Vessel Traffic


 U.S. Coast Guard monitoring vessel traffic in New York Harbor
 U.S. Coast Guard, photo PA2 Mike Hvozda

 Ever since the invention of the steam engine, ship and smaller commercial vessel traffic has been steadily increasing in traffic density in our harbors, their approaches, and along our inland waterways. Since the middle of the twentieth century national maritime regulators such as the U.S. Coast Guard have been evolving various types of Vessel Traffic Systems (VTS). VTS systems come in a variety of types some feature a central Vessel Traffic Center (VTC) some are advisory in nature only, some issue actual routing directions and feature proactive traffic rule enforcement. Collision avoidance was originally the primary purpose of VTS but from the very beginning both the regulators and the system participants found quite a number of other uses for the system's inherent information gathering and communications capabilities. The hyper link below will take you to a video of the U.S.Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Center Seattle, Washington which should help those new to the subject to envision what the VTS system is all about. 

 An early example of a Vessel Traffic System were the well documented "traffic lights" first operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at New Orleans in 1939 and subsequently taken over by the U.S. Coast Guard and integrated into a more complex VTS in the 1970s.
This system consisted of two changeable light signals located on towers above and below Algiers Point, the bend in the Mississippi River that gives New Orleans the nickname "The Crescent City." Licensed River Pilots manned the towers during the high water season when transit by two way vessel traffic around Algiers Point was considered dangerous. The pilots in the towers worked with the ship and tow pilots to provide one way alternating traffic within a "regulated navigation area" about one half mile above and below the actual point, thus allowing converging traffic to meet in a relatively straight and wide portion of the river. The 1970s computer radar simulation based system succumbed to block obsolesce and budget cuts and was disestablished. In the nineties a new system based on commercial off the shelf (COTS) technology, hopefully not susceptible to block obsolescence was established. Operation of the manned towers was continued between the two VTS systems and the towers were again integrated into the new system that is still operating, and evolving.


File:Supertanker AbQaiq.jpg
William H. Toohey III AFNI
Toohey Marine LLC
Master Unlimited
ISO 9001:2015 Lead Auditor Class
(Bureau Veritas)
ISM Lead Auditor (ABS Certified)
IMCA CMID Vessel Inspector
Vessel Compliance/Training/Safety Officer
Cell: 504-432-1958

 By contrast Vessel Tracking (VT) began in the nineteenth century as an interests of customs services, marine insurance interests, ship owners, and the various creditors of ship owners. Vessel tracking capabilities and skills also would prove valuable to naval and port security authorities in war time. For quite a while between wars government interest in vessel tracking would wax and wain in peace time. The U.S. Coast Guard's need to be able to vector "Good Samaritan" rescuers to a ship in distress beyond our immediate coast line evolved with the development of marine radio. Once the Coast Guard could communicate with ships beyond its normal coastal patrol areas and out of helicopter flight range extending that ability to communicate to ships that might be willing and able to perform a rescue of fellow mariners became important. Out of that need the U.S. Coast Guard developed its AMVER  System ("Automatic Mutual Assistance Vessel Rescue," formerly "Atlantic Merchant Vessel Emergency Reporting System," when founded on July 18, 1958).The AMVER system relies on volunteer participant ships of any nation that participate in the system by providing important ship data to the system and volunteering in advance to proceed on rescue calls in their vicinity. The type of information that the ship provides includes its basic size, type, a description of any medical facilities and personnel carried, towing capacity if any and other data useful in planning search and rescue operations. AMVER participants volunteer to provide regular position reports and periodic radio check ins with the AMVER system. This is a still viable example of a volunteer vessel tracking system.

 An earlier example of a vessel tracking system is Lloyd's Intelligence Services. Lloyd's agents track vessel formal entry and clearance through the world's customhouses. Based on the official information filed at the custom house Lloyds agents are able to provide information of whether or not a given ship is in a particular port, and if not berthed, when it departed its last port and which port it declared for next. Today Lloyds can combine this information with other sources to help track commercial vessels for creditors, insurers, port authorities, courts, and law firms with process to serve.

