Fewer books on the bridge, more information



Ben van Scherpenzeel, initiator and project leader, IHMA Nautical Port Information Project


Nautical port information

For many reasons, nautical port information is of great importance to masters, shipping lines, trading floors, agents and publishers of such information. Why is this information important and what is it used for?

Rules and regulations

  • Masters must comply with IMO requirements for berth to berth passage planning. IMO resolution A.893 requires voyage or passage planning, which is essential for all ships engaged on international voyages. The aim of passage planning is the preparation of a ship’s navigation plan so that the intended passage can be executed from the departure port to the arrival port (‘berth to berth’) in a safe and efficient way, in respect of both the vessel and the environment. The significance of this activity is highlighted by the fact that most accidents happen between the pilot station and the berth. Additionally, ships will grow even bigger in size. As a result safety margins are getting smaller, increasing the need for more detailed nautical port information.
  • Information used in this process may differ from source to source and the master is then faced with the difficult task of selecting the right information.
  • The vessel also has to comply with provisions and stipulations laid down by insurance companies that port information should come from a reliable source (the harbor master). P&I clubs have reiterated the advice on the exchange of information ahead of pilotage.


Next to the rules and regulations, there are also environmental reasons for having correct port information.

  • Reducing emissions at sea – With proper tidal window and berth availability information one could sail to the pilot station at optimal speed, saving bunker fuel and hence reducing emissions. The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions at sea has become an important driver. By sailing to the pilot station at economic speed with proper tidal window information, one can save up to 50 percent of bunker consumption.
  • Reducing emissions in port – With proper terminal information one could prepare the ship properly for mooring and loading or discharging operations, saving time in port and hence reducing emissions. The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in port has become more and more important. By preparing the ship properly for port, not only is operational safety improved, but one can decrease the need for tugs, auxiliary and main engines, and the amount of hours in port can be reduced.


There is a commercial reason as well; trading floors, where a ship’s destination and amount of cargo is decided, also need nautical port information. If trading floors are not certain about the exact depth, they apply an additional safety margin, resulting in less cargo for the port and a tremendous inefficiency in the logistics chain. One centimeter difference in draught can mean a loss of up to 180 tonnes of cargo for a VLCC.

Electronic charts and publications

The increasing number of digital publications and Port ENCs contribute to an efficient voyage. Ships have been fitted more and more with satellite communication systems, enabling them to log on to port and terminal websites and plan a port visit whilst at sea. These digital publications raise the frequency of updating dramatically and enlarge the users’ expectations on the correctness of data. Having correct digital data available becomes an absolute necessity.

One would think that this information is sufficiently available. However, IHMA found that this is not the case, at least not in a worldwide uniform standard; the information many times is incomplete for many ports, and it is not always accurate and certainly not easily accessible.

IHMA investigated the root cause of this lack of information and found three main causes:

  • Harbor masters receive many different questionnaires from all sorts of publishers of nautical information. Completing these questionnaires is administratively cumbersome, resource intensive and leads to different information about the same port as not every questionnaire is completed by the same person.
  • On top of this, many cross links between parties will always result in miscommunication.
  • Apart from many questionnaires and cross links, a lot of people in the nautical chain are not always aware of the importance of this information.


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