Saturday, May 3, 2014



American Admiralty Books Safety & Privacy Policies   EU VISITORS WARNING POSSIBLE COOKIES AHEAD

 Photo: Portion of a navigation chart by NOAA.  Presently the symbols for the buoys marking the entrance channel on the chart section depicted above as well as the fixed beacon on shore opposite green buoy no. 21 and the wreck buoy near "Wellman Ledge" all represent real physical aids to navigation present in or near the water. For an increasing number of such aids to navigation there is coming a day when the actual physical aid won't be there as a matter of routine. Even today an aid may be destroyed or temporarily replaced by another aid different than that depicted on the official navigation charts. Professional mariners update their charts electronically or through the Coast Guard's Notice to Mariner's system. In the future selected aids that disappear may not be replaced at all but instead be "simulated" by being broadcasts as symbols on electronic chart systems and automatic information systems (AIS). Additionally ever shrinking budgets for coast guards and light house authorities globally will drive many aids to be evaluated on an basis of navigational necessity versus costs causing even more aids to go virtual and be continued only in some sort of AIS system. 

 Most recreational boats under 65 feet (19.8 meters) don't carry very much in the way of sophisticated electronic equipment so physical aids to navigation are very important in their daily navigation. It is also true however, that electronic navigation equipment, including GPS based electronic chart display type systems are getting smaller and cheaper, even battery operated and hand held. Perhaps by the time virtual aids to navigation reach their apex of development there will be devices for small boats that will both put out the AIS position signal (transmit) with its value in collision avoidance and search and rescue, and provide electronic chart displays with all AIS generated virtual aids at a size, battery life and ease of use comparable to your cell phone. of Course for the smaller boats being waterproof and able to float would be a plus.
  Most primary seacoast lights will probably be maintained as historic structures and the lights have long ago been automated by most coast guards and light house authorities world wide since the automated light technology has been available for decades and it is much cheaper maintaining a light keeper on the property. Eventually however many other "secondary aids" will be candidates for virtual existence only. There is a plus side. Where new aids are needed virtual aids may be instantly added at nominal costs.
   Photos: U.S.Coast Guard   The establishment and maintenance of physical aids to navigation involves some expensive and often dangerous highly skilled manual work. in the late 20th century two U.S.Coast Guard buoy tender ships were lost on Aids to Navigation (ATON) missions the CGC WHITE ALDER and the CGC BLACKTHORN about 17 crew members were lost in each accident. Italy recently lost an entire vessel traffic center watch section when the on water center was struck by a ship. Almost every year in coast guards and light house authorities around the world individual technicians are injured and killed attempting to restore malfunctioning physical aids to navigation often in very foul weather. The physical ATON effort in every maritime nation involves hundreds if not thousands of people and billions of dollars worth of heavy equipment. Below is a look at how a virtual ATON would be established, moved, repaired and maintained.
 Photo: U.S. Coast Guard  Not all physical aids can be converted to virtual aids coast guards and light house authorities will continue to have to maintain buoy tending vessels and service technicians for the physical aids retained when the AIS virtual ATON revolution reaches its peak. As you can see however there is reason to worry that shrinking agency budgets and the extremely low costs of virtual aids may drive the move to virtual aids beyond what is prudent. What is prudent is difficult to tell but there are limits that are probably well below what economics alone would drive.

 For example in the case of the U.S. Coast Guard where ATON is both a domestic civil mission and a military support mission the service must maintain enough physical ATON capacity to service the needs of the U.S. Navy , Merchant Marine, and Army Transportation corps in foreign combat theaters of operation. Physical ATON was critical in Vietnam and Coast Guard buoy tender personnel had to service these aids while under constant threat of sniper fire. In the first Iraq war one of the first U.S. units into liberated Kuwait was a USCG team that quickly discovered booby trapped ATON. Both physical ATON and Virtual ATON are subject to enemy action. While it is easy to destroy a physical aid or a number of aids, it is difficult to destroy an entire system. Virtual aids are subject to attacks as well, but a cyber attack if successful will take out an entire system. Caught in the middle of this evolving system are the small craft users recreational boaters, near coastal commercial and sports fishermen, water taxi operators, and other launch services. We doubt that virtual ATON will ever completely replace physical ATON but the economic pressure on budgets may drive the evolution too far too fast and the navigational interest most likely to be hurt will be the small craft operator unless commercial off the shelf virtual charting/virtual ATON transceivers become hand held, battery powered and cheap before the system over steps prudence.

 The U.S. Coast Guard with a military support mission involving physical ATON may move slower and resist economic pressures a little better than many other non military coast guards and light house authorities around the world so we don't expect the revolution to arrive all at once and every where at the same level. But the time is already here where small boat interests need to be aware of what is going on with the ATON authorities and need to monitor the evolution of the related electronic consumer technology. Below is a link to typical devices available to day. There are some hand held devices for under $250 but many dashboard mounted devices with larger displays and more capacity exceed $1500 a major hurdle for many small craft owners. We urge small craft interests to monitor both this evolution towards at least a partial shift to virtual ATON and the related marine electronics market. Try not to get caught in an unattended squeeze play, use caution, governments at work.


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