Works great but set-up requires help.
I purchased this unit to use with laptop-based chart plotter software and a third party VHF radio (Standard Horizon GX2000) that has AIS display functions. I also wanted to export the GPS data from the unit to the other devices. It took a few exchanges with customer service to get it to function, but once that was done, it seems to work quite well. It even received a good GPS signal with the (included) antenna sitting inside on the chart table.
The main drawback is partly due to the strange US regulations that prohibit end users from configuring their own AIS unit. You have to send away for a configuration card. The item description suggests that the unit will operate in "receive only" mode until it is configured, but mine did not seem to. As soon as it was configured, it started receiving AIS data right away. If you have your MMSI number, a "qualified technician" ;) can configure the unit with the included software. However, as noted in another review, if you want the unit to output GPS data on the NMEA port this must be done with a custom configuration card. It cannot be turned on with the software. This seems like an obvious item for improvement. Note that devices like my VHF radio will not display any AIS data until they get this GPS feed, because they don't have the own-ship's position.
The card reader will "automatically log voyage data" to a blank card but the included software does not read it, and there is no real clue on how to access it. Some other unspecified third-party software is needed. Since I do not have any immediate need for this feature, I did not pursue it further.
A couple of other quibbles: The unit is quite compact, however since rigid connectors radiate out from the top and bottom of the unit, it requires quite a lot more space for installation than you might think. It also gets quite warm during operation; so far that has not been a problem but I would worry about a cumulative heat buildup if installed in a small cabinet with other radios. If mounted on a vertical panel, the indicator lights are on the bottom, where they may be impossible to see. Finally, the i/o cable is a bundle of 12 tiny wires. You will probably need to supply a terminal strip to bind these and sort out all of the possible connections. Not necessarily a bad thing, but the total installation can end up taking a lot of space.
The unit did require a new AIS-rated antenna - my old fiberglass whip was unsuitable. But I expected that and prepared accordingly. One nice surprise was that the unit includes a VSWR readout (displayed on your computer with the included software) which helps with troubleshooting or at least reducing uncertainty about antenna installation.
Works great after support got us running
We got the B100 for installation on a cruiser used for USCG Auxiliary patrols that include working with helicopters near busy waterways. Vessel Traffic Service really likes to know where we are when we have a helicopter working low to the water. We initially had an issue with the configuration file but tech support worked to expedite a new file. I wanted to output NMEA data from the B100 to the new VHF radio so that the radio would be fully DSC capable (displaying GPS data and able to send it with position reports or one touch distress call using the red button). Outputting the NMEA data via the low speed NMEA is not the default, but they can set that up in the configuration file, so anyone wanting that capability should request it at the front end. Connecting two of the output wires with a basic rocker switch allowed us to quickly wire a silent mode switch that will stop the outbound AIS position reports while allowing incoming data to flow. One thing we added was an inline fuse to the power wire.
The SD configuration card installed easily. After configuration, we could see that the unit was receiving GPS and receiving and sending AIS, but we had a red light status. I worked with customer support via e-mail and Matt at Em-Trak responded in near real time as I worked through the issue. The information provided by the included ProAIS2 allowed Matt to diagnose the issue as a bad antenna connection. Switching the to antenna lead for the radio, we were able to verify that a bad connector was the issue. Now the unit is working great with the Nobeltec Odyssey software, allowing us to see AIS targets on the laptop display. Em-trak support is in the U.K., so the time zone difference could be an issue depending on where you are and what time you tackle any issues. In our case, Matt stayed at it past business hours to help us reach a faster resolution.
I initially was baffled during installation when I turned off the breaker to shut the unit down and it did not turn off. Note that the unit can be nominally powered by the USB cord that links it to a laptop. USB power will provide enough juice for configuration and I think even receiving AIS, but not enough for transmitting.
Should be required if you travel near Co
I use the PC Based charting program PolarNavy, it interfaced perfectly.
I just completed a 1000 mile trip from Louisville, KY to Mobile, AL; This AIS saved me and the Boat several times.
In Alabama, on the Black Warrior, my chart showed two targets sideways across the river, on two different hairpin turns, a half mile apart, not moving. I slowed form 17 Knots down to 10 knots. Once I came into sight I saw that the targets was a Beached Barge and tow hauling Benzene. Radar never saw the target due to the trees.
The other time was when the fog came in so heavy on the Ohio River I could not see the bow of my boat. But I could see every AIS vessel within 20 miles.
If you care about four family, your boat, and yourself, I Highly recommend this product before even considering radar!
Compact and Easy to use
The instructions were fairly straightforward and easy to follow.
You have to email Em-Trak for an SD card to configure unit in the USA, this takes a few days.
After routing wires and connecting the unit and following SD card instructions it worked after a short start up delay.
The Laptop USB connection required downloading the drivers from EM-Trak and installed easily on W7.
The software utility was very helpful for getting GPS output on NMEA for high speed and low speed connections.
This works great with my Raymarine E80 classic using the NMEA cable.
Play with the Big Dogs
Created an electronic package based around my PC, using domestic NOAA ENC and RNC charts and OpenCPN. B100 serves the AIS segment very well. It is multifunctional, thanks to the downloaded upgrade from the website, providing GPS and AIS input to both the computer and the Standard Horizon VHF radio. It is serving us well, even in the heavy traffic around New Orleans and along the ICW. Pays for itself many times over, in both service and piece of mind.
Great unit and was easy to get installed. Works beautifully and a great value. New technology makes the footprint small and the performance excellent.