How AIS is Used to Save Lives and Improve Maritime Safety

Automatic Identification System (AIS) is a technology that has been adopted by vessels for collision avoidance. Broadcasted AIS messages are captured by other vessels, satellites or terrestrial-based radios, and this location and course information can be mapped and used to provide situational awareness for any vessels in motion in the immediate area.

AIS man overboard

An AIS Man Overboard (MOB) device is designed to be carried by individual crewmembers and used in the event of a Man Overboard situation or other personal emergency. Source: McMurdo.

However, AIS is not reserved exclusively for ships. Some companies such as McMurdo, a leader in the design and manufacture of emergency beacons, have produced man-overboard devices that attach to crew members and transmit emergency location beaconing signals if someone falls into the water.

Another company, Vesper Marine, is using AIS with their virtual beaconing system where, instead of being located on a ship, this virtual beacon is connected to a terrestrial based radio and transmits AIS messages describing the locations of stationary objects. This allows identification of any stationary hazards close to a port, thereby enabling AIS-data equipped ships to plot and avoid dangerously shallow and rocky areas or underwater cabling. It can also be used for demarcating dynamically changing environmentally sensitive boundaries or other keep out areas—a very interesting proposition for the effective and safe management of ports and their environments.

virtual AIS beacon

Vesper Marine’s Virtual AIS Beacon can be used to mark a shipping channel. Source: Vesper Marine.

White Paper: Satellite AISAIS as a location awareness technology is becoming more and more powerful, with many additional uses evolving from its original design intent of ship avoidance, especially now that the available data is no longer restricted to terrestrial/port based data. Since its first introduction in 2008, satellite AIS has become a permanent fixture for most organizations involved in search and rescue, fleet management, maritime surveillance, commodity monitoring, and more. It has proved itself to be a useful tool for the location of vessels, the monitoring of traffic corridors and assisting in those examining illegal activities among others.

Augmenting satellite AIS data with other services, such as Radar Sat, Optical Satellite Services, Infrared Satellite Services, LRIT, VTS, Aircraft Surveillance and Coastal Radar has shown that with such a combination, global maritime authorities can gather a better picture of maritime awareness around the world.

Come and hear subject matter expert George Best talk about how this data is best combined at this year’s QMARSEC (Qatar Maritime Security Conference), October 28 in Doha, Qatar.

With our newly scheduled and impending launch of our additional 11 ORBCOMM AIS satellites, we look forward to leading where AIS will take the maritime community next!

Andrew Loretta

Andrew Loretta is Director, Maritime Business Development for ORBCOMM. For more information on the ORBCOMM Satellite AIS system, please contact us at or visit

Posted in 3. Maritime / AIS Tagged with: , ,

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