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Using the wireless features of the new em-trak B900 series

Posted by Doug Miller on 9/8/2020 to Configuration Examples
Using the wireless features of the new em-trak B900 series

Em-trak launched the new B900 Class B AIS transponder series earlier this year and have done something no other AIS manufacturer has done. Instead of a one size fits all approach with the need to buy extra accessories, the B900 family comes in 8 different flavors differentiated by transmit power, VHF antenna splitter integration and wireless support. This allows you to choose the model that exactly matches your requirements.

Model

Transmit Power

Integrated Splitter

Wireless Support

B921

2-watt

No

No

B922

2-watt

No

Yes

B923

2-watt

Yes

No

B924

2-watt

Yes

Yes

B951

5-watt

No

No

B952

5-watt

No

Yes

B953

5-watt

Yes

No

B954

5-watt

Yes

Yes

In this article, we look at the wireless support found in the B922, B924, B952 and B954 and how to use the wireless capabilities with popular apps.

Why would you want wireless capabilities in an AIS transponder?

Wireless support allows you to connect wirelessly to the transponder from a mobile device such as an iPad, Android tablet, mobile phone or computer. Once connected, AIS and GPS data can be streamed to a supported app on the mobile device allowing you to see real-time AIS target data overlaid on digital charts. Traditionally this has been done by connecting to a wireless network broadcast by the transponder and setting up the app to listen on a particular IP address and network port. Once that is done, you can move around your boat while viewing live position and AIS target information sent by the transponder – all without being physically connected to the transponder. This can be done while also being connected to the transponder using wired technology such as NMEA 2000, NMEA 0183 or USB. In other words, a wireless-enabled AIS transponder can simultaneously send AIS and GPS data to multiple wired and wireless devices.

Em-trak is not the first company to embed wireless functionality in an AIS transponder.

The Vesper XB-8000 is probably one of the best known AIS transponders and for the last 8 years been seen by many as the “go to” device if you wanted to have real-time AIS data sent wirelessly to your favorite iPad or Android marine navigation app.

AMEC have also had Wi-Fi enabled AIS transponders for several years and their 5-watt SOTDMA B600W model has been one of our most popular units.

Em-trak decided to shake things up with its multi-model, integrated approach. Em-trak have also added something unique to its wireless models (B922, B924, B952 and B954) – and that is Bluetooth support in addition to Wi-Fi support. This means you now have two ways of sending real-time wireless AIS and GPS data to popular applications using Wi-Fi technology or via a Bluetooth connection.

Let’s dig in to see how Wi-Fi and Bluetooth work with these new models.

Using Wi-Fi capabilities

When using the Wi-Fi capabilities on an AIS transponder, keep in mind that the Wi-Fi connection is typically only used point-to-point between the transponder and your mobile device. This is not a connection to the Internet and a connection to an outside Wi-Fi or cellular service is not required and does not impact your ability to use this capability. In other words, you can use this Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (covered in the next section) functionality in the middle of the ocean – no outside service is required.

Using a mobile app that supports a Wi-Fi data stream is a three-step process.

I - Choose your app

The first step is to select and install a marine navigation app that supports wireless data on your mobile device. There are many apps available that work with the em-trak wireless transponders. Some examples include:

  • Apple iOS (iPhone & iPad): Navionics, iNavX, TimeZero iBoat, iSailor, Aqua Map
  • Android (tablets & phones): Navionics, iSailor, OpenCPN
  • Windows PC: Rose Point Coastal Explorer, TimeZero, OpenCPN
  • Apple Mac: OpenCPN, MacENC
These are just a few of the possibilities. When looking for an app, be sure to select one that support connecting to network data over a TCP/IP connection.

II - Join the em-trak AIS Wi-Fi network

Next, assuming you have installed your em-trak transponder, turn it on and wait a minute. Now open your mobile device or computer you want to connect and go to your Wi-Fi settings. For example, on an iOS device, you would select the Settings app and then Wi-Fi. Under the list of Networks, you should see a network with a name with your model (e.g. B924), a hyphen, and seven characters (e.g. B924_61c6424). Select this network. You will be prompted for a Wi-Fi password. The default password is “emtrakais” (all lower case, no spaces). Once the password is entered, you should see an indication that you have connected to the network (e.g. a blue check beside the network name on iOS).

The steps for other operating systems are very similar.

Your mobile device is now connected to your em-trak device but there is one more step to make this work with your favorite app.

