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AIS on the iPad

Posted by Doug Miller on 11/27/2011 to Products & Technology

We have been getting a lot of requests for ways to get AIS data to an iPad. Having looked at the various technologies and products out there, I have a least one way that seems to work very well to sharing AIS and GPS data with an Apple iPad and other devices.

Before getting into the specifics, it is worth mentioning three possible ways to interface to an iPad: wireless networking, Bluetooth and multiplexers. I decided to try the wireless networking route. I favored using a wireless network connection since I had this setup on my boat and it would have more range and better reliability than Bluetooth. Plus it is wireless. I looked at using a serial to wireless networking product (e.g. SerialIO's WiSnap product) connected to an AIS device to publish AIS data through a wireless connection; however this also involved some fairly serious fiddling to get it just right. While I did get this method to work, I can't say I recommend going this route unless you have a lot of experience with network administration. This method also had the downside that the AIS port only allowed one device to connect to the AIS data stream at a time. I wanted to be able to have multiple devices use the AIS data including an iPad and a PC.

My method involved the following components:

  1. Any AIS device with a serial or USB port. In my case, I used an AMEC CAMINO-101 Class B transponder which is able to output both AIS and GPS data with a Sabrent USB Serial Adapter. I also tested this with a Smart Radio SR161 AIS receiver and a Comar AIS-2-USB.
  2. A PC running Windows.
  3. Franson GPSGate software for Windows. This allows piping the serial data from the AIS device to a network port using software on the Windows-based PC. This product costs $39 but is well worth the money. This can be downloaded here.
  4. A wireless networking hub.
  5. An Apple iPad. These steps also with an Apple iPhone.
  6. iNavX. A marine navigation product for iPad. More info here.
  7. Rose Point Navigation Coastal Explorer 2011. A marine navigation product running on the Windows-based PC. More info here.

The following steps were used:

  1. I first setup my Windows PC with a static IP address and connected it to my network router. This method works with a PC connected wirelessly or via a wired cable to the router. But it is important to know what your IP address is. My router was setup to use the network 192.168.123.x with DHCP using addresses 192.168.123.110-200. I chose 192.168.123.60 for my PC using a network cable.
  2. I then plugged the CAMINO-101 with the USB Serial adapter into an available USB port. I made sure my USB drivers were loaded and I noted the COM port for the USB Serial adapter was mapped to COM4. I double checked that AIS data was indeed coming in on COM4 at 38400 baud.
  3. I then installed GPSGate on the PC. It runs in the background but you need to configure it to pipe the data correctly. You will find the program running once it is started on the bottom right notification area. Right click on the icon and select Settings. I set up the Input to use COM4 at 38400 baud (the port my AIS device was attached to).

    I then set up the Output to be a TCP Server using port 20175 (the default offered by GPSGate).

    I then clicked on the Open button on the Input tab. If things are setup correctly you should see a Running OK! message.

    It is worth noting that you can set up multiple output ports with GPSGate. For example you could create a virtual COM port and attach to it with any standard marine navigation program running on the PC.
  4. At this point AIS and GPS data is available to devices on the network. In order to test this, I setup Rose Point Coastal Explorer on my PC and created a network port under data connections. Using the IP address of the PC and the port used by GPSGate.

    This step is not required if you don't own Coastal Explorer. If you do own Coastal Explorer there is a Data Server built into the product which can be used instead of GPSGate. The concept for setting this up is very similar to the steps with GPSGate.
  5. Now let's move to the iPad. Make sure that it has wireless networking enabled and it is associated with the same network router that the PC is connected to.
  6. The next step is to download and install the iNavX product on the iPad. See the iNavX site for instructions on how to install this product. Once it is installed, go the configuration page for Instruments and touch the TCP/IP button on the top left of the Instruments page. We now want to add a TCP/IP NMEA Client. The Host is the IP address of the PC (192.168.123.60) and the Port is the port used by GPSGate (20175). Then select ON on the Link button and then touch Save on this screen and the next screen.

    If you are attached to an AIS device that also outputs GPS data, you should see the GPS and AIS tracking information (TCT) displayed on the Instruments page. Now select Chart at the bottom of the screen and you should now have real-time AIS data as well as have GPS data for showing the position of your vessel. As long as you are in range of your wireless router, you should see AIS and GPS data on your iPad.

That's it. Using this method you are able to take the output from most AIS or AIS/GPS devices and share it with both a PC and an iPad or iPhone. This does require having a PC, wireless router and the AIS device to be on in order to work but assuming that is acceptable this is a neat way to get AIS (and GPS) data to all the computing devices on your boat.

On a later post, I'll walk through how to do this without using a PC or a wireless router. Stay tuned and happy boating.

Doug Miller

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9 Comments

susan Meckley
Date: 2/9/2012 1:15:20 PM
Aloha:....I have viewed you blog site for the $445 USD ais "B" unit. 1. Do I need the extra switch to disable the transmit function? 2. Will the antenna I previously purchased from you work?
susan Meckley
Date: 2/9/2012 1:18:16 PM
Aloha:....I have viewed you blog site for the $445 USD ais "B" unit. 1. Do I need the extra switch to disable the transmit function? 2. Will the antenna I previously purchased from you work? 3. You sent me the Rose Navigation program when I previously purchased the "A" AIS. Does this qualify me for the 70USD discount? If so, then I think the $449 unit is for me Still have the "A" unit...perhaps someday I will find someone who wants it. II have not installed it...
Doug Miller
Date: 2/9/2012 2:51:35 PM
To answer your quesitons: - The AMEC CAMINO-101 can be put into "silent mode" by either using the switch we sell or via the PC-based AIS Viewer software that is included with the unit. - Re the previous antenna, if that was the VHF antenna then yes any good quality VHF antenna installed properly will work with an AIS transponder. - The $70 discount is for the Rose Point product when it is purchased with one of our other hardware products. - When you say you have an A unit, do you mean an AI
Doug Miller
Date: 2/9/2012 2:53:38 PM
Looks like my answer got cut off... When you say you have an A unit, do you mean an AIS receiver? If so, that unit you have receives both Class A and Class B messages. The CAMINO-101 transmits Class B messages but also receives both Class A and Class B AIS broadcasts form other vessels. Feel free to call us if you have other questions.
Steven Bennett
Date: 5/23/2012 7:40:48 AM
For $10 you can get an AIS (mAIS) app for the iPhone and iPad including collision detection that works around the coast.
Claus Jensen
Date: 7/21/2012 10:46:51 AM
A less complicated setup that does NOT require a wireless router is to use an "adhoc" connection from your PC to the iPad. The iNavX app describes this in the "help" section. Works like a charm :-)
Claus Jensen
Date: 7/21/2012 10:49:46 AM
A less complicated setup that does NOT require a wireless router is to use an "adhoc" connection from your PC (running CE 2011in my case) to the iPad. I am using a first gen iPad without GPS. The iPad picks up the location info embedded in the data stream from CE2011. The iNavX app describes this in the "help" section. Works like a charm :-)
Ed Hart
Date: 12/1/2013
I read your post on hooking up an AIS receiver to an iPad. Anything new?
Doug Miller
Date: 12/1/2013
Check out this later article for more info on wireless solutions: http://www.milltechmarine.com/Wireless-AIS-Solutions-for-Tablets_b_13.html Also check out iSailor for iPad. It also support AIS and wireless connections.

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