Find out how Dee Caffari rates one of the most important bits of safety kit this (or last) decade


See, this is what I love about Dee Caffari. She and Nigel King have been grafting like Siberian coal miners on the race course, running low on food and sleep, but when you email a random question she’ll sit down and bash you out a considered answer.

Following a collision and a couple of near-misses elsewhere in the fleet, I asked Dee for her assessment of AIS, orAutomatic Identification System, a bit of kit that ought to be a massive help in avoiding collision at sea, and particularly of being run down by a ship. They might not see you, but with AIS you would know where a ship is even in atrocious vis, along with their course, speed, closest point of approach and time to CPA.

Here’s Dee’s evaluation from her Open 60 Aviva:

‘I am now a complete fan. All OC Events races and the Figaro make an AIS receiver compulsory on their races. It will only be a matter of time before IMOCA [the Open 60 class] also have it in their handbook.

‘Our receiver is linked to our MaxSea electronic charting software. Some people have it linked to their radar. Anyone with a transponder transmits their ship’s name, Call sign, MMSI number, cargo, last port of call, next port of call, etc and also if there is a risk of collision with your position this all comes up on our screen.

‘This allows us to see what is coming, the other vessel’s SOG and COG and if he poses a threat so we can avoid early. It also allows you to call a name or call sign rather than hope an approximate position is enough to make them answer the VHF.

‘However, the information is only as good as what goes into the machine so there is room for human error.’Like the other yachts and most fishing vessels Aviva is able to receive but not transpond, so her position, course etc won’t come up on a ship’s or another small vessel’s display.’In order for us to get seen we still rely on a good old Active Echo transponder,’Dee says.

We’ll also have a full test report on AIS from US designer Steve Dashew in a forthcoming issue.

BTW, I also asked Dee aboutLED nav lights, which are in widespread use in Open 60s, but more of that later. Last month, in reply to my Top 10 Tips for crossing the Atlantic , I had a few comments to my blog that poured scorn on them – too dim, not enough range, etc. So Dee’s evaluation will make interesting reading.