The Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) faces the challenge of maintaining a modern aids-to-navigation (ATON) system of 11,200 floating aids and 5,800 fixed aids along the world’s longest coastline. With shrinking budgets and increasing demands on its resources, the CCG has had to find a way to maintain the ATON system at 99 per cent service levels, in line with international standards, while improving efficiency and cost-effectiveness. To do so, it turned to new technologies, introducing the Marine Aids Modernisation (MAM) initiative in 1996.
One technology, self-contained LED (SCLED) lighting, is possibly the most important single contributor to MAM’s success. SCLEDs have had a multiplier effect on savings by enabling the implementation of other technologies and cost-cutting measures. This report outlines the contributions of SCLEDs to the MAM programme on Canada’s East Coast, and in the CCG’s Maritimes Region in particular. The Maritimes Region is one of five CCG regions and contains about one-quarter of Canada’s ATONs.
A Canadian company, Carmanah Technologies, introduced the first SCLED marine lights in 1996. The significance for navigation has been compared to the advancement from kerosene to electricity. It’s appropriate that this event parallelled the start of the MAM programme, because SCLEDs may be viewed as the programme’s technological catalyst. SCLEDs have all their components, including photovoltaic panels, batteries and sophisticated electronic controls, completely integrated and sealed within their lenses and polycarbonate/polymer lamp housings. The result is a compact, durable and weather-tight lamp that can withstand the harshest marine environments. A typical SCLED can operate in temperatures ranging from -40° to +80° C (-40° to 176° F), can operate up to 300 hours on a single charge, requires as little as 1.5 hours of daily sunlight to maintain consistent performance day in and day out, and requires no bulb/battery changes or other maintenance for five to eight years.
Replacing incandescent lights
SCLEDs, now available in ranges from one to four nautical miles, replace more expensive solar-powered tungsten-incandescent units. These older systems typically use heavy 12-volt external batteries, six-square-foot solar panels with a supporting frame and connecting cables, and internal components that include lamps, automatic lamp changers and flash regulators.
The large solar panels are prone to breakage. The component parts all have separate maintenance and spare part requirements. Designed for ease of removal and maintenance, they are highly susceptible to saltwater corrosion. Automatic lamp changers are not always reliable and may not hold enough lamps for the planned maintenance interval, requiring unscheduled servicing. A SCLED costing as little as C$400 can replace an entire such system costing C$4,000; virtually eliminating these maintenance requirements. Since 1996, the Maritimes Region has been able to move from annual maintenance of its large lighted buoys to a three-and-sixyear maintenance cycle.
By the end of 2003, there were 2,245 LED buoy lights in Canada, compared with 1,100 in 2001. By 2007, the CCG aims to have 100 per cent of its buoy lights converted to LED. Right now the CCG’s Maritimes Region is on schedule to complete this conversion to LED technology by 2006.
Modernising fixed aids
SCLEDs can also be used on fixed navigation aids, even where hydro connections are available and photovoltaics would not previously have been cost-effective. Savings on fixed aids come from reduced installation and electricity expenses, a potential six-year maintenance-free lifecycle and the increased ability to contract out services. A SCLED light requires only a few bolts for permanent installation, and can easily be carried over rough ground and placed atop towers and posts without specialised equipment or expertise.
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