Many who have been around here for some time will remember my concern about the potential for government to impose mandatory AIS (transmitting) requirements on recreational boaters.
I still have these concerns and will be surprised if we do not see this move some time in the future.That said, this idea of the "small boats, long distance" small boat presents a number of problems for the single handed Sailor, or short crewed passage off shore.
There is a ship out there... you can see it. Is it coming to you? Yes, of course we can all read the lights.. but only the most naive would say that you can easily tell on a consistent basis.... especially while tired. Add in fog, rain, or even a difficult sea state and the issue of avoiding ships becomes a real threat.
Card receivers are a 'part' of the solution... as is radar... AIS would not replace either of these but I believe that AIS is a better solution (albeit compromise). Standard Horizon has made it relatively painless to add this to our nav suite... and the cost is a fraction of an amp more then the VHF radio this unit replaces.
I shopped for some time and settled on the Standard Horizon Matrix GX-2150
There was another model I considered, the MatrixGX-2100.... it can be found on clearance for as much as $100 less then the MSRP of the 2150. They both do the same things, but the 2150 does it with only one NEMA chanel. You have to hook up 3 wires (NEMA in, NEMA out, and NEMA ground) and you have the connection.... the 2100 required 6 and would not leave a free channel for a basic plotter like my Garmin 540s.... Here is a link to a document that better describes the differences
The MSRP on this unit is $399... but it is commonly sold for around $350. I bought mine from West Marine and used a price match from AncorExpress.com
and paid $329
The radio fits just above the nav station where my old VHF was. I can easily operate it from the cockpit and the location is somewhat shielded from the weather. Of course the radio is waterproof, but my experience is that they tend to fade to yellow or tan if exposed to sunlight.
The connection to my Garmin 540s took me less then 5 minutes. I turned on the radio and the plotter and immediately had the GPS status and position displayed on the radio screen. The DSC will not work as I do not have an MMSI number, nor do I intend to obtain one. I think the position information being displayed on the screen is nice, it would speed the transmission in case of emergency.
Initially the GX2150 found 3 AIS targets within 15 miles of me (2 docked tugs, and one ship). The targets were displayed on the radio, and I was easily able to obtain course and speed... the controls are VERY user friendly. I have not had to read the manual other then to make the wiring connections to the NEMA 0183.
Standard Horizon has an excellent history of customer support, so I dialed their 1-800 number and had a tech on the phone in less then 60 seconds.
It turns out that while I had set the NEMA transfer rate to 'high' on my plotter, I also needed to do so on the radio. Once the tech told me how to do this I immediately had the targets displayed on my plotter (small ship icon, with running lights to show direction).
I believe that the Matrix GX2150 draws approximately 300ma more then my older VHF... a quite reasonable drain. With the plotter and the radio on, I saw an actual draw of 1.2a... .3 of that draw come from the sounder and knotometer that are on the same circuit with the plotter... so plotter/VHF/AIS info for less then an amp
I did a radio check, and had a clear reply. I have not changed my antenna, and it and the cable have been up since at least 2003.
I think I will be very happy with this unit, and will provide updates as I have more experience with it.