III - Configure your app to use Wi-Fi data

Now it is time to connect your mobile app to the Wi-Fi data stream. There are three pieces of information that are needed for making the connection. The default settings on your new em-trak transponder are:

  • Network protocol: TCP/IP or TCP
  • IP address: 192.168.2.1
  • IP port: 5000

You can change these settings using the ProAIS2 configuration application if you need to (including connecting an existing Wi-Fi network using Station mode) but for this article, we’ll assume you are using the default settings found on all em-trak Wi-Fi enabled B900 series transponders.

Start the app on your mobile device. For this article, we’ll use Navionics as an example. To configure the app,

  1. Click on Menu on the low right area of the screen.
  2. Scroll down to “Paired Devices” and select it which should take you to a “Connect a Device” screen. Select “ADD DEVICE” at the bottom of the screen or if you have used Navionics to connect to another device in the past, click on the “+” on the top right of the screen.
  3. On the “Add Device” screen, enter the name of your device on the first “Name” line. This can be any friendly name. For example, “S/V Naiad B924”. On the “Host” line, enter “192.168.2.1”. On the “Port Number” line, enter “5000” and finally, make sure the “TCP” button is selected. Click “Save” on the top right.
  4. You should be taken back to the “Paired Devices” screen where you should see your new device entry and an indication you are receiving AIS and GPS data.
  5. Click on “Menu” and then “X” on the top left.
  6. On the navigation chart, you should now start seeing AIS targets and you own position should be accurately shown – assuming you have turned on GPS sentences. If you want to output GPS sentences, run the ProAIS2 application or the Connect-AIS app and turn GPS sentence output on.

For other applications, such as iNavX, iBoat or Coastal Explorer, the steps are the same although the configuration will be different. If you need help, consult the Help section or documentation for your chosen app.

Also note that em-trak now has an iOS app called Connect-AIS, designed specifically for use with the em-trak B900 series over Wi-Fi.

Up to two Wi-Fi devices can connect to a B900 Wi-Fi enabled device. Also note that the em-trak Wi-Fi models only output AIS and GPS data, even if the unit is connected to a NMEA 2000 network with other data available such as depth, wind or temperature. If you need all sensor data passed to your mobile app, see our article AIS Transponders with NMEA Multiplexing: Why You Should Care or consider buying a dedicated Wi-Fi enabled multiplexer - such as the Actisense W2K-1 NMEA 2000 to Wi-Fi Gateway or the ShipModul Miniplex-3 Multiplexer Series.

Using Bluetooth capabilities

Em-trak has also added support for Bluetooth connections in the B922, B924, B952 and B954 and as far as I know, this is the only AIS transponder vendor with this capability. While this may seem to be a great feature since virtually all devices support Bluetooth, it is in fact of limited value right now. That said, I understand there may be products in the future that will be specifically designed to take advantage on a Bluetooth AIS connection.

Regardless, it is possible for some devices to use the Bluetooth connection. First off though, if you have an Apple iOS device, a Bluetooth connection will not work. I assume is it due to the Apple Bluetooth licensing restrictions for iOS devices. I have been able to get the Bluetooth interface to work with marine navigation apps on Windows with Rose Point Coastal Explorer as well as OpenCPN on MacOS and Android.

The process is to make this work is very straightforward.

As with the Wi-Fi instructions above, the first step is to pair your mobile device with the em-trak transponder. To do this go to the Settings app on your device, go to the Bluetooth settings, look for the B900 device in available devices (e.g. B924_61c6424), click on it and pair with it.

The second step is to go to your navigation application (e.g. Coastal Explorer or OpenCPN) and add a new connection. Some applications, such as OpenCPN, have a category for Bluetooth so select that and find the B900 device in the dropdown list. Select it and Apply.

Other applications such as Coastal Explorer see the Bluetooth connection as a virtual Serial device. In that case, select the COM port device associated with the Bluetooth connection, set the baud rate to 38400 bps, the Interface to NMEA 0183 and enable the connection as a Listener. Once that is applied, you should see NMEA AIS and GPS data streaming to your application.

Note that some applications, such as Navionics, do not support serial port, COM port or Bluetooth connections so they will not work with the Bluetooth interface.

If you do have an application that supports Bluetooth, this is a useful capability since you can connect Bluetooth and Wi-Fi devices at the same time from different or sources. Or connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi and your em-trak device via Bluetooth.

Conclusion

The new em-trak B900 AIS transponder series offers a lot of possibilities for getting your AIS data to numerous types of wired and wireless devices. With its unique support for both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, as well as NMEA 0183, NMEA 2000 and USB, you have lots of options for integration and sharing of AIS information.

For additional information and tools for the B900 series, be sure to check the various resources here:

Safe boating and as always, let us know if you have questions in the comments section below.


Doug Miller

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