a 12-volt DC power supply, connection to its GPS sensor, and a VHF antenna. Data is sent to your chartplotter screen via a NMEA0183-HS port. The AIS 1000 will also output data to a PC.

Regulations mandate that a Class-B AIS carry a properly registered MMSI number. To facilitate this West Marine has AIS 1000 buyers fill out a form online with required contact, MMSI, and vessel information. They then input this data into your AIS 1000 before shipping to you.


The AIS 1000 can simultaneously display up to 100 targets. Alarms and safety zone settings in the AIS 1000 provide collision avoidance. You can set a safety zone around your vessel or time of closest approach alarm as desired. The West Marine AIS 1000 retails for under $500 and carries a 1-year warranty.

RELATED ARTICLE: Recap: How Does AIS Works?

The Automatic identification System (AIS) uses a data stream of information transmitted over two VHF radio frequencies to track and receive information about nearby vessels for collision avoidance purposes. Having the capability to receive AIS data will get you the approaching ship's name, course, speed, as well as a variety of other information. Displayed azimuth data combined with range rings and alarms will quickly let you know if a ship were to become a potential collision threat.

For Your AlS-Only

Looking for an AIS unit dedicated specifically to that task? Vespermarine of New Zealand makes the AIS WatchMate series, with 5-inch LCD panel and IPX7 watertight housing. The introductory unit is the 670 series ($499), which is merely a display built to work off either an AIS transponder (broadcast and receive), or a receiver. The 750 ($699) includes a built-in two-channel receiver, while the 850 (coming soon) includes complete transponder features and built-in GPS antenna. See for more.
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Title Annotation:ELECTRONICS; Garmin AIS 300, Icom MXA-5000, West Marine AIS 1000; Automatic Identification System
Author:Herum, Al
Publication:Florida Sportsman
Geographic Code:1U5FL
Date:Jan 1, 2011
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