Two of our most popular products are Rose Point Navigation Coastal Explorer 2011 and the Standard Horizon GX2150 VHF radio with a built-in AIS receiver. And a common question we get is: can these two products work together? Fortunately, with the addition of our USB Breakout Cable, the answer is yes and the work to integrate the two products is very straight forward.
Before jumping into how to connect these solutions together, it is worth reviewing what each product does.
Coastal Explorer is one of the leading PC navigation packages on the market today. Not only does it support all the latest navigation features, such as AIS integration, weather overlays, free US charts and automatic chart updating, but at $369 list price it is probably the best value solution when compared to other computer-based navigation solutions.
Coastal Explorer can accept NMEA data from vessel electronics using a variety of wireless or wired methods. At the very least, you’ll need to connect a GPS or chartplotter to the computer in order to see your own position in Coastal Explorer. If you need a portable GPS system for Coastal Explorer, then the Rose Point Navigation Portable GPS Sensoris highly recommended.
Standard Horizon has been making marine radio for years but a few years ago it launched the new AIS Matrix product line which included a revolutionary design that integrated a dual-channel AIS receiver in a marine VHF radio form factor. By wiring in a GPS source into the radio, not only did you get full DSC functionality, but you also got a mini AIS display showing a radar-like view of nearby vessels. To call an AIS vessel, you simply selected the vessel on the display and hit the CALL button. Another major benefit is that you only need one VHF antenna connection to get both AIS and VHF radio support. No additional antenna splitter is required. This award winning product didn’t stop there though. The AIS data that is used by the internal display can also be used by external devices that support AIS by hooking up the radio’s AIS output wires to the other device’s input wires. The most common scenario is probably hooking the Matrix up to a chartplotter but lots of people use computers for navigation so the question comes up – how can I get that AIS data to my computer?
The easiest way to connect the Matrix to a computer so you can use AIS data with Coastal Explorer is to use our USB Breakout Cable. This cable has a USB connector on one end and bare leads that can be connected to serial-based instruments on the other end. It uses the rock-solid FTDI USB chipset. This cable provides an easy way to not only connect the GX2150 to your computer but any marine instrument that has NMEA 0183 output wires can also be connected. We offer this cable in two versions:
- An RS232 version uses a common ground-based system, which is used by many chartplotters and radios and;
- An RS422 NMEA version which uses opto-isolated wire pairs for input and output communication – a system used by some manufacturers such as Raymarine.
Since the GX2150 uses a common ground signaling system, we are going to use the RS232 version for this scenario.
Making These All Work Together
This solution provides two major new capabilities for making these products work with new functionality:
- The AIS data coming from the Matrix GX2150 is used by Rose Point Navigation Coastal Explorer, allowing you to see real-time AIS traffic overlaid on your digital charts. Not only do you see other vessels moving in relation to your vessel – you can also see the other vessels’ speed, course, name, call sign, closest point of approach, time to closest point of approach and more. Plus you also get audible warnings when you are on a collision course.
- Since you have a GPS connected to your Coastal Explorer system in order to plot your own position, you will now be able to send that GPS position information to the Matrix radio. You need a GPS connected to the Matrix in order for the AIS display to work and for full DSC functionality.
There are three major steps to making this work correctly:
I - Wiring: First, we need to connect the input / output wires on the GX2150 to the USB Cable. Three wires are used – input, output and ground. You’ll want to use a terminal block or other approved system for connecting the wires. If you need to extend the wires, you can do so using a three-wire shielded cable but it is generally recommended to not exceed 16 feet of length of wire. The wiring connections are as follows:
NOTE: On newer models of the GX2150 there are negative wires for each port connection. If you have one of these models, you will need to connect both the GREEN and the BROWN negative output wires on the GX2150 to the BLACK common ground on the USB Breakout Cable.
II - GX2150 Configuration: You will need to ensure that the NMEA port on the GX2150 is set to communicate at 38400 baud. To do this, with the radio on:
- Press and hold the [CALL (MENU)] key on the front panel.
- Press the [SELECT] softkey to enter the GENERAL SETTINGS menu.
- Use the CHANNEL knob to scroll down and until the NMEA DATA IN/OUT settings menu item is highlighted. Press the [SELECT] softkey.
- Use the CHANNEL knob to highlight 38400 BPS. Press the [ENT] softkey.
- Press the [QUIT] softkey three times to exit back to the default radio display.
See the GX2150 manual for more information if needed.
III - Computer Configuration: The following steps are required to configure your computer:
- Before plugging the USB cable into your Windows-based computer, load the device driver. This can be installed by clicking on the link here.
- Now plug in the USB cable into an available USB port on your computer.
- If you are using a USB GPS, make sure this is plugged in. If you are using the GPS for the first time, ensure that the driver has been installed.
- Start Coastal Explorer and go the “Configure Vessel and Electronics” window.
- Select “Data Ports” and the “Auto Detect” link. This should find your GPS on one port and your USB Breakout Cable on another port plus any other devices connected to the computer. You should see results similar to this screen:
- Once the devices have been detected, choose the “Port Settings” link in the “Configure Vessel and Electronics” window. The USB Breakout Cable will be labeled as “USB Serial Port (COMx)”. The COM port number will be whatever the system chose when the device driver was installed. If you have multiple devices that use the FTDI chipset then you may see more than one entry with ““USB Serial Port (COMx)”. The USB Breakout Cable connected to the GX2150 should be already set to a baud rate of 38400. If necessary, use the data ports Troubleshooter and scroll through each port to see which port is receiving AIS data. Note the COM port number for the port that shows AIS receiver data.
- Select the “Port Settings” link in the “Configure Vessel and Electronics” window and select the port where AIS data was found. Now select both the “Listener” and the “Talker” check boxes. Your configuration should look similar to the following:
Your computer should now be configured. If you run into problems, check the documentation for Coastal Explorer.
You should now be fully operational. Check the GX2150 display and ensure you have a GPS position showing on the home screen. You should also see nearby AIS targets on the AIS display screen similar to the following:
You should also see AIS targets on your Coastal Explorer screen similar to the following:
That completes the steps to integrate a Standard Horizon GX2150 radio with Coastal Explorer using our USB Breakout Cable. One note with this setup: in order to have the GPS work with the GX2150 and have AIS targets in Coastal Explorer, both systems have to be running and connected together with the USB Breakout Cable. If either system is turned off, the other system will no longer work with full functionality.
As always, we welcome your feedback. Feel free to comment below.