Last week, the Transportation Research Board hosted the 15th Biennial Harbor Safety Committee and Area Maritime Security Committee Conference, in Philadelphia, Pa. The conference explored best practices, innovations and technology that addresses critical harbor and maritime safety and security issues.
Gary Rasicott, director of Marine Transportation Systems, kicked off a panel session titled, ‘The Future of Navigation: Bringing America’s Waterways into the 21st Century’ and Capt. Scott Smith, deputy director of the Marine Transportation System, served as both moderator and panelist.
Rasicott’s remarks were focused on the future of navigation and the government agencies involved.
Future of navigation
“How many people, five years ago, were talking about American energy independence? This is the decade of the waterways, it really is, because of all of this energy renaissance, as some call it,” said Rasicott, “I won’t say all, but a lot of it’s going to move via waterways because it’s the safest, most efficient and probably most reliable way to move this stuff and that adds up to a lot of congested waterways in some places.”
Because of these changes, the Coast Guard is trying to bring our nation’s waterways into the 21st century. The future of navigation is a large part of that; electronic navigation is part of it, but not all of it.
“If we allow ourselves to think that electronic navigation solves every problem with congestions…and waterways, we’re going down the wrong path,” said Rasicott.
Government agencies involved
Rasicott emphasized the importance of adequately including all stakeholders in the discussion of the best way to move forward.
The Coast Guard, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Army Corp of Engineers worked together to create a tri-agency listening session where they reached out and asked stakeholders what they wanted out of the future of navigation to enhance their situational awareness. The listening sessions were intended to introduce federal initiatives and solicit for the types of information mariners are currently using, or would like to access, and identify ways that information could best be accessed or delivered.
In addition to the listening sessions and presentations, the Coast Guard, NOAA and ACOE created a new feedback website for the maritime community to provide direct feedback on requirements for emerging needs for navigational information and delivery systems of that information, in a transforming navigational environment.
The primary goal of this initiative is to better develop and leverage information technology to effectively consolidate navigational safety information for mariners.
The final item that Rasicott touched on was Sector Delaware Bay’s Intelligent Radar Project which points to where the maritime community can go with a sort of integrated situational awareness where we bring electronics to bear, when appropriate while still looking out the window.
Rasicott also discussed limits to electronic navigation and how the Coast Guard is engaging human performance experts to see how much is enough in order to keep from overwhelming or distracting the operator.
Capt. Smith’s remarks focused on the Coast Guard’s responsibility with the electronic navigation initiative and the applicability of electronic navigation.
Coast Guard’s responsibility in this initiative
The primary objective for the visual aids to navigation system is to mitigate transit risks and promote safe, economic and efficient movement of military, commercial and other vessels by assisting navigators with avoiding dangers and obstructions.
“Regardless of how marine information is disseminated in the future, this objective will not be degraded,” said Smith, “The idea is to incorporate current and emerging technology with visual aids to navigation systems and not replace buoys and beacons.”
Smith described the vision for electronic navigation as working to establish a framework that enables the transfer of data between ships and shore facilities and integrates and transforms that data into actionable information.
“The ultimate goal of e-navigation efforts in the United States is to provide timely and reliable information and to make the transportation system operate better,” said Smith, “The navigational landscape has changed dramatically since the 1970’s with ships with deeper drafts, greater lengths and larger cargo capacity. The result is a much narrower margin of error for many transits leading to increased transit risk. Improving navigational situational awareness will help to mitigate this.”
The Coast Guard has initiated a program to improve the delivery of maritime service and safety information by leveraging Automatic Identification System, or AIS.
“AIS was designed as a communication tool between ships to mitigate the risk of collision. Nationwide AIS was designed and fielded to provide the Coast Guard with the means to survey the marine domain and detect vessels for response and prevention activities,” said Smith.
Applicability of e-navigation
Currently, there are three types of AIS aids to navigation, or ATON, being used or discussed: virtual AIS, synthetic AIS and potential-real AIS.
Smith shared how in San Francisco Bay, the Coast Guard is providing virtual AIS aids to navigation, or ATON, which provides specific geographic coordinates and check-in points for the traffic separation scheme. These virtual AIS are received and integrated on AIS capable electronics informing mariners without the presence of a physical aid to navigation.
Synthetic AIS shares specific geographic coordinates associated with a physical ATON, such as a buoy or beacon, but the electronic part of the aid is separate of the physical ATON and its location comes from shore base stations. This is considered augmenting the buoy or beacon signal so it can be used in an interactive way. Should a buoy suffer an allision or sink, the mariner will still have the ability to receive marine information from the buoy via the AIS ATON.
The third type is potential-real AIS ATON which the Coast Guard has not yet deployed. The concept is an actual device on the physical aid to navigation. These transmit from the actual buoy or beacon itself rather than from an AIS base station. The display is in relation to the actual buoy itself. So if the buoy is off-station, the AIS will reflect the same location as the incorrect position.
Electronic ATON offers a solution to problems such as seasonal buoys where ATON are removed during the winter months to avoid being damaged by winter ice. Electronic ATON provide a more permanent and reliable means to navigation in these circumstances.
Another potential benefit identified by Smith is the dissemination of marine safety information for mariners, which would augment the normal broadcast on VHF radio.
“These are often missed or misunderstood, especially in a noisy pilothouse or the busy marine environment,” said Smith, “Receiving a marine safety update on an AIS enabled display would provide timely information and reduce the possibility for errors. For example, a restricted zone could be geographically depicted on the display without time-consuming chart plotting.”
Smith also pointed out that smaller vessels are using AIS enabled displays, but it not wide spread.
“Regardless of how navigational information is delivered in the future, the primary objective of the U.S. visual aids to navigation system will remain constant,” said Smith.
This blog is not a replacement or substitute for the formal posting of regulations and updates or existing processes for receiving formal feedback of the same. Links provided on this blog will direct the reader to official source documents, such as the Federal Register, Homeport and the Code of Federal Regulations. These documents remain the official source for regulatory information published by the Coast Guard.