 When the events of September 11, 2001, occurred the U.S. Coast Guard went into a continuing state of high alert relative to port security. Interest in vessel tracking heightened and the Vessel Traffic Systems already being operated were seen as a potential tool in the tracking and surveillance mission as well. Just prior to the change in port security posture a technological innovation was sweeping both vessel traffic management and vessel tracking communities. AIS (Automatic Information Systems) which constantly broadcast to special receivers vessel positions and maneuver relevant data were becoming more utilitarian and less expensive. AIS technology coupled with radar computer interfaces and electronic chart overlays allowed some real innovations in both the collision avoidance aspects of a VTS and its relevance to vessel tracking. The eventual passage of various AIS carriage requirements opened the door to various commercial ship tracking services. Below is a hyperlink to such a service that monitors Chesapeake bay and the Atlantic approaches to the bay. If you click in you will see a chart of the Bay and nearby Atlantic. Mouse over any of the ship targets displayed and their AIS minimal data will appear and you will have the ship's name, radio call sign and other useful data to regulators, traffic controllers, and other ships. We thought we'd include this link as a fun way to introduce the reader to the seminal technology of AIS.

  Here is an exampl eof a commercial service that utilizes AIS, satellite communications, and computers to provide ship owners with unique vessel tracking services for fleet management, asset tracking, and regulatory compliance management and verification:
 These are two examples of  AIS commercial sites. One is free to the viewer and the other is a subscription service that requires some equipment purchases.  Sites like this are growing around the world and there are many more members only sites for vessel tracking. The type of information and icons used in these sites are often integrated into vessel traffic systems. This integration allows the vessel traffic controller to see the icon traveling at its true speed across an accurate depiction of the appropriate navigation chart. With a touch of the mouse the Vessel Traffic Controller is able to pull up the data about the ship that you see on the screen in the hyperlinked example. Other data producers are integrated into VTS systems as well as the AIS and coordinated by the central computer. A typical input would be a shore based radar for a particular sector of the VTS. The integration of such a radar allows the Vessel Traffic Controller to see targets which either lack an AIS or have one that is not transmitting. These targets won't have an automatically attached name but their presence is revealed. If the Controller can reach the target by radio or overhears someone else doing so he can usually "paint" a label on it that provides at least a name and/or some description.  Radar also gives the Vessel Traffic Controller an instant speed check. Here are some sample vessel tracking sites that provide some free services:

The above links are AIS based systems. AIS can be spoofed, not all services update as frequently as others. The free services are particularly subject to out dated information or vulnerable to spoofing. When you absolutely must have the exact information on a ship's location, as when an admiralty lawyer is attempting to serve process there is no substitute for Lloyd's Intelligence Services, a service of Lloyds of London. Lloyds charges for its services but not only uses modern AIS tracking but maintains a world wide net work of commercial intelligence agents around the world who check custom houses and for official entry pratique,and clearance data. Lloyds finds your ship in the world and for a reasonable fee tracks it until it is about to enter any port you name where you may effect service of process.;jsessionid=CBFA578AB8B6CCE32326F71B4558C59A

Displays real time ship positions and marine traffic detected by global AIS network.

  We recently became aware of this service.MARITRACE which is a fee for service or subscription service providing comprehensive global vessel tracking and maritime industrial, economic, business, and piracy activity intelligence
 Here in this section you will find technical books on Vessel Traffic Systems and Vessel Tracking Systems.  Immediately below are some hyperlinks to Coast Guard sites about their various publicly known systems.



 Here is the link to the Coast Guard's public AMVER website.

 Here is the link to the Coast Gaurd's National Navigation Center's description and history of VTS in America. This site also provides hyperlinks into the various individual VTSs around the nation. Through the individual links the navigator can view charts of the "special regulated navigation areas" and the system manuals. The interested segments of the general public will be able to find descriptive overviews of the different regional systems.

Watch this space for free on line subject reports:

Integration of Vessel Traffic Control Systems and Geographical Information Systems

Vessel Traffic Services
as Information
Improving how information is
shared with stakeholders.
Chief, Vessel Traf ic ServicesDivision
U.S.Coast GuardOf ice of Shore Force

4/9/2013 Maritime News: VESSEL TRAFFIC SERVICES
Editor's note:  We posted this as a news flash on 4/9/2013. We have filed it here because of its historic interest to VTS systems and the way this story illustrates the changes underway in VTS as better remote sensing technology is coming on line. It also illustrates how the brick and mortar assets of a VTS can accommodate commercial off the shelf technological improvements long after the reason for the site selection of the brick and mortar structure has ceased to be an active consideration. Any exposed on water VTCs no longer need to be in exposed positions, though the brick and mortar infrastructure is the most expensive to change.


