AIS Man Overboard Devices: Lessons Learned in Set-up and Usage

May 9, 2018

By Mark Lenci

Personal AIS Man Overboard devices are required for the 2018 Newport Bermuda Race, and their set-up and use requires advance attention. By Mark Lenci.

AIS MOB devices are expected to significantly increase the probability of locating a crewmember who has gone overboard, and the Newport Bermuda Race and other offshore races now require all crewmembers to have an AIS MOB device. Initial experience has shown that while these devices provide potentially lifesaving assistance in locating a MOB, they also introduce complexity. This article and videos provide lessons learned on the set up and use of the AIS MOB devices.

Editor’s note: As explained below, this article and the second video was updated in late May, a few weeks after original publication.

Testing AIS Man Overboard device
Sunflower second in command, Tom Barnhart, describes how to test an AIS Man Overboard unit.

AIS Lessons Learned

Every crewmember must test their own AIS MOB device with the navigation and communication systems on the specific boat they are sailing on.

All crewmembers should practice the operation of the navigation system (chart plotter) and communications system (VHF DSC radio) in a man-overboard scenario using the MOB button of the chart plotter and the test features of an AIS MOB device.

The programming and installation in a PFD of the AIS MOB device with the integrated DSC capability and automatic activation capability is time consuming, requires special equipment and software, and should be done well before the day of getting underway.

AIS MOB Device Interaction with a Boat’s Nav System

We tested AIS MOB devices as we walked through a MOB scenario with a Newport Bermuda Race crew. We found that there is a lot happening on the chart plotter that provides valuable information but consumes crew resources to understand and manage the information. Pressing the MOB button on the chart plotters was not as simple as we thought, different brands of devices have different ways to activate the device, and we did not anticipate all the things that happened on the chart plotter. As a result, the first two lessons learned very, very strongly recommend that every crew member test their own AIS MOB device with their boat’s navigation system AND that all crew members observe how the AIS MOB device interacts with the navigation system. Here is our video showing the testing of an AIS MOB device with a boat’s navigation in the MOB scenario.

AIS MOB device with integrated DSC compatibility

We tested AIS MOB devices with integrated DSC compatibility. We found programming the boat’s MMSI into the device was unexpectedly challenging and time consuming. We learned quite a bit about the what the DSC capability does and does not do, which resulted in another important lesson learned: If you have one of these very capable devices, you need to program it, install it in your PFD, and learn how to use it well before you get underway. The video below shows this process and the DSC capability.

After publishing the video that follows, we received feedback from our viewers outside the United States that the first version of the video does not explain that the DSC capability will vary depending on which country that you program the device in. We have updated the video, and this new version adds a section near the beginning that explains how the DSC capability will vary according to the country the device is programmed in.

Mark Lenci leads the Cruising Club of America’s safety at sea education program and skippered Sunflower, his Beneteau Oceanis 523, in the 2018 Race.



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