#20: Where have you been and where are you headed?

Have you ever stood on a shoreline, seen a large ship and wondered where they are departing from and where they are headed?  The Automatic Identification System (AIS) is an automatic tracking system used by certain classes of ships for identifying and determining the location of vessels electronically. Data is exchanged with nearby ships and AIS base stations. AIS information supplements the mariners radar, which continues to be the primary method of collision avoidance for mariners. The carriage requirements for vessels is set by the International Maritime Organization, and they require AIS to be fitted aboard international voyaging ships of 300 gross tonage or more and all passenger ships regardless of size.

AIS has proven to be very useful in marine mammal studies. In the right whale world, AIS tracks were used to see how ships were moving around the Roseway Basin Area to be Avoided, an area off Nova Scotia where right whales tend to aggregate. AIS data is also used along the eastern seaboard of the U.S., where seasonal speed restrictions are in place  to help reduce the risk of ship strike to the whales in the right whale calving ground in the southeast U.S., along their migratory corridor in the mid Atlantic, and in feeding areas around Cape Cod . The data allows researchers and the federal government to see which vessels are going "over the speed-limit" and the ships can be fined based on this evidence. In January 2012, NOAA penalized three vessels who violated this law.

In the Grand Manan Channel. September 24, 2012. Photo: Moira Brown

Follow this link to find your location and see what ships are travelling by you! Click on vessel details to learn more about the ship, wind speed, wind direction and air temperature. On our small research vessel Nereid, we have an AIS receiver integrated with our GPS navigation unit and marine radio. When we steer out across the Grand Manan Channel, we can look at the radio screen and determine if there are any large ships operating in our area.  The information provided includes distance to the transmitting vessel, the vessel's heading and speed, and the distance and time to the closest point of approach. This really enhances our safety especially when navigating the Bay of Fundy in fog!


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