Official U.S. Coast Guard Photo of Vessel Traffic Controller at Work

 Since the 1970s busy ports around the world have been adopting vessel traffic control or management systems that increasingly appear to parallel air traffic control systems. Some are run by local port authorities, some are corporate run, but most are services of national coast guard organizations. Most national coast guard operated vessel traffic services (VTSs) require vessel traffic control watch standers to undergo pilot like training including periodic retraining. This usually involves boarding a moving ship via the Jacobs ladder, the harbor pilot's normal means of boarding. A few Pilots and others who climb Jacobs ladders are killed every year in falls from these devices or the mechanical failure of the device. Generally most national coast guard vessel traffic controllers consider ship boarding the only real personal injury or death hazard to themselves in their profession. Local Pilots and agency watch standers once on watch inside the Vessel Traffic Center (VTC) usually feel that they are in a safe work place. Today, in Italy that perception changed.

 At this writing six people are known dead and three are still missing after the container ship JOLLY NERO crashed into the Genoa vessel traffic control tower late Tuesday.  The tower was over 160 feet in height and looked quite a bit like an air traffic control tower commonly seen at air ports. Two of the identified dead  at this writing were  Italian Coast Guard personnel and one was a local harbor pilot. In the United States many of our Coast Guard operated vessel traffic centers are jointly manned by both Coast Guard personnel and local harbor pilots. In the United States joint manning is driven by not only the usual common sense consideration of the need for intense local navigational knowledge normally associated with local pilots but also by constitutional considerations.

The U.S. constitution places responsibility for pilot services with the individual states, and  assigns federal responsibility for aids to navigation (buoys, light houses, day marks, later in history radio direction signals, LORAN, now GPS, and vessel traffic services). Vessel Traffic services are hybrids with elements of both aids to navigation and traditional pilotage. Around the world joint manning of vessel traffic centers (VTCs) by both the national coast guard like service and the local pilots is a norm. According to the Italian Coast Guard the accident happened at the shift change so two watch sections for a total of 13 people were in the tower when it was struck. In addition to the known dead and missing four other people were injured , two seriously in the tower collapse, one lost a foot.

 This allision (allision is the admiralty legal term for involuntary contact with a fixed object, collision indicates the same with another vessel) is the worst maritime accident in Italy since the COSTA CONCORDIA cruise ship struck a rock and killed 32 people.  The weather at the time of the allision of the JOLLY NERO with the traffic tower was clear and calm. A local pilot was aboard and two tugs along side. Investigation at last report was focused on a possible mechanical failure. Many vessel traffic centers were located near the waters edge for a real view of some critical point in the harbor before recent improvements in combined GPS, Radar, AIS, and computer technology, plus low light and high definition TV monitoring technology truly made more remote locations possible. However brick and motor is expensive and physical relocation of VTCs has not been a priority, and few are so close to the water that an actual allision is a real danger. To learn more about the technical problems that had to be solved to make VTC's truly locatable out of sight of the water besides the technological developments described above go to our VESSEL TRAFFIC SERVICE SECTION and read the story of the "FUZZY ALOGRITHM applications which in turn have to wait on mathematical research and testing. Afterwards brick and mortar changes have to wait on economics, politics, and budgets. We have not been able to find a public domain photo of the Italian VTC tower, there are news service photos on some of the web sites linked in this posting. But by all outward appearances it looked like a fairly new state of the art facility, sometimes the state of the art changes over night. Even in the best run nations major infrastructure can't change that fast. Our hearts go out to the families of all of casualties. Some of us have spent years working in VTS and as pilots. Most of us only considered the possibility of a Jacobs ladder mishap, if we ever thought of on duty injury possibilities. This accident happened as one half of the VTC work force was preparing to turn over the watch and go home and the other half was preparing to start their workday. At each station, similar to the one pictured in this post one controller or pilot was seated and the on coming relief was standing just behind him focused on those screens and the information they were generating. They were probably quite used to large ships maneuvering slow with tugs alongside into the berths adjacent to the towers. Things apparently went wrong so fast that there was little if any warning. Additionally the natural instinct and discipline of the VTC would incline towards "working the problem" not running from the console. In this case there was no working the problem, but they either died trying or had no warning. The bitter sweet part of this for the Italian Coast Guard, the Genoa Pilots Association and all of the surviving families is that it is highly unlikely that anyone died running from their duty station.

