Automatic identification system (AIS) is a navigation-communication tool designed to mitigate collisions and enhance situational awareness by exchanging real-time vessel navigation information autonomously and continuously.

However, according to U.S. Coast Guard officials, AIS equipment that is non-compliant with adopted international standards can confuse, degrade or even disrupt other users’ systems.

“In the last year, the Coast Guard has received various reports from perplexed AIS users who have seen various unknown and erratic targets appearing on their AIS,” said Jorge Arroyo from the Coast Guard’s Navigation Technology and Risk Management Division. “Many of which were unable to be ‘seen’ on radar or visually.”

According to Arroyo, further research indicated that most of these ghost targets have turned out to be as AIS-like devices used to mark fishnets, yet they appear as vessels to others.

“This is contrary to FCC and USCG regulations, such non-compliant devices, amongst other things, are illegal to be sold, purchased or used in the U.S.,” said Arroyo.

The Federal Communications Commission issued an enforcement advisory reiterating this to sellers, advertisers, and operators of noncompliant AIS devices like AIS Fish Net Buoys. “The use of noncompliant AIS devices is illegal and has the potential to disrupt important maritime communications, increasing the risk of accidents by creating confusion about whether an AIS signal represents a vessel that must be avoided,” the advisory states.

“AIS is required to be properly installed, maintained, and used, but foremost, you should ensure you are buying a true AIS and not a knock-off sold on the internet,” said Arroyo. “As with all purchases, buyers beware — be informed.”

U.S. Coast Guard type-approved devices are labeled as such and numbered, either as USCG 165.155.xxxx or 165.156.xxxx. Similarly, they will also be labeled with a FCC type-certification number. A listing of these devices can also be found on their respective authorized equipment web pages, of USCG CGMIX at and of FCC OET at

Given the potential harm non-compliant devices may have on navigation safety and the Coast Guard’s interest in all AIS devices being operated and maintained in proper order, the Coast Guard will assist the FCC in enforcing their rules.

Violators of the FCC’s rule may be subject to the penalties authorized by the Communications Act, including but not limited to, substantial monetary fines of up to $19,639 per day for marketing violations and up to $147,290 for an ongoing violation.

For more information on AIS, how to properly install and operate it, and the nation’s AIS network, visit the Coast Guard Navigation Center (NAVCEN) website at