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AIS FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

1. What is AIS? Per 33 CFR §164.46(a), AIS is a maritime navigation safety communications system standardized by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and adopted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) that provides vessel information, including the vessel's identity, type, position, course, speed, navigational status and other safety-related information automatically to appropriately equipped shore stations, other ships, and aircraft; receives automatically such information from similarly fitted ships; monitors and tracks ships; and exchanges data with shore-based facilities. Read more on what it is, how it works, what it broadcasts, and, the messages it uses, etc.

2. How do I install and program my AIS; and, what is a MMSI? AIS devices should be installed taking into consideration the guidelines developed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO Safety of Navigation Circular.227, GUIDELINES FOR THE INSTALLATION OF A SHIPBORNE AUTOMATIC IDENTIFICATION SYSTEM) or the National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA 0400-4.00, INSTALLATION STANDARD. Programming an AIS varies by class. AIS Class B are not user configurable; therefore, owners should contact their AIS manufacturer or retailer for instructions. AIS Class A owners, may encode their own device, but will require knowing the unit password to do so. Either class should be encoded to reflect the vessel’s official data as provided in its radio station license or state registration (for those vessels licensed by rule), and, as provided in the USCG AIS Encoding Guide. A unique and official 9-digit Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) number is required for every AIS station. To obtain one see our MMSI page. Note, AIS users must ensure their AIS is always in effective operating condition and broadcasting accurately (33 CFR §164.46(d)). Failure to do so could subject a person to civil penalties not to exceed $25,000 (46 U.S.C. 70119). Note, each USCG type-approved AIS has an internal built-in integrity tester that mitigates the need to send TEST text messages. For further guidance on the programming and use of AIS text messages please read USCG Safety Alert 05-10.

3. What is the AIS rule and are there alternatives to the rule for small businesses? The U.S. Coast Guard has developed rules applicable to both U.S. and foreign-flag vessels that require owners and operators of most commercial vessels operating on U.S. navigable waters to be outfitted with an Automatic Identification System (AIS). These rules are part of our domestic and international effort to increase the security and safety of maritime transportation. Initial AIS rules became effective on July 1st, 2003 (68 FR 60559) and were subsequently amended on January 30th, 2015 (80 FR 5281), so as to require that all vessels denoted 33 CFR § 164.46(d) be outfitted with an USCG type-approved and properly installed operational AIS no later than March 1st, 2016.type-approved and properly installed, operational AIS no later than March 1st, 2016. There are no alternatives to this rule, however, many small business may meet the carriage requirement by purchasing a lower cost AIS Class B device in lieu of a Class A. See our Small Entity Compliance Guide to AIS and our AIS FAQ#4 below for further information.

4. Do AIS Class B devices meet current USCG AIS carriage requirements? Yes, a small segment of mandatory AIS users (see 33 CFR § 164.46(b)(2)) can use a Coast Guard type-approved AIS Class B device in lieu of a Class A device—AIS Class A vs B comparison. Note, U.S. AIS carriage requirements can only be met by USCG type-approved equipment which displays a USCG 165.155/156 Approval Number.  A listing of all USCG type-approved equipment can be found at the Coast Guard Maritime Information Exchange (CGMIX) [EQList Search, Select: Approval Series Name--Shipborne AIS]. Voluntary AIS users may avail themselves of either a AIS Class A or B device, but, such device must be FCC certified for its use in the United States. For a listing of FCC certified AIS equipment use the FCC OET Equipment Authorization Search Form [Select: Equipment Class--AIS).

5. How does AIS help to increase security (and what is NAIS)? Although AIS is primarily and foremost a navigation tool for collision avoidance, the Coast Guard believes that the AIS will improve security also. AIS and our Nationwide AIS Project (NAIS) increases the Coast Guard’s awareness of vessels in the maritime domain, especially vessels approaching U.S. ports. The AIS corroborates and provides identification and position of vessels not always possible through voice radio communication or radar alone.

6. When must AIS be in operation? Vessels equipped with AIS (either by mandatory carriage or voluntarily) must abide by the requirements set forth in 33 CFR 164.46(d) and should especially ensure their AIS is in properly installed, using an assigned MMSI, and, that its data is accessible from the primary conning position of the vessel. Also, that it be in 'effective operating condition', which entails the continuous operation of AIS and the accurate input and upkeep of AIS data fields during all times that the vessel is navigating (underway or at anchor), and, at least 15 minutes prior to unmooring. Should continual operation of AIS compromise the safety or security of the vessel or where a security incident is imminent, the AIS may be switched off. This action and the reason for taking it must be reported to the nearest U.S. Captain of the Port or Vessel Traffic Center and recorded in the ship's logbook. The AIS should return to continuous operation as soon as the source of danger has been mitigated.

7. Does the installation of the AIS require additional equipment in order for the AIS to operate properly? No, however, Chapter V, Regulation 19 of the Safety of Life at Sea Convention (SOLAS), as stated in 33 CFR § 164.46(d)(2), does require certain vessels on international voyage to interface it to other existing onboard equipment (i.e. transmitting heading device, gyro, rate of turn indicator); domestic vessels, are not currently required to do so, however it is highly recommended.

