EVEN THOUGH CONTEMPLATING IT can come across like the old “if a tree falls in the woods” brainteaser, the age of “virtual navigation” is here, and it’s very real, indeed. Even as you read this, navigation aids that exist only electronically, and only with the sophisticated gear to “see” them, are guiding oceangoing vessels in and out of
San Francisco Bay, and around parts of that busy harbor, day and night, in good
weather and bad.
On March 12, 2014, the U.S. Coast Guard began operating 25 fully functioning “virtual”
and “synthetic” electronic aids to navigation, or eATON, as the agency labels them, in San
Francisco waters. It’s their latest advance in a nationwide system based on rapidly evolving
Automated Identification System (AIS) technology. The goal is to make waterways safer, and
to help the agency’s mission and operations become more efficient.
VIRTUAL NAVIGATION IS HERE, LIKE IT OR NOT
If there’s a buoy on your chartplotter, and from the helm it’s nowhere to be seen (even with your best
10x50s), is it really there? And, if so, can this really be an aid to YOUR navigation?
AIS is a VHF radio broadcast technology
that allows vessels to identify each other
while underway and continuously share
vital information such as course, speed, and
destination, all in the interest of safe navigation. International maritime agreements have
required AIS equipment on large commercial
vessels (more than 300 gross tons) since
2004, and such transmitters and receivers,
while not required, are increasingly found on
smaller vessels, including a growing number
AFFAIRS BoatU.S. SPECIAL REPORT BY RYCK LYDECKER
Six electronic buoys mark ship-traffic
lanes outside the Golden Gate bridge.