Tracking Boats And Ships In Real Time At The Same Time

Software-defined radio came on the hacker scene in a big way less than a decade ago thanks to the discovery that a small USB-based TV tuner dongle could be used for receiving all kinds of radio transmissions. Two popular projects from that era are tracking nearby airplanes and boats in real time. Of course, these projects rely on different frequencies and protocols, but if you live in a major port city like [Ian] then his project that combines both into a single user interface might be of interest.

This project uses an RTL-SDR dongle for the marine traffic portion of the project, but steps up to a FlightAware Pro dongle for receiving telemetry from airplanes. Two separate antennas are needed for this, and all of the information is gathered and handled by a pair of Raspberry Pis. The Pis communicate with various marine and air traffic databases as well as handles the custom user interface that knits both sets of information together. This interface was custom-built from a previous project of his and was repurposed slightly to fit the needs of this one.

This is a great project that goes into a lot of interesting detail about how the web traffic moves and how the UI works, so even if you’re not into software-defined radio it might be worth a look. However, it’s also worth noting that it hasn’t been easier to set up a system like this thanks to the abundance and low price of RTL-SDR dongles and the software tools that make setting them up a breeze.

15 thoughts on “Tracking Boats And Ships In Real Time At The Same Time

    1. Depending on who you are talking to:
      “Boat” = Submarine – as in “There are boats, and then there are surface targets.”
      “Boat” = “This is my little 40 foot cabin cruiser.”
      “Ship” = “Excuse me, do you have 800 foot berth where I can park my 48000 tons? And can I get tugs with that?”
      “Ship” = “She’s a good ship, but she gets grumpy at landing speeds without 10% flaps and 25% throttle.”

  1. Adsbexchange has the planes covered. however trains are federally protected… Boats on the other hand need a system like adsbexchange and the other feeder sites. We need these peer to peer systems!!!

      1. Yep, AISHub is the most “enthusiast friendly” for sure. There are other more popular sites like which give you a minor account upgrade when you start feeding data, but AISHub gives you full access to their data API immediately.

  2. Cool stuff. I already have PiAware, it works perfectly with cheap SDR dongle. When building such system it’s better to spend money on antenna tuned for 1090MHz and good cables than on FlightAware dongle. I can see this project has good antenna, so no problems here. This build gives me good idea what to use for AIS coverage, I’m planning to add that to my build for quite some time.

    1. Yeah, there’s a similar bunch of them just down the coast in Weymouth Bay too. I still find it a bit weird to see them just sat there week after week! They’ve become a minor tourist attraction, some folks have been selling boat tours to go out and see the cruise ships up close.

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