Below is a link to a video on integrated European Union VTS systems:

Most U.S. and many foreign vessel traffic services are operated by national coast guards. Her are our available links for general Coast Guard information U.S. and International:


File:USCG Eagle.jpg  Coast Guard participates in Junior Safety at Sea Seminar
CGC EAGLE: USCG PHOTO                                                                   Photo : USCG

Canadian Coast Guard Icebreaker (PD)            PHOTO USCG

 Personnel of the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (PD) 

 We have been publishing  a lot of of news and opinion posts on the U.S. and various international coast guards and small navies conducting coast guard like operations of late. A lot of the information that we have been publishing is not readily available in the general electronic or print news media and often not widely covered in the larger maritime trade journals. However as we have so often noted we are not a news agency, we are a general maritime reference, a starting point for research into any maritime subject. Even our "NEWS SERVICE" is really more of a reading room where our visitors can link into the E-versions of the various maritime trade journals and news reporters. We regard it as part of our mission to call your attention to and link you to reliable and authoritative sites on areas of special interest. Due to space limitations we don't have a "Coast Guard" special interest page. Presently our information on coast guards is spread out between our NAVAL INTERESTS section and because the activities of coast guards around the world heavily impact merchant marine operations we carry some information in our MERCHANT MARINE INTERESTS section. Finally most but not all VESSEL TRAFFIC SERVICES are operated by coast guards so we carry significant coast guard information in that section. 

 Of late, the aggressive use of their new coast guard by China has drawn a lot of attention. We have never before seen a coast guard used as the forefront force in an aggressive territorial acquisition campaign. This "mailed fist in a velvet glove approach" to stealing other people's island territories and with them their exclusive economic zones is unprecedented. Clearly interests in coast guards is rising globally. Until we resolve our space available difficulties, which have to stand in line with a number of other serious technical issues, and create a COAST GUARDS SECTION we are going to have to make our collection of data on Coast Guards redundant in a number of places throughout the site. We will start today with a blog post full of links and descriptions to official and unofficial reliable and authoritative sites. We will then post this same information to our "BIG LINKS LOCKER" and all of the special interest sections where now carry information relevant to coast guards.




THE COAST GUARD COMPASS: Official U.S. Coast Guard Blog:



This site is about the global positioning system (GPS) , the Automatic Information System (AIS), Long Range Identification and Tracking, Notice to Mariners and other navigational systems and services operated by the U.S. Coast Guard

This site is about the uniformed civilian volunteer corps of the U.S. Coast Guard that operates civilian boats, aircraft, and radio stations supporting Coast Guard missions, conducts public boating safety courses and courtesy motor boat inspections and augments and supports many Coast Guard missions in unique and varied ways

Journalist following Coast Guard news stories will find this site extremely handy.



This is a reliable and authoritative site operated independently of government sponsorship, we quote below their mission statement:

"This blog will generally not discuss day to day operations that the Coast Guard does so well. Other sources such as Coast Guard Compass are much better positioned to do this than I.
The objective of this blog is to look over the longer term, at budgets, policies, tactics, roles and missions, and their physical expression, the platforms that allow the Coast Guard to do its job. My own interest and experience is primarily with the larger patrol vessels, so they will perhaps receive a disproportionate amount of attention. If so, it is not for lack of respect for the other elements of the Coast Guard, and I hope comments will to some extent make up for my lack of familiarity with these areas.
There will also be some reflection on the history of the service that I hope will be both entertaining and illuminating.
Comments are not only welcome, they are essential to maintaining balance and working toward a better understanding of the needs of the service. Recognizing that readers come from different levels of experience and understanding, please keep comments respectful and on topic and avoid personal attacks.
Additionally this blog is not about partisan politics. There are lots of other blogs that provide a venue for that. Comments which include comments on contemporary politics will be deleted in whole or in part.
I’d like to keep the discussion professional, so personal attacks will also be deleted."




Australian Coast Guards- A Wikipedia article that explains how the many services provided by comprehensive style services such as the U.S. and canadian Coast guards are provided in Australia by a variety of agencies and volunteer organizations.


 The British Coast Guard is an executive branch agency concerned with search and rescue and certain elements of maritime safety. The British Board of trade deals with Merchant Marine issues, and the Royal Navy has responsibility of coastal defense. The Customs Service handles many aspects of maritime law enforcement. So the British Coast Guard proper is basically a national maritime search and rescue agency. For a good over view of how Great Britain organizes their coast guard services again there is an excellent Wikipedia article:'s_Coastguard

British Maritime and Coastguard Agency home page:


This is the uniformed volunteer corps of the Canadian Coast Guard that provides Search and Rescue Services from private and non standard boats and air craft .

MARINFO: Canadian Coast Guard official postings of navigational information such as seasonal station closures, ice breaking operations, marine weather, nautical charts, etc., an official site operated by the Canadian Coast Guard.

THE FLEET OF THE CANADIAN COAST GUARD An official site maintained Fisheries and Oceans Canada describing the fleet of the Canadian Coast Guard complete with vessel particulars and photos.


