Before walking through how to make these work together, it is worth reviewing why someone would want to connect an AIS transponder to a PC navigation program. The XB-8000, like all Class B AIS transponders, has the ability to output NMEA AIS and GPS sentences. The AIS sentences are generated by the built-in AIS receiver and the GPS sentences are passed on by the integrated GPS receiver, which is used to fix the position of your vessel so that this information can be sent out with regular AIS Class B transmissions. The Vesper unit also has the ability to multiplex incoming data found on the inbound NMEA 0183 port or the NMEA 2000 network and combine those sentences with the GPS and AIS sentences. For example, you might have a NMEA 0183 heading sensor connected to the NMEA 0183 input wires (GREEN and WHITE) and you might be getting depth and wind PGN information coming in from the NMEA 2000 network. The Vesper unit will combine all of this information, translate it if necessary to a consistent NMEA 0183 format and can then pass it to your PC for use with Coastal Explorer. This multiplexer capability is one of the key reasons why the XB-8000 is so popular.
Now that we have our XB-8000 installed, let’s look at the two ways to connect it to Coastal Explorer.
USB wired connection
The first obvious way to connect the XB-8000 to a PC is to use the USB port and USB-cable that comes with the XB-8000. The steps to make this work are very straightforward:
- Power on the XB-8000 and your PC.
- Download and install the XB-8000 USB driver. The FTDI driver can be downloaded from here. Once the file has been downloaded to your Windows computer, run the installer in the zip file to preload the driver.
- Plug the USB cable into the XB-8000 and an available USB port on your PC. If you completed step one, the driver will automatically install and create a virtual COM port on the PC. You can confirm this has been done by running the Windows Control Panel Device Manager on your computer and look for the COM port under “Ports (COM & LPT)”. It should be listed as something like “USB Serial Port (COM6)”. The COM port number is auto-assigned so it might show a different port number.
- Now that your PC is connected via USB, you can double check that it is working by installing and running the vmAIS utility if you like. Connect using the appropriate USB port chosen from the port drop down menu, and once connected have a look at the various status pages to make sure you are connected. If you ran vmAIS, exit that program now.
- Now start Coastal Explorer. Click on the three horizontal lines on the top left, which is the main menu and select “Configure Vessel and Electronics…”. Click on “Data Ports” and then “Auto Detect”. Coastal Explorer should find your USB connection to the XB-8000 and set it up correctly with NMEA 0183 as the interface type, 38400 baud and the “Listener” box checked. Click Close and OK to get back to the chart display on Coastal Explorer.
That’s it. You should now see your vessel position on the chart as well as nearby AIS targets.
The alternative way to connect the XB-8000 to Coastal Explorer is by using a wireless network connection. This setup is also straightforward but not quite as obvious. The steps are as follows:
- First we need to connect the PC Wi-Fi interface to the XB-8000 Wi-Fi network. Select the wireless network icon on the lower left of the task bar on your Windows desktop. Look for “VesperXB” under the available wireless networks and select it. If this is the first time connecting to the “VesperXB” network, you will be asked for a network security key. The default key is “WatchMate” (note the uppercase W and M as well as no spaces between Watch and Mate). This might take a minute or two and you might get a message or indication that there is “No Internet” connection. This is because the Vesper unit does not route network traffic to the Internet.
- Now that your PC is connected via Wi-Fi, you can double check that it is connected properly by installing and running the vmAIS utility if you like. Connect using the default wireless settings, not USB, and once connected have a look at the various status pages to make sure you are connected. If you ran vmAIS, exit that program now.
- Now start Coastal Explorer. Click on the three horizontal lines on the top left, which is the main menu and select “Configure Vessel and Electronics…”. Click on “Data Ports” on the left, then “Port Settings…” and then “Add Network Port…”. In the popup dialog box, you’ll want to choose “NMEA of TCP” in the first field, a friendly name for the connection such as “XB-8000” in the second field, “192.168.15.1” as IP address, “39150” as the port and make sure the “Listener” port is checked. Click OK, Close and OK to get back to the chart display on Coastal Explorer.
That’s it. You should now see your vessel position on the chart as well as nearby AIS targets, appearing in Coastal Explorer using your wireless connection. Using either method, you should also be able to display other NMEA data if you have those devices also connected to the XB-8000.
If you find you have followed all the steps but don’t see any data in Coastal Explorer, here are some troubleshooting tips:
- Coastal Explorer has a very useful port Troubleshooter found under “Configure Vessel and Electronics…” -> “Data Ports”. Use that to ensure that your ports are setup, have the correct settings and that you are getting valid NMEA data on the port. This Troubleshooter works for both wired USB and wireless network connections.
- If you are connecting via USB, make sure you have loaded the driver. Use the Windows Device Manager to confirm the device is recognized and to see which COM port number has been assigned. If you are still having USB issues, see our USB Troubleshooter Guide here.
- If the “Auto Detect” tool doesn’t find your USB COM port, try selecting “Configure Vessel and Electronics…” -> “Data Ports” -> “Port Settings…” and configure the COM port manually. It should show up on the left as “USB Serial Port (COMx)” where “x” is the port number found in Device Manager. Make sure the port is setup using the NMEA 0183 interface, 38400 baud and “Listener” is checked. NOTE: The Coastal Explorer “Auto Detect” tool does not work with network connections.
- If you are using the USB method, make sure you are only running one program on your PC that accesses serial ports. For example, if you are running vmAIS, exit it before starting Coastal Explorer. Windows only allows one application to talk to a serial port or virtual COM port at a time.
- If you are trying to connect using the wireless network method, double check that you are still connected to the “VesperXB” wireless network. Sometimes Windows will switch to a different wireless network if you have power-cycled the XB-8000.
You should now have your XB-8000 working with Coastal Explorer. It is even possible to use both methods at once. For example, if you have a PC down at the chart table and another PC on the flybridge, you could use the USB method on the lower system and Wi-Fi on the flybridge system – or even use Wi-Fi for both since the XB-8000 supports multiple simultaneous Wi-Fi connections.
It is also possible to use other devices at the same time, for example a NMEA 2000 chart plotter to display AIS, an iPad connected to the XB-8000 Wi-Fi network using iNavX and a PC running Coastal Explorer via USB or Wi-Fi. All devices will get the same datastream with AIS, GPS and other data if you have other talker devices connected to the XB-8000.
Note, that these exact same steps can be used to connect a Vesper XB-9000 Vision Class B AIS Transponder and Display to Coastal Explorer.
You can also use the same USB method for connecting the Vesper WatchMate 850 Class B AIS Transponder and the Vesper XB-6000 Class B AIS Transponder.
If you are using OpenCPN on your PC or Mac, the concept is essentially the same but you have a slightly different method for configuring ports but both the wired USB and wireless network methods will work. See the OpenCPN documentation for more information.
As always, safe boating and feel free to ask questions or provide feedback in the comments section below.