AIS Man Overboard – Proof that Innovation Saves Lives

“My Man Overboard training and equipment kept me alive, but my AIS saved my life.” – Andrew Taylor

One year ago today, on Sunday, March 30, 2014, Andrew Taylor, an amateur sailor taking part in the 9th Clipper Round the World yacht race, fell overboard into the icy waters of the North Pacific Ocean… 2,000 miles from the nearest land… an hour away from neighboring racing yachts… and no other vessels within 1,000 miles.

You may have watched his dramatic ordeal featured on BBC, CNN and a number of global news outlets.

Andrew was eventually rescued after 1 hour and 40 minutes by his own racing yacht, the Derry Londonderry Doire, thanks in large part to an innovative search and rescue device developed by McMurdo and based on Automatic Identification System (AIS) technology.

What is AIS?

AIS, an automatic tracking system used on ships around the world, was developed by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) technical committee as a technology to avoid collisions among large vessels at sea.

AIS is one of the most important innovations in navigation since the introduction of GPS, and it is one of the fastest-growing segments of the electronic navigation business in recent years with at least 170 countries mandating its use.  It is currently required on all commercial vessels over 300 tons.

It works by installing a small transponder on a vessel that both transmits the vessel’s position – along with other data such as heading and speed – and receives similar data regarding other vessels within the vicinity.  In this way, a ship captain can monitor traffic in the area in which he/she is operating in order to avoid a collision.  The information is publically broadcast on VHF radio, and, in recent years, satellite AIS has also been developed.

Since the technology became a requirement for certain ship types in 2000, a variety of interesting applications for AIS data have been developed such as vessel monitoring systems, environment monitoring, fleet management, commodity intelligence, coastal surveillance, security and search & rescue.

AIS and Search & Rescue

In the world of search and rescue, Cospas-Sarsat is known as the international satellite-based search and rescue system having saved the lives of over 37,000 people since 1982.  Distress beacons such as EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon for vessels) and PLBs (Personal Locator Beacons for individuals) connect to the “global” Cospas-Sarsat system which eventually results in a search and rescue operation. This process, however, can take some time to coordinate a rescue with the world’s Coast Guards and similar rescue authorities.

An AIS MOB device, which is similar in shape/size to a distress beacon, uses “local” AIS communications with nearby vessels – including the vessel from which the person fell and other vessels within a 4 mile radius – to accelerate the rescue process.  Once activated, the AIS MOB device begins transmitting that person’s location so it appears on the AIS display of any vessel within range.  The result is a more immediate response to a man overboard situation where saving time can lead to saving lives.

Ongoing AIS Innovation

The continued effort to innovate will create better search and rescue technologies, solutions and systems which ultimately leads to increased safety and more lives saved.  In fact, AIS MOB devices are now becoming common safety gear for professional sailors, commercial fishermen, crew and even recreational boat owners.  It’s a great example of how technology and innovation can make the sometimes unpredictable maritime environment more navigable and secure.  For proof, just ask Andrew Taylor.

To see Andrew Taylor’s rescue, to read about his ordeal in his just-released book or to participate in a live webinar with him on April 21, 2015 please click here.