Improving waterway safety with Cooperative Vessel Traffic Service



Dwayne L. Meekins, US Coast Guard, Tampa Bay, Florida, USA


On January 30th, 2007 Cooperative Vessel Traffic Service (CVTS) Tampa held its ribbon cutting ceremony to celebrate a new chapter in an ongoing partnership between the Tampa Port Authority and the Coast Guard. The ribbon cutting allowed the Tampa Bay Harbor Safety & Security Committee (TBHSSC), the Tampa Port Authority and the Coast Guard an opportunity to recognise the fruits of more than ten years of labour.

This type of partnership is a first for America’s East Coast and is a sterling example of how port partnerships can be best leveraged and cost effective. This CVTS will undoubtedly improve waterway safety on Tampa Bay over the years to come so that maritime commerce can continue to flourish.

Maritime casualty history

This CVTS was established because the maritime casualty history in Tampa Bay includes the loss of the ‘CGC Blackthorn’ in 1980, the catastrophic Summit Venture collision with the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, also in 1980, resulted in the collapse of the bridge and the three vessel collision (between the ‘Balso 37,’ the ‘Seafarer’ tow and the ‘Bouchard’ tow) and resultant fire in 1993.

Following these events, the state of Florida commissioned a consortium to examine mitigation efforts to reduce risk on Tampa Bay. This consortium eventually became what is now known as the TBHSSC which is comprised of several different port community entities. Championed by the TBHSSC, efforts to achieve a higher level of maritime safety in the Tampa Bay Area culminated in the formal partnership between the US Coast Guard and the Tampa Port Authority. The goal of the partnership was, and still is, to develop, fund and provide a model port and waterway management system with its core being Cooperative Vessel Traffic Service (CVTS)Tampa. The partnership was formalised via a Memorandum of Agreement signed on May 28th, 1998 by the Tampa Port Author ity and RADM North for the Coast Guard.

This partnership provides for a shared commitment from both parties, each bringing different capabilities to the table. The Coast Guard is the designated ‘Competent Authority’ and brings regulatory & enforcement authority as well as a safety focus to the table while Tampa Port Authority provides vital local knowledge, history, additional resources, the ever important stakeholder buy-in and an economic focus. The model has proven to be ideal in Tampa Bay, garnering support from the entire port community.


The CVTS consists of six Coast Guard and six Tampa Port Authority watchstanders standing watch 24-hours, seven days a week. They are tasked with monitoring VHF channels 12, 13, 16 and 22 and an Automatic Identification System (AIS) which allows them to actively monitor and manage vessel traffic on the bay. The waterway management picture on Tampa Bay is continuing to evolve.

The competing demands of larger vessels, more traffic and a mix of hazardous materials, petroleum cargos, cruise ships and recreational traffic have challenged the Ports of Tampa, Manatee and St. Petersburg (each located in Tampa Bay), the Tampa Bay Pilots, as well as the Captain of the Port. In order to address these challenges and keep the waters of Tampa Bay safe, the Captain of the Port has used a wide variety of operational controls and non-regulatory solutions through
the Tampa Bay Harbor Safety and Security Committee and its member organisations.


The challenges associated with vessel traffic management in Tampa Bay are varied and plentiful. The increasing size and volume of vessel traffic, combined with the limited channel width and rapidly changing weather patterns, will continue to require traffic managers to organise and resolve vessel traffic conflicts on a regular basis.

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