Advanced Electronic Navigation system to Aid Ships Navigate even in Heavy Fog
The U.S. Coast Guard is working on developing a series of prototype electronic navigation aids involving virtual buoys that could assist mariners navigate their way through in poor weather conditions. The project which is being trialed in San Francisco, could be rolled out nationally if it is successful.
Foggy weather conditions are a common sight in San Francisco which makes safe navigation impossible for sailors.
Back in November 2007, a container ship collided with the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge as the ships control crew had poor visibility of their surrounding environment. The collision resulted in a 212-foot hole being gouged into the ship’s hull causing 54 thousand gallons of fuel to be spilled into the waster, contaminating nearly 26 miles of shoreline and affecting at least 2,900 birds.
The virtual buoy system is being dubbed as eATON which stands for electronic aids to navigation, and it aims to reduce such accidents by acting as safety beacons for sailor to navigate through. Twenty Five such virtual buoys have been “deployed in” and around the bay to complement existing radar beacons and other navigation tools.
A pilot program is being deployed in order to assess the effectiveness of how well digital navigation tools can assist ships and other maritime vessels to maneuver past hazardous obstacles in low visibility conditions.
The virtual buoy system works by incorporating the Coast Guard’s Nationwide Automatic Identification System (NAIS), which acts as a standard communication protocol for standard for ship-to-ship, ship-to-shore, and shore-to-ship communication.
The virtual buoys, which have been placed in “critical turn points” for maritime vessels in the bay, are marked digitally on maritime electronic charting systems and radars, and then transmitted via NAIS. They then show up conveniently on such navigation charts as readily identifiable symbols, in blue or purple diamonds or squares.
Jason Tama, the Coast Guard commander, has remarked on the technology by saying that “For now, the new technology isn’t going to replace any existing systems outright,but rather will be used to augment them.”
He also mentioned an application for the Coast Guard commander which have previously been “impractical” to execute such as offshore locations where it’s too deep to anchor a physical buoy. At the same time, he said, not all ships are equipped with technology that can display eATON so it would take time to implement this technology.
Despite the Coast Guard having clear intentions on developing the technology to help ships avoid dangerous obstacles, it isn’t making big claims for the technology such as specifically saying that eATON system could have prevented the San Francisco accident in back 2007 had it been in placed in that case.