Ship monitoring - what do you think? How could it be better?

As part of an ongoing study into ship monitoring, I would like to ask seafarers how they feel about ship monitoring technologies like LRIT and AIS.

What is good about it? What bad? How is it being misused? How could it be misused? How could it be done, or used, better? What would you like to see in the future in terms of the technology, regulations and company policy?

I plan to co-publish entries to this discussion to a separate blog dedicated to the topic. Here other discussions on the same theme, and blog entries on the topic, will also be published. This blog can be found at

AIS is overall fantastic, just for the fact that it gets rid of endless “calling the vessel in position xx, cse xx, spd xx” calls. It is nice to know that you can usually call someone by name on the radio. It is a useful backup to what the ARPA is indicating in that I like it when they both tell me similar info on a contact.

On the flip side, there can be a lot of variation in the quality of data that is being broadcasted over AIS, and you have to take everything with a grain of salt. We have all seen that ship icon on the ECDIS cruising along a course of 090 with their heading stuck at 000. Or the ship clearly at the pier loading cargo, but on the screen a few cables inland.
Some of the data seems pretty needless for most users. Why do I need to know the destination of a vessel while on watch? It can somtimes be useful in predicting where a vessel may be about to turn in a busy area such as leaving a port, but of all the misinformation I have seen, destination seems to be the most common. It’s also a security risk that some may exploit.

AIS is required for most of us now, but it seems that there is little to no enforcement of making sure it is being used properly. Some ships are great about it, some half ass it, and some turn it on and off at will (MSC). I am guessing it will be integrated into the next STCW changes we are all going to have to face as well.

Hi Mercury,

Out of curiousity (and ignorance of exactly how an AIS transceiver works), how easy is it to simply turn on and off? Is it just a matter of throwing a switch and you are “stealth”?


On my latest ship they made it “difficult” to turn off the unit, you need a technician password and the power cord is hard wired into the bridge console. On past ships I’ve worked there was a simple power button.

I’m interested in responses to this question as gCaptain and Maritime Information Systems are currently working on getting global AIS coverage via satellite into our AIS iPhone App gTRAX.

Aside from crossing the Gulf of Aden or Malacca Straits, when piracy is an issue, when would seafarers want to turn off the AIS?

I have used both units that can and cannot be turned off. While at the dock for any extended periods of time, I turned off MY AIS in order to “declutter” the list of vessels in busy ports. It can be very frustrating in a port like Fourchon looking at a list of hundreds of vessels all w/in a few miles of each other. When you are looking for a vessel that is underway near you, yet there are a ton of vessels at the dock w/ AIS, the list can be a pain in the ass to manage.

I love having AIS to work w/ but as with all other aids for navigation, their limitations and susceptibility to errors NEEDS to be realized.