Understanding AIS Equipment

Seafarers must be introduced to the different types of AIS devices, specifically Class A and Class B transceivers, designed for different vessel types and sizes. Class A transceivers are generally used by larger commercial vessels and are mandated due to their enhanced functionality. Class B transceivers are mainly intended for smaller, non-commercial craft or leisure vessels.

Knowledge of AIS base stations, which are used as part of the shore-based network that receives data from AIS transponders, is necessary. These provide a broader view of vessel movements and can facilitate higher authority surveillance and management of maritime traffic.

Once crew members are familiar with the AIS hardware, they must learn to master using these devices. Training should encompass powering up the system, setting up vessel and voyage-related data, and troubleshooting basic operational issues. AIS units may appear intimidating at first glance, but with guided instruction, seafarers can learn how to read and interpret AIS data displays, understand the significance of the different symbols and indicators, and appreciate the nuances of AIS message types.

Navigating through various menu options, understanding the importance of data accuracy, and knowing how to update information such as the vessel’s destination and estimated time of arrival are all areas that should be thoroughly covered.

It is important that crew members also possess the technical expertise to conduct regular checks and routine maintenance on AIS equipment. This could range from verifying the proper functioning of the unit, and maintaining records of system performance, to more complex tasks like running software updates as required.

Maintaining AIS equipment includes ensuring that antennas are free of obstructions, that there is a stable power supply to the unit, and that connections with peripheral devices such as display screens, ECDIS, or other onboard instruments remain secure and operational. Regular maintenance helps in the early identification of potential issues that could compromise the safety of vessel navigation.


Communication and Decision-Making Skills

AIS TrainingClear, concise communication aboard vessels and between other ships and shore-based facilities is vital. Training should emphasize the importance of effective verbal and written communication skills. This includes using standard maritime communication phrases and protocols to ensure messages are understood correctly, thereby reducing the likelihood of misunderstanding or error.

Seafarers must be trained to share critical AIS-derived information such as vessel identification, position, course, and speed with precision and without delay. This becomes particularly critical in situations where swift communication can prevent an incident or assist in an effective response to an emerging situation.

Beyond communication, the AIS provides vast amounts of data that require interpretation and must inform decision-making processes on board. Crew members need to be skilled in evaluating the information, considering the practical implications, and making informed decisions quickly, especially when avoiding collisions or navigating through congested waterways.

In decision-making exercises, crew members learn to prioritize tasks and respond to AIS alerts effectively. They need to assess the severity of situations and decide on the most appropriate course of action—deciding when to alter the vessel’s course, when to speed up or slow down, or when to contact other vessels to negotiate safe passing.


Simulation and Drills

Simulators used in AIS training are sophisticated tools that recreate maritime conditions, allowing seafarers to immerse themselves in virtual scenarios that are almost indistinguishable from reality. The immersive nature of these simulations means that seafarers can experience a broad spectrum of conditions, from navigating through busy shipping lanes to dealing with the challenges of low visibility or adverse weather.

Scenarios can be tailored to reflect specific routes, vessel types, and potential hazards. This degree of customization ensures that the crew members are practicing in contexts that they are likely to face.

Drills might involve regularly updating vessel information, recognizing and responding to AIS alerts, or coordinating maneuvers with other crew members based on AIS data. By running through these drills, crew members solidify their ability to quickly navigate the AIS interface, input accurate data, and interpret real-time information effectively, which is necessary during operations at sea.

Simulations can model emergencies such as man overboard, search and rescue operations, or imminent collision scenarios. Drills that focus on emergency preparedness ensure that crew members are adept when stress levels are high, and swift action is required. These exercises test the crew’s capability to use AIS information to assist in recovery operations, communicate with search and rescue teams, and coordinate with other vessels to secure safe outcomes under pressure.

An integral part of simulation and drill training is the debrief session that follows. These sessions allow instructors and crew members to discuss the actions taken, identify both strengths and areas for improvement, and solidify learning outcomes. Feedback is delivered constructively, with a focus on what can be learned from each exercise to improve future performance. Analysis of simulation exercises and performance during drills is beneficial in evolving the training curriculum, ensuring that it meets the needs of the crew and reflects the realities of modern seamanship.

Safety at sea can be significantly enhanced by the repetitive nature of simulation and drills. Repetition engrains the correct procedures so that in the event of an actual emergency or critical situation, crew members are more likely to respond correctly and without hesitation. Regularly scheduled drills ensure that the knowledge and skills acquired during AIS training remain fresh and that the response protocols continue to be executed to the highest standards.


AIS technology and maritime regulations are constantly evolving, making ongoing education critical for seafarers. Training programs must stress the importance of keeping abreast of the latest advancements in AIS technology, software updates, and changes in legal requirements. Refreshers courses and updates that cover new functionalities, revised protocols, or the introduction of new features to existing systems help crew members maintain a high level of competency and ensure compliance with international standards.

Trainees must learn how to respond to AIS data to prevent accidents. This includes understanding the finer points of vessel priority, right-of-way situations as per the COLREGs (International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea), and maneuvering strategies. Defensive navigation tactics taught through case studies, historical collision data, and the distinct characteristics of different waterways, from crowded ports to open oceans, equip crew members with the ability to preempt and react to potential threats.

A robust assessment and verification phase for trainees ensures they  can apply information effectively. This may include written exams, practical tests on equipment, and participation in simulations designed to challenge the trainee’s newly acquired skills. Completion of these assessments with a satisfactory score should be a prerequisite for certification and acknowledgment of proficiency in AIS operation.


Other posts

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  • AIS Voluntary Observing Ships Program
  • How Navies Use AIS
  • Addressing AIS Spoofing and Jamming
  • AIS Assistance in Polar Expeditions and Shipping
  • AIS Connectivity Issues at Sea
  • Customizing AIS Alerts for Enhanced Maritime Security
  • The Role of AIS in Cruise Ship Navigation
  • AIS in Collision Avoidance Systems
  • Utility and Limitations of Crowdsourced AIS Data