As the owner of a flybridge boat, I’m probably not alone in having two different chart plotters. At the lower helm I have the original Raymarine RL70C which is a dual radar/chartplotter. One of the previous owners had upgraded the upper helm chart plotter to a more useful Raymarine e95. They didn’t upgrade the lower one, possibly because it would have necessitated changing out the original analogue radar as well. I can understand this because whilst I would always want to have a radar in case of poor visibility at sea, it’s not something I use all that often and would want to invest in a new one.
It’s always useful to have a navigation backup and I opted to use an Android tablet with the excellent Navionics Boating App. When I’m using the lower helm, I can hang this above eyelevel whilst still using the RL70C for interacting with the Smartpilot and radar:
Last year I realised that an AIS would make a useful safety addition and on the recommendation of a friend, I opted for a Digital Yacht Nomad portable AIS.
It outputs the AIS data via USB to a laptop or any device via wifi. The latter enables it to work with the Navionics Boating App:
I was hoping that I might be able to get it to talk to the e95 via wifi as well but even though they will connect via wifi, the e95 is too old to deal with AIS data over wireless; it just isn’t expecting to find the data there.
The only way to connect an e95 to an AIS unit is to use a genuine Raymarine one via SeaTalkNG or use NMEA 0183 with a 3rd party AIS.
Fortunately, this is the age of IOT ("internet of things”) so there are other possibilities, eg. using a wifi to RS422 bridge. It should be noted that the setup below should also work for any AIS-capable chartplotters that accept NMEA 0183 input.
There are various wifi to RS 422 (NMEA) adapters that I could have chosen but the HF2211 is fairly cheap – mine cost about £30 delivered via ebay, though if you order via Amazon it seems to be about 50% dearer. The HF2211 is simple to deploy as it will accept supply voltages from 5-36V DC and it supports multiple connections including ethernet and wifi in multiple modes (ie. as a router, a client, or both at the same time).
The Nomad AIS is great little device if you want portability and appears as a standard COM port if you connect it to a PC via the USB cable. If you use wifi you can connect several devices at once and the wifi connection defaults to router mode for ease of use. However, you can obtain instructions from the manufacturers on configuring it to work in client mode which has the benefit of allowing WPA wifi security.
I already have a wireless router on my boat, so I set the Nomad up to connect to that. This means that any device connected to my network can access the data broadcast on UDP port 2000. This is especially handy for phones and tablets because they can simultaneously access the internet. In my setup both the Nomad and the HF2211 are just wireless clients:
The router is a D-Link DWR-921/B 4G/3G LTE. This works really well - excellent 4G reception for streaming and uses a 12V DC input. Never needed a reset and has been in continuous use for nearly 2 years at the time of writing.
The wireless connections are shown in blue and the wired NMEA (RS422) connection is shown in red
It should be noted that you don't need the complexity shown above to get it to work. Out-of-the-box, the Nomad acts as a basic wifi router and will allow multiple connections:
This is easy to setup and as long as you remember to use UDP instead of TCP connections, several devices can connect to the AIS simultaneously. The only downside is that the wifi connection is open, ie. no password.
However the HF2211 can also act as a wifi router with secure AES password encryption; this might be the best option if you don't need the internet:
I connected the HF2211 to my e95 NMEA port 1 and using its web interface, I set up a socket to listen to UDP port 2000 from the NOMAD:
Then I set the serial port to output this via RS422 at 38400 baud:
When you wire the HF2211 to the e95, it’s important to check that data is actually flowing because, in addition to checking that TX is connected to RX, the actual +/- can be opposite to what you expect. Fortunately, this can easily be tested on the e95 diagnostics screen.
The e95 port 1 must also be set to receive the data from the HF2211 at 38400 baud.
Once you are sure that data is being received, you also need to enable AIS in the Chart application menu Presentation | Overlays screen. I recommend switching on "All” AIS targets.
It all worked first time and I now see other boats on the e95 chart screen, defaulting to blue triangles or red if the other vessel is on a collision course with you:
Tapping the 'Menu' icon at top right allows you to see detailed information on all AIS targets:
It should be fairly obvious that there are many other possible uses for the HF2211. For example, if you have another type of AIS unit that doesn't support wireless, you could just as easily connect the HF2211 to the AIS NMEA 0183 output and then broadcast this to other devices on your boat.
Equally, any existing device that outputs NMEA 0183 data could share its data with laptops, phones, tablets etc.
8th May 2021