How to install an AIS station

This guide provides an overview of setting up a standard AIS station. Whether you're assembling your own station or using one from MarineTraffic, the setup typically includes a receiving antenna with its bracket, a coaxial cable, and the receiver, complete with a power supply and a network cable. No matter the source, the installation process remains consistent, ensuring clarity and ease of setup for all users.

 

AIS Antenna

For preparation, it's important to think ahead about the best place to install the antenna. To achieve optimal reception, consider the following points when choosing the location:

The AIS antenna must be installed outside the building, ideally in a high location with a clear view of the water and away from powerlines. The higher the antenna is installed, the better the range will be. Ensure an unobstructed view of the sea, avoiding obstacles like buildings, trees, mountains, or other things that can block reception. An antenna installed at a height of about 20 meters will have a range of approximately 25 nautical miles.

Antenna range.png
The higher the antenna is installed, the better the range.

 

To protect the hardware, avoid placing the antenna at the highest point in the area. Paying attention to local regulations, lightning protection and its integration into the lightning rod system should be an important consideration. If there are other transmitting antennas nearby, maintain a minimum distance of 1 meter between the antennas. The antenna does not transmit anything and is only used to receive AIS messages.

The location of the antenna is crucial for selecting the appropriate length of antenna cable. For more information, refer to the Coax Cable section.

 

AISstation_Density_ObstructionEffect.jpg
The image displays an individual station's coverage as a density map. The stripes indicate disruptions in reception, likely caused by a tree or another obstruction. Nevertheless, the station still receives data within its vicinity.

 

Installation

The installation of the antenna can typically be quite flexible, and it can be mounted on a mast, a handrail, or directly onto a wall. Depending on the design of the antenna used, the bracket may be securely attached to the antenna or be a separate component. The U-bolts allow for easy attachment of the antenna to a mast or handrail, and the brackets can be rotated. If the U-bolts are not used, the holes in the bracket can be utilized to screw it directly onto a wall. However, these screws are usually not included with the antenna.

When installing the antenna, make sure that everything is securely tightened and cannot come loose. Wind and weather can have a significant impact on the antenna and may loosen screws, leading to substantial damage.

Dipole antennas should always be installed upright and not lying down.
As for a directional antenna, it must be installed with vertical polarization and pointed toward the direction of the area where AIS data reception is favored.

 

Antenna_Installation_options.jpg
Mast, handrail, and wall installation

 

Links

Under the following links, you will find more technical details about the AIS antenna shipped by MarineTraffic or former FleetMon:

 

Comar_AV300_antenna.jpg GP3E.jpg CX4_complete_View.jpg
Comar AV300 Comar AV200 CX4

 

This could also be interesting:

Dipole antenna vs. directional antenna

 

Coax Cable

Coaxial cables like RG-58 are suitable for an AIS receiving antenna. RG-58 is good for short distances up to about 15 to 20 meters. Longer cables can lead to signal losses, so it's important to keep the cable length as short as possible and use high-quality cables to ensure optimal performance.

For longer cables, RG213, Aircell5, or similar cables are recommended, as they offer good performance. It's crucial to use a 50-ohm cable for optimal signal transmission.

It's best to install the receiver close to the antenna to minimize signal loss. It is also better to use a longer network cable than to bridge longer distances with the Coax cable. Please check the requirements of the AIS receiver for the installation.

Installation

When connecting the cable to the antenna, use a PL259 (or N connector) and ensure a secure fit. Seal the connection with self-amalgamating tape to prevent water ingress. Place the self-fusing tape at the top of the thread so that it completely covers both the thread and the cable connector. Overlap the tape to ensure good adhesion and pull on the tape while installing it to make sure it adheres well to the connector and the cable. If it's long enough, you can also wrap it in two layers, first downwards and then upwards.

Afterward, route the cable carefully and secure it using cable ties. This prevents the cable from moving around and getting damaged by wind or rubbing against surfaces. Also, be mindful not to bend the cable too sharply during installation to maintain signal integrity.

 

Self_Fixing_Tape_Install_Antenna.jpg
Self-amalgamating tape (self-fixing tape) to prevent water ingress.

 

AIS Receiver

The station is equipped with an AIS receiver, enabling continuous monitoring of ship traffic in a specific area for greater safety at sea. Various AIS receivers have been shipped for use as land stations over the years. These devices are pre-programmed and only need to be connected to start receiving and forwarding AIS signals.

It's crucial that the device is installed inside the building in a dry and preferably cool location, away from direct sunlight or heating devices. This ensures reliable performance and extends the device's lifespan. 

If the receiver is further away from the internet connection, a longer network cable can easily bridge this distance, as the cable's loss is significantly lower.

The latest generations of receivers are based on a Raspberry Pi, providing additional features such as:

- forwarding AIS data within the internal network

- a dashboard for checking the device

- integrating the device into the local network via Wi-Fi

 

Installation

It is important to connect the receiver device to the antenna and the network first before plugging the receiver into the power supply.

To set up the receiver, connect it to the antenna, keep it powered, and hook it up to the internet. You don't need to worry about the other ports.

Plug the coaxial cable into the AIS receiver's BNC connector (marked with ANT or Antenna) and twist it until it's securely in place.

Connect one end of the network cable to the receiver's Ethernet port (marked with NET or Network) and the other end to your router or a switch. If you want to connect the device to your Wi-Fi network, follow the link at the end of the article (How do I connect my receiver to Wi-Fi).

Plug the power adapter into the receiver (marked with PWR) and then into a power outlet.

Once everything is connected, the device will automatically start sending AIS data to the MarineTraffic server. You can easily check this on the station's page or the receiver's dashboard.

Please note that when you start the device for the first time, it may take a while for it to come online and start transmitting data. This is usually the case with Raspberry Pi devices (SLR450Ni, SLR400Ni, SLR350Ni, and similar) because they need to install updates and set up automatically. Typically, this process takes a few minutes, but it could take anywhere from 15 to 60 minutes, depending on your internet connection.

 

Links

Under the following links, you will find more technical details about the AIS receiver shipped by MarineTraffic or former FleetMon:

 

SLR450Ni-FrontRight_2560px.png SLR350Ni-MT-FrontLeft-1920x1440_1440px.jpg R400N_MA_Fleetmon_v06r01_01-2019.jpg
SLR450Ni (RSK450Ni)

SLR350Ni 

SLR400Ni

Comar R400N (SLR350N)

 

Older devices:

- Comar SLR300N

- Comar SLR200N

- NASA Marine AIS Engine 3

- ELGR 162-ETH

 

 

Next steps and other helpful articles:

- Background AIS