Navigation Systems

3/16/2016: Updates from the Coast Guard’s Navigation Center

Recently, Rear Adm. Paul Thomas, assistant commandant for prevention policy, visited the Coast Guard’s Navigation Center (NAVCEN) to discuss how it can support his focus areas for 2016. The NAVCEN’s commanding officer provided Maritime Commons with an overview of what was discussed.

Written by Capt. Russell Holmes, NAVCEN commanding officer

NAVCEN’s key role is to support, facilitate and disseminate navigation information. For example, the boating safety mobile app, released by the Office of Boating Safety last year, is another avenue for the boating public to convey information to the Coast Guard.

During the 2015 summer boating season, NAVCEN received approximately 15 notifications per month related to a hazard to navigation or navigational aid discrepancy that we were able to disseminate to a local unit for further investigation or resolution. NAVCEN anticipates the receipt of mobile app reports will grow as more boaters become familiar with the app.

Information dissemination

The Coast Guard’s Office of Navigation Systems and NAVCEN personnel work collaboratively with federal partner agencies including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency through the Committee on the Marine Transportation System’s (CMTS) Future of Navigation Integrated Action Team. We are exploring how to take marine safety information from the analog to the digital era to provide existing information in a more usable format and timely manner for commercial and recreational mariners. As an interim measure, our goal is to collect and provide local Broadcast Notice to Mariners in a centralized and searchable online database for public use. Presuming we are successful, this will be the first step in a multi-year effort to eventually provide this type of information through the National Automated Identification System (NAIS) to be displayed on electronic charting systems or Electronic Charting and Display Information Systems.

Automatic Identification System

While NAVCEN oversees the Nationwide Automatic Identification System, we have not focused on the quality of the AIS information that commercial and recreational users are broadcasting. With the recent hiring of several personnel at NAVCEN, we will improve the accuracy of AIS data.

These improvements will focus on:

  • Identification discrepancies (Name, MMSI, IMO number or call sign)
  • Static discrepancies (zero length, zero beam, zero draft, ship type missing)

Reducing these types of errors will improve mariner situational awareness and contribute to collision avoidance. So if your data is not correct, expect a call from NAVCEN or focus on this requirement during a visit from your local Coast Guard unit.

The AIS Encoding Guide is a great reference document to help mariners update their information. And if you’re still not sure, reach out to NAVCEN’s e-tracking branch at

Speaking of our e-tracking branch, over the past couple of years we have increased our capacity to fulfill historical AIS data requests. We have seen the number of requests increase 40-percent per year as more stakeholders are using this information to develop heat maps for coastal planning and incident analysis. Additionally, we have started the conversation with the Coast Guard’s Office of Navigation Systems to explore how NAVCEN, jointly with Coast Guard Headquarters, can further support captains of the port and our district waterways management offices throughout the country to provide various product sets in support of operational analysis and risk-based decision making at the port level — using historical vessel track data to improve the U.S. Marine Transportation System.


Each year we visit approximately 15 of our Differential GPS (DGPS) sites to conduct an operational assessment.  We post the results on our NAVCEN NDGPS section. The assessment includes measuring the accuracy and signal strength broadcasted by visited sites. In doing so, we verify the service provided is in accordance with publicized service standards.

This year our goal is to coordinate these assessments with local Coast Guard units and the maritime public to ensure we are meeting the needs of our customers and provide awareness about our role as the civil (non-aviation) liaison for GPS and GPS outage reports.

If you haven’t visited the NAVCEN website, I encourage you to do so. The website hosts a substantial amount of navigation-related information. If you are unable to find what you’re looking for, please submit an inquiry. Experts are waiting for you to ensure your question or request is routed to the appropriate office to support your navigation needs.

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.

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