Saturday, 12 January 2013

Technology that shows shipping movements – AIS

Writing about the Aaron Manby crossing the channel last week reminded me about another crossing I actually witnessed. I was in the cross-channel ferry last year following our crossing and other vessels we could see on AIS – Automatic Identification System. This system is designed to show a ship any vessels in its vicinity with speed and direction as an aid to avoiding collisions. However, there are several web sites, run by enthusiasts, that show the positions of ships. These rely on shore-based receiving stations so don’t give 100% coverage. However, the results are pretty good.

AIS operates by transmitting via a dedicated VHF radio the position of the vessel, taken from a GPS receiver, together with speed, direction and other information such as destination and call signal. On busy shipping lanes, this must be a big benefit.

While I was drafting this entry, I was watching the port of Calais on one of the web sites – there are links below. There was a pilot vessel heading out of Calais. It eventually met up with a chemical tanker, Christine, presumably to put a pilot on board. The Christine then headed for Calais, avoiding the ferry Pride of Kent which was sailing for Dover. Here are the images I captured of the movements.

You can see this slideshow larger here

The crossing I actually saw from the ferry last year was a team rowing across the channel. I first spotted on AIS a pleasure vessel that was clearly going to pass very close to us. When we eventually got within range, I could see the power boat but also a rowing boat nearby – the power boat was escorting the rowers. Whe I got home I looked up the boat – the Sea Satin – on the web and found a very interesting web site – this boat and several others offer to escort people rowing or swimming across the channel – and even rowing from London to Paris. You can see the web site here.

Here are some web sites on which you can watch live shipping movements around the UK. – this covers most of the UK and also allows you to find any ships about which it has info. Sea Satin is moored at Ramsgate tonight! shows shipping around the Isle of Wight. This shows on a Google map so can be zoomed and panned.

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