Like planes, it’s mandatory for boats to broadcast their navigation data with a transponder. Ship name, speed, orientation and many other informations are all transmitted regularly with the Automatic Identification System (AIS). AIS messages are easy to decode, allowing everyone to use it. Originally intended for security purposes, AIS data is now widely used to track ships around the world. Moreover, this activity is conducted by companies and amateurs, as ship spotting became the sea equivalent to the train spotting hobby.

Many services aggregate and display AIS data, like MarineTraffic or VesselFinder.While providing elegant interfaces and nice social functionalities such as photo sharing, these websites sell AIS data feeds at prohibitive prices for the regular marine enthusiast.

However, the AISHub project distribute AIS data freely to whoever contribute to the service by sending their own AIS data. The license is pretty clear: do what you want with the data, even sell it, as long as you contribute to the project. Luckily, receiving AIS messages became pretty easy with the rise of RTLSDR. A quick setup using a 20€ usb stick and a fork antenna opens a continuous stream of AIS messages, if ships are nearby of course. Data can then be sent to various services, like MarineTraffic or AISHub.

Displaying AIS data from AISHub

Then contributors to AISHub have to query the provided API according to their needs. Data is far less complete than paying services. Indeed, the AISHub network of contributors covers less water, and satellite AIS data is not available. However, AIS data is still clean and fully usable. Major ports are covered, allowing tracking of a huge number of cargo ships over the world.

The following dashboard aggregate data from AISHub. Movements over the last hour are display for 3 zones: English Channel, Netherlands coast and Hong Kong. Click on this image to access the dashboard page.

AIS Data: Maritime traffic dashboard

On the first page of the dashboard, position of ships is updated every hour. A green line is traced between the 2 last positions, displaying straights lines over the sea. Only moving ships are displayed. Select a line to open a box showing ship name, type, destination and speed. Other tabs display aggregated information about ships spotted over the last hour by AISHub contributors: ship types, status, destinations…

Ship destinations
Port of Rotterdam confirms its first ranking, 22/06/106

This dashboard made with flexdashboard is likely to evolve in the following days. Thanks to the ANFR for SDR stick gifted during the #FrHack event 2016.

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  1. […] AIS messages can teach us a lot about maritime traffic. These anti-collision radio-emitted data frames contains actually more than the position of the ship. Name, identification number, speed, destination and many other fields allow an in-depth analysis of various topics. Commercial fishing in France is one of them. By enriching AIS frames with various sources and by compiling the whole on an interactive dashboard, it’s possible to get an interesting view on commercial fishing habits in France. […]

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