I think AIS is the greatest safety invention since GPS. It really is marvelous.
One trick I do is definitely a cheat... When going through a cut, channel, shallow or difficult patch, I will watch other boats on AIS and watch their track. AIS tracks ae kept up to an hour on my kit, so once someone has gone through I can steal their track and follow it as closely as I would follow them if I was 200 meters astern.
Another thing I like about tracks is that after a while the looneys who drive ferries and other Harbour craft show that they are on set courses. A Harbour becomes easier to understand.
Here is New York after a few miinutes. AIS lets you see the regular routes
Here you can see a good set up give you a very long range!
Those range rings are 10nm each. So the second is 20nms from my boat... Its not always this good, especially in bad weather, but you know its working well whene you see this far.