 Until 2013 the Chinese coast guard functions were spread across a variety of agencies. Certain Ships, boats, air craft and certain personnel of all of these different agencies were transferred into the new military / law enforcement/ search and rescue service now known as the Chinese Coast Guard in 2013. Again Wikipedia has an excellent description of this rapidly changing organizations evolution and present status:

FRENCH COAST GUARD: Is called the Gendarmes Maritime and consist of about 1,100 military personnel assigned to maritime police duties and operating as part of the French gendarmerie, a unique branch of the French military having law enforcement authority. The Gendarmes Maritime operate about 42 small patrol craft ranging from open outboard "runabouts" to enclosed patrol vessels that appear to rang up to the 65 to 80 foot range. They patrol the territorial and EEZ waters of France and her overseas departments. They perform provost duties for the French navy, have a naval station physical security role and provide some maritime search and rescue services. The many other traditional coast guard functions as performed by the U.S., Indian, Italian, Japanese, Malaysian and other "comprehensive" coast Guard services remain divided up among a variety of French maritime departments and services. Wikipedia has a comprehensive description in English:

GREEK: "HELLENIC COAST GUARD": The Hellenic Coast Guard is a paramilitary maritime police organization and military auxiliary capable of supporting the Hellenic Navy when called on. Its personnel are organized in a naval manner under a naval style rank structure. The service formed in 1919 and operates ships, boats, and a small air service. Wikipedia has an excellent over view at : 

The Hellenic Coast Guard Website (may be translated when viewed in Google plus, other systems ability to translate unknown)


 The Indian Coast Guard like the American Coast Guard is both a military branch of the nation's armed forces and a law enforcement organization as well as a search and rescue organization. Interestingly , like the U.S. Coast Guard the Indian Coast Guard is also a maritime intelligence agency. The Indian Coast Guard is one of the larger , more full service coast guard organizations in the world very comparable to the American Coast Guard, Canadian ,and  Italian versions. A good site for building an over view of this large Coast is this Wikipedia article"




 The Italian Coast Guard is called the Corps of Port Captaincies and is a branch of the Italian Navy but administered under the Ministry of Infrastructures and Transport. The Italian Coast Guard is both a military and law enforcement agency with several other civil missions very similar to many of the civil missions of the U.S., Canadian, or Indian Coast Guards, it is a traditional "full service" coast guard. The Official government sites will probably require a translation program but again Wikipedia has an excellent comprehensive introduction in English: . .

Italian Coast Guard official web site:

Japan's Coast Guard was originally called the "Maritime Safety Agency" when it was formed in 1948 and its name was changed to "Coast Guard" in 2000. The organization parallels the U.S. Coast Guard in terms of organization and mission mix. The service is capable of augmenting the Japanese Maritime Defense Force (navy) and operates a mix of ships, boats, stations, and an air service. Its mission mix combines regulatory, law enforcement, marine safety , search and rescue and naval readiness. wikipedia has a good general introduction at: 


KENYA was just starting to form a coast guard when we published this in January of 2014

THE MALAYSIAN COAST GUARD doesn't use the title Coast Guard but is officially titled "The Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency (MMEA) Despite the small size of the nation which also operates an impressive small navy the MMEA is impressively sized at over 7,000 uniformed para naval personnel. The service operates ships, boats, rotary wind and fixed aircraft including sea planes. The uniformed members are organized in a system of traditional naval ranks but their duties are more of a maritime police nature plus search and rescue. Wikipedia has an excellent general introduction:

We also carried a post on this coast guard service:


 Like Australia New Zealand also does not have a single organization that provides all coast guard services. But New Zealand does have a single organization that coordinates a variety of locally evolved maritime search and rescue organizations under a single banner known as the Royal New Zealand Coast Guard, inc- 


American Admiralty Bureau's American Vessel Traffic Systems by Ray Bollinger
 This book was published in 1997 and no longer meets one of its stated purposes of serving as a pilot house guide to the use of the various VTS systems. Almost half of the book is composed of the federal vessel traffic regulations as published in 1997. There have been numerous changes to the regulations since 1997 and even some new vessel traffic services added in new locations. However the first part of the book recounting the history and evolution of the VTS concept is still valid and useful. More importantly this may be the only book we have found on the market so far to describe career perspectives in the VTS system, not only the Coast Guard run system but the several private and state systems. Unfortunately we could not find the book on Amazon's system. The price ranges we did find varied from nearly $80 down to about $19.  We suspect the $80 price was from a print on demand provider other than the original distributor. We've included that link above despite the fact the original distributor still offers the book on a print on demand basis for a much lower price.