8. Will it be necessary to have electronic navigational charts for use with the AIS? Eventually. Section 410 of the Coast Guard and Marine Transportation Act of 2004 (P.L.108-293) directs the Coast Guard to prescribe regulations that will require most commercial vessels "while operating on the navigable waters of the United States...be equipped with and operate an electronic chart system (ECS)"; and, that this system be integrated with AIS. A rulemaking implementing this additional requirement is in development. Till these regulations are finalized, AIS is not required to be displayed on an ECS or other external display system; although it is highly recommended. The full benefits of AIS are only achieved when it is fully integrated and displayed on other shipboard navigation systems (e.g. Electronic Charts Data & Information System (ECDIS), ECS, Radar, Automatic Radar Plotting Aide (ARPA), Tracking Devices, personal software, etc.).

9. Are fishing vessels subject to AIS carriage, and, are onboard Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) an acceptable substitute for AIS? Yes and no. Commercial self-propelled fishing vessels of 65 feet or more in length are subject to AIS carriage requirements; see 33 CFR 164.46(b). Per 33 CFR § 164.46(b)(2), fishing industry vessels (i.e. fishing processors, tenders, and vessels as defined in 46 U.S.C. 2101) may use lower-cost AIS Class B units in lieu of Class A devices. However, a NOAA Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) are not an acceptable substitute for AIS because they are not inter-operable or compatible. Each uses different communication systems, protocols, reporting rates, and, most importantly VMS does not, nor is it designed to, mitigate collisions or enhance users’ situational awareness. Read more...

10. Why have some AIS units stopped broadcasting valid position reports? On February 27th, 2008 the GPS constellation increased to 32 satellites (PRN 32) thus providing a 5% increase in satellite availability and DOP (dilution of precision) world-wide. It has come to our attention that some (non-USCG type approved) AIS units-particularly old equipment which is non-compliant with the GPS interface standard (IS-GPS-200)-cannot recognize this additional satellite and subsequently are unable to calculate a position and broadcast a valid AIS Position Report. Note, the reported malfunctioning units do continue to receive position reports and are able to send and receive AIS text messages. Owners of AIS equipment denoted here, however, should be aware that their internal GPS systems may not act as a proper-timing or position-back-up under certain circumstances, i.e. when in view of PRN32. AIS users must ensure their units have or are interfaced with a properly operating Electronic Position Fixing System at all times. GPS and/or AIS problems should be reported via the NAVCEN website or via phone to the USCG Navigation Information Service at 1-703-313-5900.

11. Why am I unable to see an AIS vessels' name or other static information (dimensions, call sign, etc.)? Shipboard AIS units autonomously broadcast two different AIS messages: a 'position report' which includes the vessels dynamic data (e.g. latitude, longitude, position accuracy, time, course, speed, navigation status); and, a 'static and voyage related report' which includes data particular to the vessel (e.g. name, dimensions, type) and regarding its voyage (e.g. static draft, destination, and ETA). Position reports are broadcasted very frequently (between 2-10 seconds-depending on the vessels speed-or every 3 minutes if at anchor), while static and voyage related reports are sent every six minutes; thus it is common and likely that an AIS user will receive numerous position reports from a vessel prior to receipt of the vessels' name and type, etc.

12. Why do I sometimes see more than one vessel with the same MMSI or vessel name (i.e. NAUT)? AIS users are required to operate their unit with a valid MMSI, unfortunately, some users neglect to do so (for example, use: 111111111, 123456789, 00000001, their U.S. documentation number, etc). A valid MMSI will start with a digit from 2 to 7, a U.S. assigned MMSI will start with either 338, 366, 367, 368, or 369. AIS users whom encounter a vessel using MMSI: 1193046 or named: NAUT should notify the user that their AIS unit is broadcasting improper data; see Nauticast AIS-MMSI Technical Bulletin for further information. All AIS users should check the accuracy of their AIS data prior to each voyage, and, particularly units that have been shutdown for any period of time. NOTE: If you are receiving (in range of) AIS reports from vessels using the same MMSI, they will appear as one vessel (jumping from position-to-position or line-to-line) on a graphical screen (e.g. ECS, ECDIS, radar) or on the AIS Minimal Keyboard Device (MKD).

13. I just purchased and installed an AIS Class B, will AIS Class A users ‘see’ me? Although all Class A devices will receive Class B information; unfortunately, some older Class A models are unable to display this information on their Minimum Keyboard and Display (MKD) or may only have available the Class B vessel’s dynamic data (i.e. position, course and speed) but not its static data (i.e. vessel name, call-sign). Therefore, the Coast Guard cautions new AIS Class B users to not assume that they are being ‘seen’ by all other AIS users or that all their information is available to all Class A users. Further, we exhort users of certain AIS Class A units to, as soon as practicable, update their MKD’s and/or other external navigation display systems (e.g. Electronic Charts Systems, Electronic Chart & Display Information Systems, radar, etc.) in order to view this new stream of valuable AIS information that will enhance navigation safety and mitigate the risk of collision. A rulemaking to mandate such an update is forthcoming. Here is a listing of Coast Guard type-approved AIS Class A units which require a firmware update in order to display AIS Class B information.

