MEJ: NMEA has added several new and updated AIS
PGNs to NMEA 0183 and NMEA 2000® to accommodate
increased AIS use and functionality. What else can NMEA do
to support AIS development and deployment?
Robbins: Continue to evolve the standards to track
expanded data exchange applications so this information
can be utilized as soon as possible on vessel navigation systems. Occasionally differing interpretations of the standards
occur and continuing to work with manufacturers to help
remove ambiguities and to enhance multi-vendor integration results in a more seamless customer experience.
MEJ: Are there any issues/challenges abroad (regulatory or
practical) that are either impacting AIS currently or are likely
to impact it in the years ahead?
Robbins: In most places there aren’t significant regulatory
issues. However, it’s important in both the US and elsewhere
to verify that AIS equipment is legal to operate and has
proper approvals before installing it. It is particularly important in the US to ensure the equipment meets the new carriage rules that require USCG type-approved AIS equipment.
MEJ: Thinking about AIS overall—the technology, its
applications, future development, etc.—are there aspects we
haven’t discussed that would be of interest to NMEA members in the US and abroad?
Robbins: There are a wide variety of new applications for
enhanced digital services between vessels, and between vessels and shore stations, being planned. These new VHF terrestrial and satellite data exchange capabilities will greatly
enhance marine digital communications, but it is recognized
by the international community that the vital safety and
communications role that AIS currently plays cannot be
negatively impacted. As a result, the AIS frequencies and
functionality will continue to be preserved internationally
while non-navigational safety applications, such as Application Special Messages described above, will utilize internationally reallocated frequencies that are no longer in common use.
This maintains and protects the AIS system from
becoming overloaded while creating the opportunity for
new applications that can enable navigation displays to
graphically display safety and operational information
such as traffic management, area-specific warnings, two-way messaging, weather data and other high-speed digital
MEJ: How extensively is AIS used outside the U.S.? Has
the system succeeded in helping to reduce the number of
collisions or near collisions in ports and harbors and at sea?
Tetreault: AIS is an internationally standardized system
and is used worldwide. I don’t have access to hard numbers
myself, but I have heard that there are about 70,000 vessels
using AIS worldwide.
I’m not aware of any specific studies linking use of AIS
to a reduction in the number of collisions. To a certain
extent AIS is still in its initial stages, so it still may be premature to try to make a direct correlation. In any event,
AIS has provided a huge increase in the information available to vessel navigators and shoreside authorities to help
make better decisions.
MEJ: Does the system abroad operate essentially the same
as we use it in the US?
Tetreault: The technology is nearly identical worldwide
to what is used in the US. There are some minor differences
on the inland waterways of Europe, where an “Inland AIS”
has been developed, but even these units are interoperable
with all other AIS equipment.
Generally, worldwide carriage is the same as SOLAS
(Safety of Life at Sea) requirements. In US navigable waters,
AIS carriage has been expanded beyond the SOLAS population, which is more than most other nations have
required. New US regulations will allow certain vessels to
meet carriage requirements with Class B equipment, but
most carriage requirements in the US and worldwide can
only be met with Class A equipment.
MEJ: Some recreational boats in the US are voluntarily
installing AIS. Is there similar activity by boaters in other
Brian Tetreault is a Navigation Systems Specialist with the US Army Corps of Engineers. His portfolio
includes e-Navigation projects, such as expanding the use of AIS capabilities to enhance waterway
safety, efficiency and reliability. He is a representative to several national and international bodies
that are developing AIS standards and guidelines, including IEC (International Electrotechnical Commission), IALA (International Association of Lighthouse Authorities), and PIANC 9 (World Association
for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure). He is Chair of RTCM’s (Radio Technical Commission for
Maritime Services) Special Committee 121—AIS and Digital Messaging. A graduate of the US Coast
Guard Academy, he holds an Unlimited 2nd Mate and 1600 ton Master licenses.
US Army Corps of