 THE ORIGINAL DISTRIBUTOR IS MARINE EDUCATION TEXTBOOKS 124 North Van Avenue, Houma, Louisiana 70463-5895. Their telephone number is (985) 879-3866 they take credit cards and phone orders.

 So why did we include the link to the higher priced print on demand distributor?
This seemed a good place to discuss the important role of print on demand services in the realm of nautical books and to provide you with at least one more source of such services. Print on demand services often provide reprints of important nautical or maritime works that have gone out of print and through copyright expiration have entered the public domain. While we think the price is high in the case of this book that is only because we are aware the original distributor is still providing the book, while the original publisher, the American Admiralty Bureau is out of business. Typical nautical technical titles appeal to very limited markets and print on demand services have to charge enough to make the effort worth it, they generally can't count on volume. So while we think the hyperlinked distributor's price is high in comparison to our known cheaper source, that doesn't mean that their other titles are over priced or even that this one is in terms of their return on investment. Their list of maritime titles was interesting and may prove useful to the serious collector or researcher in the future. 

 We want to offer you sound book advice, while earning revenue through our Amazon connection if we can, at no profit if we must, but always good information. When looking for out of print or simply old books it pays to shop around. In the maritime world many valued volumes were never available in large volume and have passed "out of print". When they have also passed out of copyright they often pass into the hands of one or more "print on demand" publishers, a relatively new development in publishing. 

by Charles w. Koburger (1st edition 1985) published by Cornell Maritime Press.

ISBN 10: 0870333607   ISBN 13: 978-087033606

 This was the original hard cover text on the history, evolution, and anticipated future development (written in 1985) of the Vessel Traffic Systems. None of the subsequent books that we have been able to find have offered a more detailed overview despite the age of the book. By comparison the American Admiralty Bureau's historical treatment is much shorter and less detailed. The Cornell book doesn't offer much of a career perspective. It may possibly have been or is scheduled for an up date by Cornell Maritime press. It is apparently readily available on Amazon as new or used volumes ranging in price at our last check of $17 to $24. Unfortunately this is the last reasonably priced general introductory treatment in this section. After this volume our next book descriptions are more technical, and usually focused on a single aspect of vessel traffic and tracking systems. Such works are usually priced like serious technical works. This is where we leave the non serious student of vessel tracking and vessel traffic management behind.  Click on the Link belwo for more information or to order


Tracking and Kalman Filtering Made Easy by Eli Brroker, (1998)

ISBN-10: 0471184071
ISBN-13 978-0471184072

 This book is described by the marketing gurus as "A unique and easy guide to radar tracking and Kalman filtering." Yeah right, easy if you happen to be a post graduate trained engineer, scientist, or mathematician working on the design of tracking systems that have filtered RADAR tracking components. If you are such then you probably won't mind paying in excess of a hundred bucks for this book. If you are a weekend boatman who has to transit through a working VTS system and just want to know more about the system design and components and don't have a fat wallet and a technical or scientific post graduate degree- MOVE FAR FAR AWAY FROM THE BOOK SHELF! OK now for those of you actually qualified to possibly benefit from this book we'll try to explain what's in it.

This book is about radar tracking and the use of filters. There is a particular focus on Kalman Filters. We presume that if you are qualified to benefit from this book that we don't have to explain exactly what a Kalman filter is or who the hell Kalman was.  Tracking of moving targets, be they slow moving ships or as fast as satellites, is complicated by the introduction of errors into the measurements resulting from noise and nonuniform vehicle motion. Tracking system designers use filters to smooth out such errors. This book covers such filters from very simple, physical and geometric approaches, "very simple," if you have had lots of college level higher math and physics. 

