Saturday, June 16, 2012

mAIS - Marine Traffic Reporting

Application: iPhone, iPad 3G,4G
Function: Internet based ship locating and reporting
Rating: ***
Cost: Free

Am I on a collision course with that ship?  We are going to die! Are we going to be run down by that big freighter? Which way is that ship headed?  If you have ever stood watch at night and traversed some busy shipping channels, I am sure those are some of the thoughts that have crossed your mind. 

AIS (Automatic Information System) systems are now widely available and provide the added safety of collision avoidance. An actual AIS system involves having an AIS receiver or transponder installed on board and a VHF antenna to receive and broadcast your position.  Other ships in the area can then see your yacht's position and trip information.  It is a great way to see and be seen while out on the ocean or in busy ports.

A poor mans version of AIS has been developed to allow yachts to view and report their position to the Internet using a cell phone or 3G iPad.  Marine has a great website that uses a network of land based AIS receivers to report ship positions in many busy ports around the world.

Marine Traffic has developed an app called mAIS, that allows boaters to use their mobile devices to report their position over a cell connection to their Internet site  This is not true AIS but something they call mAIS.  It is important to remember that commercial ships will not see your mAIS position or data. The position data can only be view on the Internet site or on the Marine Traffic app.

You must first download the mAIS app and create a user account with Marine Traffic.  It is suggested that you get an MMSI code next. If you don't want to get an MMSI you can just register your yacht with Marine Traffic and get a unique vessel ID. This number will allow you to only report your vessels position.

MMSI stands for Maritime Mobile Service Identity. This is a unique number that will be assigned to your yacht and can be programmed into the DSC option of your VHF radio.  DSC stands for Digital Selective Calling. DSC equipped VHF radios have a one button emergency feature that will allow you to send out a distress signal along with your latitude and longitude.  The DSC option is pretty standard on most new VHF radios.

When you open the app the main display shows the status of the app. It is easily controlled using the Start and Stop buttons. It displays your ships name, position, GPS accuracy and other position information. Your ship's speed and course are also displayed on top.

Once started the app will continue to transmit your position to the Marine Traffic website until it is stopped. It will also work in the background mode until stopped.

Selecting the gear icon in the lower right corner brings you to the settings page. Here you can enter all the pertinent information about your vessel.  You will need to enter your registered email and enter your user password. If you don't have a Marine Traffic account select to register one.

The next section asks for your MMSI number. If you have one you can enter it here. If you do not want one you can select the register link to get a unique vessel ID from Marine Traffic. You will enter that here instead of an MMSI. 

Marine Traffic suggest you register and get an MMSI number. This will register your boat and allow your MMSI number to also be used with your VHF radio's DSC feature.

Additional information can also be added on the settings page. Vessel name, vessel type, IMO, call sign, boat length and width, destination, ETA, status and draft.

You can also set the reporting period of your position from 1 to 5 minutes.

The app is great to keep track of your friends if you are sailing together and of course keep out of the way of large commercial ship traffic. The Marine Traffic network is worldwide and growing with new ports being added regularly.

I like the concept of the Marine Traffic system and if you are just a coastal cruiser it will probably serve your needs well.  If you cross the worlds oceans or deliver yachts for a living you will want an full blown AIS receiver/transmitter to see the big ships coming and to let them know you are out there too.

One thing I found a little awkward about the app is that a separate app has to be used to view your ships position.  You will need to purchase the Marine Traffic app for $3.99 to view the Marine Traffic data.  It would be nice if the developers could combine the two apps into one.

I reviewed Boat Beacon a few posts ago. It is a similar type of AIS app with some additional useful navigating and viewing features. Check them both out and let me know which one works best for you.  Are any of you readers out there using AIS apps like these?


  1. I truly like to reading your post. Thank you so much for taking the time to share such a nice information.
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  2. Mark, interesting App.

    However, what is the cost of operation??? Presumably reporting of your location is done via email at the priod you indicate, i.e. every 1 to 5 minutes.

    Given that there will probably be no WiFi connection then the email will be done using GSM - so it will eat into your daily data allowance.

    Any thoughts??

    Great Blog


    1. Stephen,

      I believe the app reports your position through your cell or internet connection to their website. I am not sure what you mean by cost of operation. If you have a cell data plan it should be large enough to handle the small amount of position data sent back to the Marine Traffic site.