Ships also has another interesting feature which is that it will automatically determine the PPM offset of a dongle, meaning that generic dongles without TCXO’s can be easily used for AIS. It appears to do this by using the AIS signals themselves, so you will need sufficient AIS traffic in your area for the calibration to work.
AIS stands for Automatic Identification System, and is a system used to track the locations of marine vessels. It is similar to ADS-B in that nearby ships can be plotted and tracked on a map by using an RTL-SDR as the receiver. We have a tutorial for PC available here.
Over on YouTube user Tobias Härling has uploaded a video showing how he used a Raspberry Pi and RTL-SDR dongle to set up an AIS receiver. AIS stands for Automatic Identification System and is a radio system similar to ADS-B which allows you to create a radar-like system for boats. For Windows we have a tutorial on AIS reception here.
In his setup he uses rtl_ais and the kplex software and shows how to install everything from scratch. He also shows how to set the system up so that decoding automatically starts up and begins outputing NMEA data through the network when the Raspberry Pi is powered on. This way an a device like an iPad could be used to run OpenCPN to view the plotted ships.
AIS Share is a dual channel decoder that outputs decoded NMEA messages via UDP, so that plotting software like OpenCPN can be used to display the ships on a map. AIS Share had been around before in another form known as rtl_ais_android which we posted before, but this version of AIS Share is a newly updated and improved version that now includes a very nice GUI. The app costs about $2 and is available on the Google Play store, but there is a demo available that will work up until 1000 messages are received. You will need an RTL-SDR and a USB OTG cable to run the app.
In the future the author writes that he’d like to update the app to support things like the ability to change more dongle settings like bandwidth/sample rate and add the possibility of using the internal phone/tablet GPS. He is also open to any community suggestions.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ApGk8P82THs (Unfortunately the video has been removed)
A reader of our blog, EBC81, has written in to let us know about a new RTL-SDR based AIS decoder that he has written for the Android OS. AIS stands for Automatic Identification System and is used by ships to broadcast their GPS locations, to help avoid collisions and aid with rescues. An RTL-SDR with the right software can be used to receive and decode these signals, and plot ship positions on a map.
EBC81’s program is called rtl_ais_android and can be downloaded from this GitHub link. It decodes the AIS data into NMEA messages, which can then be sent via UDP to mapping programs in Android or a program like OpenCPN on your PC. To use the app you will need a USB OTG cable to connect your Android device to the RTL-SDR.
In the future EBC81 hopes to create a second app which will display the ship positions on a map.
Large ships and passenger boats are required to broadcast an identification signal containing position, course, speed, destination, and vessel dimension information to help prevent sea collisions. This system is known as the “Automatic Identification System” or AIS for short. There are dedicated AIS receivers intended to be used on boats, or by hobbyists, but they can be expensive. A radio scanner, or the cheap RTL-SDR software defined radio (or a more advanced SDR such an Airspy) can be used to receive these signals, and with the help of decoding software, ship positions can be plotted on a map.
This tutorial will show you how to set up an AIS receiver with the RTL-SDR. Most parts of this tutorial are also applicable to other software radios, such as the Funcube dongle, Airspy and HackRF, or even regular hardware scanners if a discriminator tap is used, but the RTL-SDR is the cheapest option.
Safety Warning: This probably should not be used a navigational aid on a boat as the field reliability of the RTL-SDR or other software radios is not proven. This guide is intended for land based scanner hobbyists.