 It is claimed that this book presents the "first truly accessible treatment of radar tracking; Kalman, Swerling, and Bayes filters for linear and nonlinear ballistic and satellite tracking systems; and the voltage-processing methods (Givens, Householder, and Gram-Schmidt) for least-squares filtering to correct for computer round-off errors."  We are sure it truly is the "first truly accessible" treatment of these subjects for graduate engineering students."Tracking and Kalman Filtering Made Easy emphasizes the physical and geometric aspects of radar filters as well as the beauty and simplicity of their mathematics." We assure our readers that this is a "beauty and simplicity" that only a professional mathematician could love.  An abundance of design equations, procedures, and curves allows readers who are in possession of really serious math brains to design tracking filters quickly and test their performance using only a pocket calculator! Yes! You can be the first kid on your block to build your own filtered radar tracking or targeting system.
The text covers issues like:
  • The voltage-processing approach to least-squares filtering
  • The correlation between such procedures as discrete orthogonal Legendre polynomial (DOLP) and voltage processing
  • The mathematical sameness of tracking and estimation problems on the one hand, and sidelobe canceling and adaptive array processing on the other
  • The massively parallel systolic array sidelobe canceler processor
  • Important computational accuracy issues
  • An appended comparison between the Kalman and the Swerling filters, written by Dr. Peter Swerling
Tracking and Kalman Filtering Made Easy is probably invaluable for engineers, scientists, and mathematicians involved in tracking filter design. Unfortunately our own post graduate marine engineer hasn't signed on yet so this book had to be reviewed by a licensed deck officer and certified radar observer, with experience operating such systems in a Vessel Tracking System. He admitted that he "kinda, sorta understood the book" but stopped short of rating it as either "recommended" or "suggested." We will have to revisit this book later when we have a scientist available. Meanwhile we hope we've told you enough to hold your interest if you are qualified to read this sort of thing. We've provided the link and confirmed that it is readily available through Amazon. Go to the hyperlinked site and you can read the explanation by the distributor which is full of techno speak, but we are not presently able to determine how much of the techno speak is pure marketing, rendering what looks to us like impressive techno speak into possible techno babble. Amazon usually provides a link that allows the customer to read a few a pages of books in stock. We presume that if you are seriously interested in this sort of book a few pages of reading will answer that question for you. Do us all a favor if you purchase this work and post a review on Amazon.


Vessel Traffic Services"
Processor / display subsystems detailed software design operating system (1979)
 This is an actual Coast Guard technical report from 1979 on the design of parts of old VTS systems probably part of the former block obsolesce problem. Amazon reports that the publication is "out of print, limited availability." It was originally published by the United States Technical Information Service and may still be available through that source. It won't be cheap but probably less trouble to go through Amazon if you are some sort of electronic systems historian and in actual need of the information. Waxing more fair minded there is no doubt that modern COTs (Commercial off the shelf) systems benefited greatly from the older design process. However this is no design manual for the present day.


Vessel Traffic Systems:
What is needed to prevent and reduce vessel accidents
Coast Guard Report to Congress 1975.

This is a keystone document in the history of the development of Vessel Traffic Systems. Back in the days when VTS was something of a hard sell, based solely on a sales point of collision avoidance and waterways management, this document helped clinch the financing
that started the system on its way. The result was that by the time the airliners crashed into the World Trade Center buildings and a big chunk of Manhattan's day time denizens had to be evacuated by boat, the Coast Guard VTS New York was an up and running mature Vessel Traffic System able to communicate and help coordinate a massive boat lift by mostly volunteer civilian commercial vessels. In the aftermath when port security concerns brought the development of vessel tracking systems forward the Coast Guard had more than two decades of developing institutional expertise in the development of vessel tracking, communication, and reporting systems associated with the waterways management, collision avoidance mission. Any serious student of Vessel Traffic Systems whether from a historical, operational, system user, or design / engineering view should not be without this 40 page report available through Amazon for less that $15 the last time we checked (January of 2012). It may also be available from Congressional archive services or the United States Technical Information service. The book has no ISBN number but a number associated with it is "ASIN Boo3HS5DUI" which may help retrieval from government sources or the nominal "publisher" the University of Michigan Library. For the serious VTS/ Vessel Tracking researcher this is an American Admiralty Books recommended publication.


Privatization of Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Service Systems:
Hearing before the subcommittee on Coast Guard and Maritime Transportation 
June 29, 1995.

ISBN -10-01604773JX   ISBN-13 978-0160477317

This is a hearing transcript on a formerly widely discussed but now abandoned idea. There are private or other non federal VTSs in the United States. Off the Coast of Louisiana the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port (LOOP) has Vessel Traffic Controllers aided by AIS and radar and radios operating a vessel traffic system for tankers in and out of the oil port. These controllers are employees of a private enterprise. In an economy move in 1995 the Congress considered whether or not the Coast Guard could be relieved of the economic burden of operating what is now at least 12 VTS systems around the nation. What emerged form the hearing was the fact that the authority to truly regulate traffic was inherent only in the Coast Guard and that delegating the authority was going to take some serious legal homework. VTS operator wannna bes were not exactly beating the Congressional doors down, but interest in privatizing this maritime function persisted until 2001. Once the port and waterway security utility of the VTS became apparent the privatization discussions all but stopped. There have no doubt been many more Congressional hearings on VTS subjects than we have captured in these pages. The few that we have reviewed here are unusual in that have been book bound, in the case at hand even assigned International Book Binding (ISBN) numbers. Our Amazon link will take you to a used edition for sale at over $300 when we checked in January of 2012. We suspect that these transcripts are available through Congressional services and the Government Printing Office after considerable telephone and probably letter writing. Serious students of VTS history may well need this transcript, but if time is critical we think $300 plus is a bit high, but it won't likely be free from the GPO or Congress. The Amazon site is worth checking again since other copies may become available.