14. Do AIS Class B devices meet current USCG AIS carriage requirements? Maybe. Per 33 CFR 164.46(b)(2), use of an AIS Class B device, in lieu of a mandatory Class A device, is permissible, but, only on: dredges; fishing industry vessels; and, vessels certificated to carry less than 150 passengers, that do not operate in a Vessel Movement Reporting System (VMRS) area defined in Table 161.12(c) or at speeds in excess of 14 knots. See a comparison of Class A and Class B/CS AIS.

15. Is the USCG considering expanding AIS carriage to other vessels or outside of VTS areas? Yes. On January 30th, 2015 the Coast Guard published a Final Rule (80 FR 5281, corrected 80 FR 17326), which on March 2nd, 2015, expands AIS carriage (68 FR 60599) to most commercial vessels operating on any U.S. navigable waters (see our Fact Sheet for those affected), and harmonizes U.S. AIS requirements with Regulation V/19.2.4 of the Safety of Life at Sea Convention and § 102 of the Maritime Transportation Security Act of 2002. The docket containing comments submitted, supporting documents, and the regulatory analysis to this and our proposed rulemaking (73 FR 76295) can be found at www.regulations.gov [Search: USCG-2005-21869]. See printer-friendly PDF formats of these 2015 requirements, our 2008 proposed rule, an amalgamation of both, our 2003 requirements, and, a chart-comparison of all three.

16. How can I get a copy of an AIS presentation I saw (or heard about it) that was given at...You can download recent presentations given by Coast Guard Office of Navigation Systems personnel here:

17. Where can I get AIS data? Although the U.S. Coast Guard operates our Nation's AIS network (NAIS), we do not --currently-- make our AIS information available to the general public. There are, however, numerous AIS networks and commercial purveyors that do provide AIS data and track information on the World Wide Web; many of which are listed on Wikipedia's AIS webpage. Local, state and federal government agencies may request U.S. Coast Guard Nation-wide AIS data here.

18. Reserved for future use.

19. What is AIS Channel Management? One of the lesser known and potent features of AIS is its ability to operate on multiple channels of the VHF-FM marine band. This frequency agility ensures AIS can be used even when the default channels are otherwise unavailable or compromised. In such conditions, competent authorities, such as the Coast Guard, can use an AIS base station to tele-command shipborne AIS devices to other more appropriate channels when within a defined region(s) of 200 to 2000 square nautical miles. This can be done automatically (and without user intervention) by receipt of the AIS channel management message (AIS message 22) or manually entered via the AIS Minimal Keyboard Display (MKD) or similar input device. Once commanded or inputted the channels management information will stay in memory for 5 weeks or until a vessel exceed 500 nautical miles from the defined region. AIS channel management commands can only be automatically overridden via another channel management message for the same defined region or manually overridden or erased by the user via the unit’s channel (regional frequencies) management function—read more. Note, reinitializing or resetting your AIS or transmission channels will not necessarily reprogram your unit back to default channels.

20. Can I use my AIS in an emergency or for distress messaging? Although not prohibited (see 33 CFR § 164.46(d)(3)), be aware that AIS safety related text messages are not currently monitored or acted upon as Global Maritime Distress Safety Systems (GMDSS) alert messages by the Coast Guard or other maritime search and rescue authorities. Therefore, AIS should not be relied upon as the primary means for broadcasting distress or urgent communications, nor used in lieu of GMDSS such as Digital Selective Calling radios which are designed to process distress messaging. Nonetheless, AIS remains an effective means to augment GMDSS and provides the added benefit of being seen (on radar or chart displays), in addition to being heard (via AIS text messaging) by other AIS users within VHF radio range. For further guidance, see USCG Safety Alert 5-10. Also, see the International Maritime Organization’s (COMSAR) Circular 46, USE OF AIS SAFETY-RELATED MESSAGING IN DISTRESS SITUATIONS.

21. Is the Coast Guard broadcasting AIS Aids to Navigation Reports? Yes. The U.S. Coast Guard and other authorized agencies and organizations (i.e., U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Marine Exchange of Alaska) are transmitting AIS ATON Reports and marine safety information via AIS (see our Special Notice 01-2014). The exact content, location, and times of these transmissions will be announced in the Coast Guard Local Notices to Mariners (LNM) and denoted in Coast Guard Light List.

Note, AIS AtoN can autonomously and at fixed intervals broadcast the name, position, dimensions, type, characteristics and status from or concerning an aid to navigation.  AIS AtoN can be either physical (physically fitted to the AtoN), synthetic (physically fitted somewhere other than to the AtoN) or virtual (physically nonexistent, but capable of being portrayed on AIS-capable displays). AIS AtoN can also be used to broadcast both laterally (e.g., Port Hand Mark) and non-laterally significant marine safety information (e.g., environmental data, tidal information, and navigation warnings). For further information on AIS ATON refer to the various IALA Guidelines and Recommendations.

22. Have an AIS question not answered here? Please contact us.