The Coast Guard is now testing 25 eATON buoys in and around San Francisco Bay. These virtual buoys augment existing physical and radar techniques to detect potentially hazardous features on the water. Utilizing the Coast Guard's NAIS (Nationwide Automatic Identification System), this information will display on ships' radars and electronic charting systems.
Buoys utilized for this test include: the SF buoy that marks the San Francisco bar pilot embarkation point; Mile Rocks Light and Harding Rock buoy, the turn point for ships in the Central Bay; five buoys on the bridge towers of the western span of the Bay Bridge, the important route to the Oakland and Alameda working Ports. These buoys are useful during heavy fog or traffic on the Bay.
The overall goal of the May 2014 tests is to enhance navigation safety. Captain Gregory Stump, commander of Coast Guard Sector San Francisco, stated, “There is no better place to evaluate this technology than the challenging waters of San Francisco Bay...”
At present, not all vessels are equipped to receive and display the new eATON information. Older ECDIS technology is often not equipped to process, display, and alert on the types of addressed and broadcasted AIS messages that are now available to mariners.
The valuable uses of eATONs have been known for quite a while. A 2009 report from the Danish Maritime Safety Administration provides a good run-down of the uses of “virtual” ATONs:
Emergency Wreck Marking
In February 2007, a Russian submarine was lost off the northwest coast of Denmark due to weather. A virtual ATON was quickly deployed to mark the location and alert vessels to the new danger. In October 2007, the cargo vessel OMER N capsized in the busy strait between Denmark and Germany. A virtual ATON was deployed with a safety related message even before the buoy tender could reach the position.
Emergency Obstacle Marking
In January 2008, a lighthouse near Fredericia Port was damaged and constituted a dangerous submerged obstacle. A virtual ATON was swiftly put into service.
Temporary or New Obstacle Marking
Working sites, military practice areas, etc. need to be identified, but not necessarily marked with a physical ATON.
Marking Waypoints and Turning Points
In July 2006, a traffic separation plan was put into place. AIS was able to capture data that proved the efficacy of the plan. However, several accidents occurred due to inattentive mariners; to address the issue, two waypoints were created with virtual ATONs.
Virtual Guiding ATONs
In difficult to navigate channels, like the Sound between Denmark and Sweden, physical buoys were routinely hit by vessels. An eATON trial of four markers was initiated in 2008.
Supplementary Marking of Offshore Structures
In 2009, more than 30 oil and gas drilling platforms were marked in the North Sea with eATONs.
Where Establishment of Physical ATONs is Unrealistic
In Polar Regions opening up shipping channels requires ATONs, but placing them there is difficult and expensive. eATONs may be the answer for safe and efficient navigation in those areas.
PortVision is involved in a number of eATON initiatives, including safety and security initiatives around asset protection such as pipelines and bridges. One such example is our joint project with CAMO and the USCG, which can be found here.