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AIS makes waves: Accessing consolidated and accurate AIS information through the internet

Since the end of 2004 Automatic Identification System (AIS) equipment has been obligatory on board SOLAS ships greater than 300 gt when traveling on international voyages. The wide scale implementation of AIS equipment and subsequent availability of AIS signals has not passed unnoticed and has led to, amongstother things, the introduction of

AIS on the internet fills a need

Ever since AISLive started, industry, as well as governments, military and international authorities have shown a positive interest in what AISLive is doing. They see the benefits of having access to a consolidated source of accurate and timely information which can be supplied in a cost effective and efficient manner. The popularity of the website, once referred to as the “nautical hit of the year”, is undisputed with over 65,000 registered users and on an average day approximately 9,500 users are on-line. Amongst the growing number of AISLive users are ship owners, tugboat and salvage companies, pilot organisations, port authorities, VTS organisations, ship’s agents, mooring companies, and also law enforcement. Private individuals may also register to use the site but are required to fill out a form stating their name and address.

Sources of information

There are many ways of obtaining shipping information, for example:

• Every port of importance, and nowadays even the smaller ones, use the internet for displaying the arrivals and departures of ships, including estimated time of arrivals and departures, last port of call, and next destination

• Commercial ship watching services provide ships’ information on request

• AIS receivers in many shapes and forms can be used to monitor shipping (vessel transponders, handheld receivers, even the combination of a VHF receiver plugged in to the sound card of a computer and free software will do the trick)

In May 2004, AISLive became active and became another source of real-time information. The rather simple display of vessels, including their AIS information, in a geographical area obviously attracted many users in the nautical environment in different ways.

Looking at the user base of this service and having talked to many of them, the following typical usage patterns emerge:

• Ship owners like to see where their ships are and if the progress is in accordance with their planning

• Tugboat operators use the information to make a reliable planning for their working day

• The same goes for the linesmen companies. By supplying them with real time information they are also able to plan ahead

• VTS operators often have to rely on their radar horizon and management information system. The ‘over the horizon’ capability of AISLive is well recognised within this group and enables them to anticipate things to come

• Ship agents want to know where their customers are in order to refine their planning and ordering for harbour services etc

• Pilot organisations, to a large extent, already rely on the information provided by AISLive. Where is the ship we have to board? The additional information gives opportunities to optimise their services, thus avoiding unnecessary costs

In short, its main use is to gain a quick overview of the current and expected situation. The added value of the AISLive service is twofold. First of all, it provides a much wider coverage than single users or organisations would be able to set up at comparable costs. Secondly, the service allows the verification of AIS data. The data quality depends on the diligence with which individual ships’ transponders have been installed and configured. In practice, thereis ample room for improvement. AISLive allows the user to cross reference vessel data with other information sources.


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Huub van Roosmalen MSc, System Engineer, HITT Holland Institute of Traffic Technology BV, Apeldoorn, The Netherlands