OPERATION OF AIS ON BOARD



AIS should always be in operation when ships are underway or at anchor. If the master believes that the continual operation of AIS might compromise the safety or security of his/her ship or where security incidents are imminent, the AIS may be switched off. Unless it would further compromise the safety or security, if the ship is operating in a mandatory ship reporting system, the master should report this action and the reason for doing so to the competent authority. Actions of this nature should always be recorded in the ship's logbook together with the reason for doing so. The master should however restart the AIS as soon as the source of danger has disappeared. If the AIS is shut down, static data and voyage-related information remains stored.

Restart is done by switching on the power to the AIS unit. Ship's own data will be transmitted after a two minute initialization period. In ports AIS operation should be in accordance with port requirements.

Manual input of data

 The OOW should manually input the following data at the start of the voyage and whenever changes occur, using an input device such as a keyboard:

 – ship's draught;

 – hazardous cargo;

 – departure, destination and ETA;

 – route plan (way points);

 – the correct navigational status; and

– short safety-related text messages.

It is recommended to use the United Nations Code for Trade and Transport Locations (UN/LOCODE) for the entry of the port of destination. In addition, it is recommended that the existing destination field be used for entering both the port of departure and the next port of call (space for 20 characters of 6 bit ASCII is available) using the UN/LOCODE.1

Check of information

To ensure that own ship's static information is correct and up-to-date, the OOW should check the data whenever there is a reason for it. As a minimum, this should be done once per voyage or once per month, whichever is shorter. The data may be changed only on the authority of the master.

The OOW should also periodically check the following dynamic information:

 – positions given according to WGS 84;

– speed over ground; and

– sensor information.

After activation, an automatic built-in integrity test (BIIT) is performed. In the case of any AIS malfunction an alarm is provided and the unit should stop transmitting.

The quality or accuracy of the ship sensor data input into AIS would not however be checked by the BIIT circuitry before being broadcast to other ships and shore stations. The ship should therefore carry out regular routine checks during a voyage to validate the accuracy of the information being transmitted. The frequency of those checks would need to be increased in coastal waters.


The AIS provides data that can be presented on the minimum display or on any suitable display device as described in annex 1. 1 SN/Circ.244.

Minimum display

The minimum mandated display provides not less than three lines of data consisting of bearing, range and name of a selected ship. Other data of the ship can be displayed by horizontal scrolling of data, but scrolling of bearing and range is not possible. Vertical scrolling will show all the other ships known to the AIS.

Graphical display

Where AIS information is used with a graphical display, the following target types may be displayed:

Sleeping target A sleeping target indicates only the presence of a vessel equipped with AIS in a certain location. No additional information is presented until activated, thus avoiding information overload.

Activated target If the user wants to know more about a vessel's motion, he has simply to activate the target (sleeping), so that the display shows immediately:

 – a vector (speed and course over ground);

 – the heading; and

 – ROT indication (if available) to display actually initiated course changes.

Selected target

If the user wants detailed information on a target (activated or sleeping), he may select it. Then the data received, as well as the calculated CPA and TCPA values, will be shown in an alpha-numeric window. The special navigation status will also be indicated in the alpha numeric data field and not together with the target directly.

Dangerous target

If an AIS target (activated or not) is calculated to pass preset CPA and TCPA limits, it will be classified and displayed as a dangerous target and an alarm will be given.

Lost target

If a signal of any AIS target at a distance of less than a preset value is not received, a lost target symbol will appear at the latest position and an alarm will be given.

Other targets

Other targets such as AIS-SART, AIS-AToN, may be displayed with special symbols (see SN.1/Circ.243/Rev.1 Guidelines for the presentation of navigational-related symbols, terms and abbreviations).


The user should be familiar with the symbology used in the graphical display provided.


The officer of the watch (OOW) should always be aware that other ships, in particular leisure craft, fishing boats and warships, and some coastal shore stations including Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) centres, might not be fitted with AIS.

The OOW should always be aware that other ships fitted with AIS as a mandatory carriage requirement might switch off AIS under certain circumstances by professional judgement of the master.

In other words, the information given by the AIS may not be a complete picture of the situation around the ship.

The users must be aware that transmission of erroneous information implies a risk to other ships as well as their own. The users remain responsible for all information entered into the system and the information added by the sensors.

The accuracy of AIS information received is only as good as the accuracy of the AIS information transmitted.

The OOW should be aware that poorly configured or calibrated ship sensors (position, speed and heading sensors) might lead to incorrect information being transmitted. Incorrect information about one ship displayed on the bridge of another could be dangerously confusing.

If no sensor is installed or if the sensor (e.g. the gyro) fails to provide data, the AIS automatically transmits the "not available" data value. However, the built-in integrity check cannot validate the contents of the data processed by the AIS.

It would not be prudent for the OOW to assume that the information received from other ships is of a comparable quality and accuracy to that which might be available on own ship.


The potential of AIS as an assistance for anti-collision device is recognized and AIS may be recommended as such a device in due time.

Nevertheless, AIS information may merely be used to assist in collision avoidance decision-making. When using the AIS in the ship-to-ship mode for anti-collision purposes, the following cautionary points should be borne in mind:

.1            AIS is an additional source of navigational information. It does not replace, but supports, navigational systems such as radar target-tracking and VTS; and

.2            the use of AIS does not negate the responsibility of the OOW to comply at all times with the Collision Regulations, particularly rule 7 when determining whether risk of collisions exists.

The user should not rely on AIS as the sole information system, but should make use of all safety-relevant information available.

The use of AIS on board ship is not intended to have any special impact on the composition of the navigational watch, which should continue to be determined in accordance with the STCW Convention. Once a ship has been detected, AIS can assist in tracking it as a target. By monitoring the information broadcast by that target, its actions can also be monitored. Many of the problems common to tracking targets by radar, namely clutter, target swap as ships pass close by and target loss following a fast manoeuvre, do not affect AIS. AIS can also assist in the identification of targets, by name or call sign and by ship type and navigational status.