Navigation Systems

11/17/2017: Research, development, testing and evaluation: Arctic Navigational Safety Information System

Editor’s note: Coast Guard Compass blog recently published an article by Loretta Haring in our Office of Strategic Planning and Communication Acquisition Directorate about a partnership between the Research & Development Center and the Marine Exchange of Alaska to provide critical navigation safety information to Arctic mariners. For the convenience of our readers, Maritime Commons is providing a condensed version of the article, followed by a link to the full article on Compass for those who wish to read more.

Written by Loretta Haring, Office of Strategic Planning and Communication Acquisition Directorate

Extreme weather. Poor visibility. Moving ice fields. Subsistence hunting. Mariners face a multitude of hazards in the Arctic. Yet the extensive seasonal melting of sea ice, reduction of multi-year ice and increase in first-year ice throughout the Arctic is generating an increase in the area’s maritime traffic. To help mitigate some of the risks associated with that increase, the Coast Guard has partnered with the Marine Exchange of Alaska (MXAK) to provide critical navigational safety information to Arctic mariners via digital means.

The partnership between MXAK – a nonprofit maritime organization dedicated to providing information, communications and services that aid safe, secure, efficient and environmentally responsible maritime operations around Alaska – and the Coast Guard Research and Development Center in New London, Connecticut, is part of the RDC’s Next Generation Arctic Navigational Safety Information System project. The objective is to provide reliable navigational safety information so mariners can mitigate risks while traveling in the Arctic.

“The goal of the RDC project is to find a means … to transmit navigational safety information where traditional aids to navigation and general infrastructure (power, networks) are extremely limited,” said Irene Gonin, an RDC researcher and project manager. “Ultimately, that will lead to safer marine operations in the area.”

The MXAK had already established the infrastructure to support the Automatic Identification System, a digital radio navigation-communication device required on board all seagoing vessels. AIS autonomously and continuously exchanges pertinent vessel navigational information. The Coast Guard has developed its Nationwide Automatic Identification System to capture AIS broadcasts via a network of shore stations that provide coverage to major U.S. ports and waterways, but it has limited terrestrial coverage in Alaska and the Arctic. Conversely, the MXAK had a terrestrial AIS infrastructure of 130 stations that received AIS information but had no authority to transmit data to vessels. The RDC project sought to incorporate AIS transceivers and develop a software system to transmit navigational safety information through AIS directly to users.

The project is a “much more intelligent and effective way to transmit information to users,” said Capt. Ed Page, MXAK executive director. Currently, pertinent marine safety information is communicated weekly via electronic documents or daily via radio broadcasts. This means information lags in getting to the user or may be missed. “With this project, the Coast Guard via the MXAK demonstrated delivery of this information in almost real time.” The system could also format the information on the vessel’s navigational display, such as an electronic chart system, radar or integrated navigational system.

Page noted the Arctic’s unique, dynamic navigational challenges. Alaska natives’ subsistence hunting areas change regularly, as do ice floe or marine wildlife activity sites; the locations of such hazards could now be made available with the technology demonstrated in this project.

The system would also transmit electronic Aids to Navigation (eATON) information to mariners. Virtual eATON augment existing aids or provide an aid where it is extremely difficult or expensive to do so.

“The Arctic coast of the United States is not conducive to the traditional type of Aids to Navigation used elsewhere in the country,” said Dave Series of the 17th Coast Guard District’s Waterways Management Branch. “Conventional buoys cannot survive the ice conditions found in the Arctic, and daybeacons or lights placed anywhere in the tidal zone will not survive winter ice conditions either. The technology demonstrated in this project coupled with eATON represent a next-generation technology that would allow the Coast Guard to provide navigational safety information to the mariner where it is most needed, right in the wheelhouse of the ship on the navigation display.”

Want to read more? View the full article on Compass blog.

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