NOAA’s Precision Navigation System Hopes To Make The High Seas Safer and More Efficient

NOAA’s Precision Navigation System Hopes To Make The High Seas Safer and More Efficient

If only there were a way for us to be made aware of any changes or have some help working through those tight spots. The same could be said for maritime vessels trying to get into and out of port. Yes, the traffic in the port and ship channel are visible either with the naked eye or the help of electronic equipment.

But they are not the only hazards to navigation. Waves, swells, water levels, currents, salinity, temperature, and precipitation can all be a factor.

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Waves? Swells? Come on—how much of a problem can they really be? Let’s say you are taking an ultra large crude carrier into port (like in NOAA’s Port of Long Beach demo). Your 1,100-foot vessel is loaded and has a draft of 65,’ and the channel is dredged to allow for ships with a 76’ draft.

A series of waves in long period swells hit the vessel causing it to pitch by one degree. That single degree can increase the draft by more than ten feet. It’s a good thing you have 11’ of clearance. But imagine what would happen if the pitch was a little harder…

Conditions that a pilot or ship’s officer can’t see may very well pose a hazard to navigation. They could cause millions of dollars in property damage along with the loss of life and an environmental impact. That is why NOAA, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, developed Precision Navigation.

A described by NOAA:

Precision navigation seamlessly integrates high-resolution bathymetry with real-time and forecast data—such as water levels, currents, salinity, temperature, and precipitation—to produce a stronger decision support tool….

With all the data that the system uses, it requires a well-coordinated effort among several NOAA offices for it to work properly. So—when it does work properly, how well does it work?

A trial run was conducted at the Port of Long Beach. When it was done, port officials felt safe increasing the maximum draft for a tanker from 65 feet to 69. Four feet may not seem like much. But we are talking about the ability to carry an additional $2 million in goods for every foot of additional draft.

It also saves the ship upwards of $10 million in lightering fees a year. If the allowable draft can reach 69’ vessels will no longer have to lighter which will save the company even more money.

Much of the benefit is monetary which benefits the private sector directly. But better navigation means safer navigation which means everyone gets home in one piece. Not only that, it means fewer accidents and trips and less damage to the environment as well.

The program is still in the infancy stages. Plans are being developed to roll it out next in the Lower Mississippi River Port Complex. They want to try it out in the Port of New York/New Jersey area as well. NOAA is also working on developing a strategy to discover what needs the program can meet.

NOAA is also working on developing an app for use with mobile devices. That way data can be delivered in a timely fashion with little required from the mariner. Afterall, the easier it is to access data, the better job the navigator can do navigating the ship.


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