A PPU users first hand experience



Erik Brinch Nielsen, Marimatech, Hinnerup, Denmark



Marimatech has offered a range of portable navigation systems, primarily for pilots, for over six years. Development of the Portable Pilot Unit (PPU) during this period has been rapid, as processor speeds have increased and other influences such as the introduction of Automatic Identification Systems (AIS) have become mandatory. Today, PPU’s offer more functionality (AIS reception is a standard feature), and a wider range of systems is available to suit the customers requirements and budget.

Practical experience

Until recently, the adoption of PPU’s by pilots had gone slower than expected, with around 200 users. However, as the prices fall and the functionality, ease of use, product range and reliability increases, there has been a significant increase in sales during 2006.

The PPU is still a new tool that requires much more specialised training before it can be taken into extreme operations under all kind of marginal conditions. An aircraft pilot that is certified to do CAT 3 landings is special trained, and similar training will have to be established before marine pilots can take use of the high performance PPU to the extreme. As this kind of specialised training facility does not exist today we are so far facing a training that will have to be organised by the pilots themselves.

This requires the full understanding of the PPU’s capabilities and limitations in the various categories of equipment. We believe it will take some years before pilots will be organised to take use of the full benefit of the PPU’s. The best pilot is a person who is operating the PPU daily. This experience will have to be transferred to simulation centres which will have to be organised to train pilots in extreme conditions under PPU guidance.

The overall impression from pilots using the PPU’s is satisfactory and we are sure we can have much better results through more training. The latest version of PPU’s has a simulator built-in, enabling the pilot to simulate an operation prior to the actual live operation.

Report from a user

One of the first pilots taking the system into operation under extreme conditions was Dick Lee from New Zealand who gave us the first report and his own description of the system as follows: The next generation of pilot ship handling aids (Dick Lee) The Port of Napier in New Zealand is a busy gateway for the productive Hawke’s Bay region on the East Coast of the North Island. The artificial harbour is small by global standards and very restricted for the new generation of larger container ships. The port has a swinging basin of around 360m and its largest regular callers are 4,100 teu container vessels of some 285m LOA. When other vessels are at various berths this reduces manoeuvring to some 21-22m at each end of the vessel.

Manoeuvring these vessels in the swing basin, particularly when several berths were occupied or conditions not optimal, severely restricted operations at the port.

Therefore the Port invested in E-Sea Fix, the first portable super precision satellite based Vessel Piloting and Docking system. The introduction of E-Sea Fix as a piloting tool has provided a graphical back-up to the pilot in regard to clearing distances, which enhanced safety and performance.

With the length of the vessel and the difficulties of observing clearances from the bridge, the E-Sea Fix, used in conjunction with distances relayed from shore staff, pilot vessel staff and ships staff, becomes the eye in the sky to provide the pilot with an independent, accurate distance that reconfirms what has already been ascertained.

Danish company, Mar imatech, makers of sophisticated hydrographic equipment and jetty and docking safety systems, developed E-Sea Fix employing advanced positioning and telemetry techniques. Coupled with S57 (ECDIS) charts to incorporate environmental and VTS (Vessel Traffic System) information in a graphical interface, E-Sea Fix greatly enhances the pilot’s ability to manoeuvre large vessels under a wide range of conditions.

The accuracy of the system and ease of use are most impressive. The system provides speed, rate of turn, heading and position
information directly to the pilot with an accuracy better than that provided by the standard ship’s navigational equipment. Experienced pilots of large vessels will appreciate the significance of being able to determine ships’ speed with an accuracy of +/- 1 cm per second, or the ship’s head to within +/- 0.01 of a degree. Imagine the benefits for a ship handler to be able to gauge the rate of turn to approximately +/- 0.02 degrees per second or the position of the ship to a few centimetres. E-Sea Fix enables a precision and therefore safety level previously unachievable. E-Sea Fix is totally portable and can be set up in less than five minutes. The system consists of two self-powered DGPS or RTK transponders (E-Sea Cats) and a monitor with radio transceiver (E-Sea Pad). All the units are housed in a backpack and the total weight is less than seven kilograms.

The pilot mounts the E-Sea cats on the bridge wing with a built in magnetic clamp. Each E-Sea Cat receives satellite data as well as differential or RTK corrections and transmits its calculated position to the pilot’s E-Sea pad. This information can also be sent to a shore based computer. Each E-sea Cat has a unique ‘ID Code’ and the E-Sea Pad is capable of monitoring several systems simultaneously for multiple ship operations. In a networked system all users will be aware of each other and able to follow the movement of other ships.


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