Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) are, according to the International Maritime Organization (IMO), “Designed to be capable of providing information about the ship to other ships and to coastal authorities automatically.” Until now, The Crew Report was yet to receive any complaints about this system and safety method, however Captain Fernando Vallmitjana of motoryacht Tales has approached us with some safety and privacy concerns linked to AIS systems.

In his email to The Crew Report, Captain Vallmitjana stated:

“Recently I had some problems due to the yacht’s AIS records being broadcast over the internet. The ship agents are using this information to make money – the paparazzi can see the track of the vessel at thirty-second updates. The IMO says that all vessels over 300gt must broadcast AIS, but it does not say that the vessels should broadcast their name. Here is my question: if the state makes you comply with AIS broadcasting, why don’t they enforce the punishment for the broadcasters? They are easy to find.

“Under the owner’s request I changed the name of the vessel over the AIS after he showed me our track on his iPhone, and many authorities understood my reasons, until I came across one that sent me a letter stating it was illegal. I asked him to do his part in controlling the broadcasts and he caused unwanted problems.”

Credit: Michael Kurtz, Pantaenius

The IMO does state that AIS must provide information including: “Ship’s identity, type, position, course, speed, navigational status and other safety-related information.” However, in December 2004 the Maritime Safety Committee discussed the issue of privacy when using AIS systems, and condemned the public publication of this data. In reference to this session, the IMO states the Committee, “Urged member governments, subject to the provisions of their national laws, to discourage those who make available AIS data to others for publication on the world-wide web or elsewhere from doing so.”

In light of Captain Vallmitjana’s comment that the vessel’s name specifically doesn’t need to be transmitted, The Crew Report approached the IMO who informed us: “Interpretation of ‘ship’s identity’ is down to the flag state, but each ship has a unique IMO number [and] anyone can search ship name[s] using IMO number[s] … using public access sites like”

This is the first complaint surrounding AIS systems that The Crew Report has received, and we have no proof that AIS data is being sold to paparazzi whatsoever. However, these questions do raise concerns about the security of the superyacht fleet and whether more IMO member states should be taking steps to further increase the security of these vessels.

"If the state makes you comply with AIS broadcasting, why don’t they enforce the punishment for the broadcasters? They are easy to find."

There is, however, plentiful legislation on AIS already. The MCA told The Crew Report: “Depending on where the vessels are operating and depending in the size then carious statutes and instruments apply concerning AIS carriage requirements and the validity of the data that is transmitted. SOLAS carriage requirements may apply with some of the large yachts and so even beyond EU waters there will be legislation that applies. There are provisions in the original IMO carriage requirement whereby AIS could be switched off at the discretion of the master and in instances such as areas of piracy.”

Moreover, AIS systems are being used to support tangent regulations. The French VAT system, for example, now requires charter captains to submit an AIS record the day before the end of the charter, allowing authorities to measure the time the yacht has spent out of French waters.

Captain Vallmitjana suggested some interesting possible solutions: “Since yachts are a different category, from crew licenses to operational principles, isn’t it possible to encounter a solution? Or should we as captains say that the system is broken and turn it off? But turning it off has safety implications. However, this seems to be the industry standard.”

The Crew Report would be very interested to hear the thoughts of our readers on this topic.