Fuzzy Clustering Means Algorithm for Track Fusion in the U.S. Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Service System

OK, you are a vessel traffic controller sitting at your console watching a south bound tanker approach a bridge. The properly AIS linked icon with label passes under the bridge and a few seconds later two targets appear, one without a label. Is the new unlabeled target a non AIS carrying small craft that just came away from the bridge pier, or something else entirely? You continue to watch as your new unlabeled target travels down to a bend in the channel and executes a flawless turn. Meanwhile your properly labeled target thought to be the tanker you were tracking above the bridge crosses the bank, crawls up on land and proceeds down a busy city street. Say what?
Actually it used to happen a lot despite the manufacturers telling us old VTS hands that you "can manage traffic from a windowless block house in Brazil with this technology." Its probably a very good thing that Coast Guard rank and file and civilian traffic controllers didn't buy into that sales pitch when the Coast Guard brass was quite accepting. 

 The brass just never appreciated a fuzzy cluster. What happened in our example above was that the tanker was "painted" by both AIS and radar." When it passed under the bridge the AIS label detached. The computer, capable of only linear logic and now uncoordinated with the radar continued the icon on its last trajectory in a straight line, eventually dumbly continuing the imaginary icon up and over the chart symbols for the bank and into the city streets. Traffic controllers spent an inordinate amount of time determining which vessel icons were real and properly coordinated between sensor systems and which were duplicates with no connection to reality except that it was usually the false icon that carried the ship's label.

 The Naval War College among others set to work on the fuzzy clustering algorithm once the brass were forced into belief. Today the fuzzies are doing much better and the icons representing vessels and their movements deduced from multiple sensors and computer data have far more integrity. Below is a reprint of the Amazon description of the paper in actual techno babble.

 "This is a NAVAL POSTGRADUATE SCHOOL MONTEREY CA report procured by the Pentagon and made available for public release. It has been reproduced in the best form available to the Pentagon. It is not spiral-bound, but rather assembled with Velobinding in a soft, white linen cover. The Storming Media report number is A694863. The abstract provided by the Pentagon follows: This thesis presents a fuzzy association based data fusion algorithm for U.S. Coast Guard Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) systems to reduce the number of redundant target tracks displayed to vessel traffic operators. The proposed algorithm uses the Fuzzy Clustering Means (FCM) algorithm to reduce the number of target tracks and associate duplicate tracks by determining the degree of membership for each target track. The algorithm uses current sensor data and the known sensor resolutions for measurement-to-measurement association and the selection of the most accurate sensor for tracking fused targets. Actual vessel traffic data collected from U.S. Coast Guard VTS systems are used for simulation and analysis of the algorithm. The results exhibit successful fusion of correlated tracks and selection of the most accurate sensor resulting in a reduced number of tracks displayed to the VTS operator."

  If you fear fuzzy icons buy this bookIf you are a serious student of VTS you'll want this book for the technical background.  You can afford this book we think since our last check (January 2012) indicated a sales price of just under $30. If you want to hear about the funny historical stuff wait a bit.   Once upon a time there was a  Headquarters Captain who was a believer that all was ready. He traveled to a distant VTS where the Controllers were resistant to giving up their "window seats" on the water because they didn't trust the fuzzy icons. He  tried to intimidate the controllers into believing by filming their discussion. One man, a very "plain spoken" Irish American Pilot, got the point about the fuzzies across in "no uncertain terms".  You'll have to wait for our discussion rooms to open to hear the rest of the story. We don't whether to "suggest"or "recommend" this work to the serious VTS student or historian, and we actually understand this one. It's just that knowing the history of how hard it was to get the senior Coast Guard leadership to listen completely dominates our memory of the events and no one is ever likely to tell that story, which is the why behind how the Naval War College came to study the fuzzies. What we do know for certain is that the system is much better now, thanks to the science described in this work.









  1. Found this very interesting I work as a VTC offshore in the Gulf of Mexico

  2. Would that be the tanker system for the Louisiana Offshore Oil Port ("LOOP"). We'd love to read more about that system or any other non Coast Guard systems in domestic waters. Drop us another comment with more details.


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