I have just set up my first AIS receiving station with compliments of Marinetraffic.com. They have supplied me with a Comar SLR350Ni receiver and a http://www.sirioantenne.it/en/products/vhf/gp-3-e antenna. I have already upgraded the cable to a more heavy duty type.

My station is https://www.marinetraffic.com/en/ais/details/stations/4365. I'm actually about 30Mt ASL and have a direct line of sight to the coast about 2.2Km from shore.

My question is how can I improve my coverage area and distance using a different type of antenna rather than using the one supplied? I have another station slightly South of me that seems to cover a far greater distance and gets attributed with far more vessel sightings than what I'm currently able to achieve?

I do realise that height is a major factor but short of mounting a longer mast on my tripod on the roof, I'm not sure of what more I can do without the neighbors complaining.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome! I've edited your post to polish it up — note that we don't write signatures in the text of posts here. I also changed the title to put emphasis on that this is primarily an antenna problem, not an AIS problem, since the details of protocols not used by amateurs are off-topic. $\endgroup$
    – Kevin Reid AG6YO
    Aug 12 '18 at 3:55

Your line of sight to the ship transmitting the AIS signal is one of the more limiting factors. Usable AIS VHF signals will travel just slightly further than line of sight conditions. This is known as the radio horizon. I have plotted the height in meters you will require in order to obtain a desired receive distance of AIS signals:

enter image description here

This chart assumes the transmitting station on the ship or boat has an antenna height of 2.5 meters ASL (Above Sea Level). If you do not obtain sufficient height of your receive antenna for the distance you desire, no other remedy will reliably increase your range. If you have trees, buildings, poles, etc. between your receive antenna and the transmitting antenna, the range will be less than this chart predicts.

Assuming your receiver is optimized, and you have met the height requirement, there are a other few things to think about.

Your coax cable introduces losses into your AIS signal which effectively weakens the signal. Keeping the coax as short as possible and using higher grade coax can mitigate the effects. Hams would typically use LMR-400 or equivalent for a VHF application such as this but you may also have success with a high grade 75 ohm cable TV coax.

The location of the antenna will determine its susceptibility to man made interference from a variety of household and industrial electronics. Keeping the antenna as far away from these as possible will minimize the interference.

The antenna design can have a profound effect on received signal strength. Your current antenna is marginal in this respect. A collinear style antenna would offer you much more gain while retaining your omnidirectional coverage. The antenna will be taller than the one you are presently using. It is generally enclosed in a thin fiberglass radome to protect the antenna itself.

Another antenna option is a small, vertical yagi antenna. A three or four element yagi will dramatically improve your received signal strength. It is a directional antenna but when pointed toward the water, its beamwidth should offer quite good coverage for AIS signals. But it is directional so it will favor some areas over others. The yagi antenna will not be any taller than your current antenna and it resembles a typical TV antenna to the untrained eye.

  • $\begingroup$ well, considering my broadcast VHF FM radio in my living room not even remotely has line of sight to a broadcast tower, I don't fully agree to your first paragraph. It's still true for AIS – the system simply isn't robust enough to rely on reflected paths to give reliable reception in a NLOS scenario. $\endgroup$ Aug 12 '18 at 14:01
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @MarcusMüller I thought the context of the answer and the chart was clear but I edited it to be more concise as to its applicable scope.. $\endgroup$
    – Glenn W9IQ
    Aug 12 '18 at 14:16
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for your answer! Looking at your chart given that I'm already 30Mt ASL to give me a distance of about 25 Km of radio horizon. From that point on the chart seems to rise very slowly for a longer radio horizon compared to height ASL. Given that I probably need 180dg of coverage, what sort of coverage in degrees would a Yagi give me? Thanks! $\endgroup$
    – johnmw1
    Aug 13 '18 at 0:30

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