The NAIS-400 has proven to be the most unreliable piece of equipment on our boat. This model of AIS unit has failed us twice in less than a year. An AIS unit is an electronic device with a built in GPS and VHF radio transceiver. From the GPS the unit will calculate our position, speed and heading. Along with other information about our boat, this is transmitted to other vessels in the area fitted with AIS units. In turn, we will receive the same information about vessels close to us. Thus, we can avoid potential collisions. This is a very important piece of safety equipment.
We installed our Simrad NAIS-400 on Cream Puff in April 2013. Our AIS information is overlaid on our electronic charts so we can see all the traffic around us on our computer screen along with all of our other navigation data. One of the reasons we purchased the Simrad unit was it enabled us to make a USB connection to the ships computer. Plug and play, right? Wrong! It worked fine for about 4 months. Then, it just stopped sending data via the USB port (it did still transmit our position). There are other options to connect the unit but I figured if I am paying $800 for something, I expect it to work.
We contacted NAVICO, who is the parent company of Simrad as the unit was under warranty. We were sent a RMA and were told a replacement unit would be sent to us with two days of them receiving the malfunctioning unit. That did not happen. After a month, I called the main number for NAVICO as asked for the President. He did not take my call but I left a message. No one called back. Two days later, I called again and left another message. This time the head of service called me back. He told me they would overnight a unit out the next day. I asked if the one year warranty would reset for the replacement (one of the smarter things I have done lately). The request was granted. He was an extremely pleasant very nice person.
I installed the replacement unit. It worked fine, well, sort of. The computer sometimes had trouble recognizing the USB device. I would have to power down the NAIS-400 and restart it. Then, it worked fine. After a couple of months of this, I became frustrated with restarting the unit. After all, the USB device should be automatically found. I contacted NAVICO again. The head of service sent me a new USB driver to download. Eureka! This worked. They have since put an updated USB driver program on their website for users of the NAIS-400 to download.
I wish this were the end of the story. Alas, it is not. Our replacement unit has now failed. The issue? We are not sure. The NAIS-400 only has lights on the unit. When the green light is on, all is good. We have a red light. That’s bad. We should be able to diagnose the unit with our computer and the Simrad software via a USB connection. Guess what? The USB connection no longer works. We tried to connect the unit to another PC as a process of elimination to rule out fault with our ship’s computer. It still failed. The unit is still within the one year warranty period I requested. I contacted NAVICO, again. This time, niceness was nowhere to be found. I dealt with two extremely rude customer service people. Seriously, these two guys make the DMV look good. When discussing the set up configuration, the first chap told me I should not use the GPS information from the unit to plot a position. This statement really surprised me. Think about this statement for a minute. The GPS information calculated by the NAIS-400 is being transmitted to vessels around us so they can avoid us. If it is not accurate enough to navigate by, then what about the position we are transmitting. Is the data we are sending accurate or not? I told him, if this is the case this should be in their service manual. He told me it was. It isn’t. I read service manuals. I’m a little geeky about that. Just for the record, I do not use the NAIS-400 as a GPS. I have a primary GPS for this function.
NAVICO, after a bit if a hassle, has agreed to send us yet a third unit. We are hesitant to install it. At This point, you probably understand why. I think we are going to swallow this pill as an $800 learning experience and look for another brand. The third unit may work just fine. But, I’m not willing to bet my life on it.