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The automatic identification system (AIS) is an automatic tracking system that uses transponders on ships to locate them. There are also databses which provide intomation about the ship - size/type/owner/registration, etc

Does anyone know of a free API to access this data?

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I cannot find anything free. if you want it enough, then you can join AIS hub, BUT they require that you provide a feed before you can share the feeds of all other members.

The cheapest AIS receiver that I can find costs about $250.

If it's worth it, only you can decide

See also this question, where I ask for the cheapest AIS receiver

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AIS data for the USA is available from https://marinecadastre.gov/ais/.

I don't know about an API, but the site offers a variety of Arc Python-based tools that may lead you to a solution.

  • Thanks and upvote.Whiel it's not live, so no use to me, it could be of great use to anyone who wants a mouton of historical data. "The data available below contain records for U.S. coastal waters for calendar years 2009 through 2017. Records are filtered to one minute" BUT "Ship name and call sign fields have been removed, and the MMSI (Maritime Mobile Service Identity) field has been encrypted for the 2010 through 2014 data" Still very useful, though – Mawg Jun 2 at 11:19

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