AIS transponders used to be quite pricey. However, technology marches on. Now, it is possible to find a relatively cheap AIS transponder which actually works well! Clients who purchase my navigation laptops or navigation tablets for marine GPS often ask me to recommend a cheap AIS transponder (transceiver). Read on below on my take. Keep in mind that none of these companies are paying me anything, so I have no reason to be biased.
Cheap AIS transponder models (2 watts, Class B)
Honestly, any of these would be excellent choices and they represent a very good value. Take note that the em-trak and Vesper Marine units are waterproof and have NMEA 2000. The Quark-Elec unit has WiFi, on the other hand. As you can see, em-trak offers the B923 unit with an integrated VHF splitter, which is a pretty good value! Class B 2 watt transponders are enough for most applications as the range is still more than sufficient.
|em-trak B921 around $470 or em-trak B923 with built in VHF antenna splitter around $600|
|Quark-Elec QK-A051T around $500|
|Vesper Marine WatchMate XB-6000 around $500|
What’s the difference: cheap AIS transponder vs AIS transceiver?
Nothing! These two are synonyms. It’s a device which is able to both receive AIS positions of other vessels, as well as send out your position via AIS to other vessels. A transponder requires registration (usually free) so you can get an MMSI number.
AIS transponder vs AIS receiver
AIS receivers, such as the one I supply for $200 with its own antenna for my navigation laptops, only receive positions of other boats. They do not send out your position to others. Many of my commercial fishing clients like seeing where other boats are, but do not wish to give away their own location 🙂 An AIS receiver doesn’t require registration. It does not require an MMSI number. Receivers are more economical and don’t even require permanent installation. Many of my clients move the system from one boat to another, and take the receiver with them!
Can I use my existing VHF antenna for the AIS transponder?
Yes, you can share your VHF radio antenna. Using an antenna mounted high up will maximize the range, of course. However, you need an appropriate signal filter for VHF & AIS to peacefully coexist. I’ll list some options below. Please note: AIS transponders require different VHF antenna splitters from AIS receivers.
- Quark-Elec A015-TX Active VHF Splitter around $200
- AMEC CUBO-162 VHF-AIS-FM ANTENNA SPLITTER around $200
- Vesper Marine AIS / VHF / FM Antenna Splitter (SP160) around $230
If you decide to forego a splitter, make sure the separate antenna you get is compatible. The AIS frequencies are: 161.975 MHz and 162.025 MHz. In practice, something “close enough” usually works.
Why use a navigation laptop or tablet as a chart plotter?
My navigation laptop systems can be much more affordable than Garmin, Lowrance, Simrad, B&G, Furuno, Humminbird, Raymarine, Si-Tex. They make fancy expensive MFD’s, but not everyone needs that. I will also support the GPS laptop you purchase forever. Furthermore, I believe that some of the commercial chart plotter brands gouge their customers. Large companies force you to upgrade by no longer supporting older units with chart and software updates. In addition, they charge outrageous fees for simple things like a larger screen size. I don’t do any of these things, and never will – guaranteed. In addition to these, please take a look at other advantages as well. A GPS laptop can offer a compelling alternative to major brands!