USACE and USCG collaborate to make inland waterways
The United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), supported by
Alion Science and Technology (Alion), has put forth considerable
effort during the last two years to further extend the
capabilities of the existing Automatic Identification System
(AIS) network to improve the safety and efficiency of navigation
along the inland rivers.
Alphabet Soup: AIS, MTS, AtoN & VTS
The USACE works with the United States Coast Guard (USCG) and
other agencies and stakeholders to operate and maintain the
nation's Marine Transportation System (MTS). A primary tool to
manage the MTS is the visual Aids to Navigation (AtoN) system.
The USCG also oversees the Nationwide AIS (NAIS), an automated
system for the exchange of navigational information between
vessels and shore stations that is based on the AIS required for
most commercial vessels by the International Maritime
AIS information may include vessel-specific information,
location, and speed supplemented by other government information
and sensor data to support safe operation and domain awareness in
U.S. waters. AIS may also be used to transmit information to
support navigation, such as the locations of hazards. The
transmission of electronic information to supplement visual AtoN
is termed here as electronic AtoN (e-AtoN). It is one part of a
more comprehensive and systematic integration presentation of
electronic information to support navigation that is termed as
Traditionally, AIS has been used to broadcast vessel position,
course, speed, and other vessel information to nearby vessels and
shore authorities such as Vessel Traffic Services (VTS). This
information is then plotted and displayed on an enabled radar
display or electronic chart system (ECS). The goal of the USCG
and USACE is to transmit additional safety- and
navigation-related information such as weather, water depth,
river current, Synthetic and Virtual AtoN, vessels in lock queue,
lock status, and USACE Notices to Navigation Interests (NTNI)
information. The new information helps improve maritime safety
and domain awareness with the use of Synthetic and Virtual AtoN
information. They serve to identify an existing physical AtoN
(Synthetic) or one that is nonexistent (Virtual). These AtoNs may
be displayed on the mariners' ECS/radar to allow easy
identification of radar return of the AtoN or to augment physical
AtoN in tough-to-maneuver areas.
e-Navigation on Inland Rivers
e-Nav capabilities have been installed and used on the lower Ohio
River and adjacent Mississippi River for over two years. It began
as a proof of concept test with the USCG. Alion, working under
contract to the USCG and USACE, designed and implemented the test
bed that has now transitioned to a permanent and expanding e-Nav
infrastructure. It is managed predominantly by the USACE under
Mr. Brian Tetreault.
The additional AIS information is currently being transmitted
from the following USACE locks: Markland, McAlpine, Cannelton,
Newburgh, J. T. Myers, Smithland, Lock 52, Kentucky Lock,
Barkley, and the Olmsted Locks and Dam project. The USCG also
transmits the messages from the Nationwide Distress System (NDS)
site at Battletown, KY, as well as transmitters in Louisville,
KY, and one in Owensboro, KY.
More than just vessel and environmental data can be received. For
example, Notice to Navigation information is often transmitted.
These define temporary zones to be set for safety, security, or
traffic management among other things. This information is
displayed as an overlay on the ECS and allows the mariner to
quickly see areas to avoid. Environmental information
transmissions such as weather, river current, and water depth are
collected from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration, the Weather Service, the USACE, the USGS, and
private weather stations. This information is also displayed on
the ECS to aid in course planning and decision making along with
Lock Status and Vessel Queue.
Crews will be able to view the current lock status and the
vessels awaiting lockage as well as their schedule and direction
of transit. Each lock transmitter relays information related to
its traffic and status as well as its adjacent locks.
All of this information is available for display on vessels using
their existing VHF AIS equipment and an ECS that is AIS message
21 and Application Specific Message (ASM) capable. RosePoint - a
marine navigation system and software provider - has been a
leader in implementing the AIS ASM standards, which allows the
AIS data messages to be displayed in a user-configurable fashion.
RosePoint currently supports these e-Nav messages, but it must be
enabled in the settings first by enabling Experimental ASM in the
Settings-Rose Point Labs menu.
As more ECS providers enable their software to properly interpret
and display the AIS information (which is being received
presently), the more readily all stakeholders can use the data.
There are currently minimal standards for how the e-Nav
information is displayed or portrayed on ECS; thus end users and
manufacturers must work together to ensure that the data are
displayed in a useful, but non-intrusive manner. As the
manufacturers adopt more of the e-Nav standards, the more
configurable and customized each ECS display can become.
Gregory Johnson is a Senior Program Manager at Alion Science
& Technology in the New London, CT office. His group provides
research and engineering support primarily to the U.S. Coast
Guard R&D Center. He has a BSEE from the Coast Guard Academy
(1987), a MSEE from Northeastern University (1993), and a PhD in
Electrical Engineering from the University of Rhode Island
Mark Wiggins is a Senior Systems Engineer with 32 years of
experience including 20 years with the U.S. Coast Guard. He
served on 4 cutters, a small boat station, R&D Center, US
Coast Guard Academy and the Leadership and Development Center. He
has since been a systems engineer for Alion Science &
Technology for over 12 years, involved with design, evaluation,
integration, testing and improvement of complex systems.
(As published in the December 2017 edition of Marine