Great Lakes and Ohio River Division Lockmasters Workshop

By Brian at May 24, 2011 14:11
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The Great Lakes and Ohio River Division Lockmasters Workshop is being held near Pittsburgh Tuesday through Thursday, 24-26 May. This will be an outstanding forum to hear the concerns and needs of the folks actually workng the locks on the inland waterways and Great Lakes.  There are about 45 attendees, most from the Great Lakes and Ohio River area, but also some from other waterways. So far they've covered lock operator training and have an ambitious agenda for the rest of the workshop.

I'll be giving a presentation Wednesday morning on AIS, River Information Services (RIS) and LOMA and I anticipate a lot of questons and hopefully some good discussion. One of our LOMA beta testers will also be presenting his impressions of LOMA, so I look forward to hearing his unvarnished view of how it's working for him.

Here's some information about LOMA:

I can be contacted through blog at maritimespatial dot com for more information and questions.

Coast Guard to suspend IRVMC reporting

By Brian at January 08, 2011 08:37
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The Coast Guard issued a temporary final rule suspending the reporting requirements for CDCs on the inland waterways.

The Inland Rivers* Vessel Movement Center (IRVMC) was established after 9/11 to track dangerous cargoes on the inland waterways.  Instead of using technology (in particular AIS), the Coast Guard mandated reporting at certain locations of vessel location and hazardous cargo.  These reports could be made by almost any means - electronically, or by radio, telephone, fax, email or carrier pigeon possibly.  In the 8+ years IRVMC was in place, little effort was made to shift to a fully-automated reporting system, which would have had the additional benefit of expanding the actual coverage area and probably increasing the security of the reported data.

Belatedly, the Coast Guard and Corps of Engineers are starting to work on prototype River Information Services (RIS) efforts that will ultimately provide IRVMC-like capabilities, and not just for the Coast Guard and not just in support of Homeland Security.  If implemented as envisioned, US RIS efforts will benefit the Coast Guard, the Corps and other Federal agencies; the navigation industry will also benefit from increased efficiency and single reporting of required information to the government.

However, these RIS efforts will take years to develop and implement, especially in these economic times.  It's a shame that the relatively flush years post-9/11 were not used to advance RIS and expanded AIS efforts.  Hopefully the good intentions and dedication of stakeholders, public and private, will overcome the financial hurdles.


*Are there any offshore rivers?

Change to St. Lawrence Seaway water level AIS message

By Brian at October 13, 2010 17:15
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Below is the text of a recent St. Lawrence Seaway notice regarding a change to their version of an AIS message used to transmit water level information:

AIS Water Level Data Transmission
In support of vessels using a draft optimization tool, mariners are advised that effective October 5, 2010, the water level data being transmitted via AIS will be based on actual readings, as currently done, or based on readings of adjacent sensors, in the event of problems with the primary sensor. The AIS water level message type will display ‘act0’ when the level is from the primary sensor and ‘est1’ when the level is estimated using data from adjacent sensors. The AIS version message has been changed to 4.1 from 4.0 to reflect this modification.
October 5, 2010

The pdf version of the notice is available here.

Here is version 4.0 of the water level message:

It's unclear to me where the "act0" and "est1" indications have been placed, but probably in the "reserved for future use" bits in the Reference Datum or Reserved fields.  The Notice states that "The AIS water level message type will display ‘act0’ when the level is from the primary sensor and ‘est1’ when the level is estimated using data from adjacent sensors."  This is somewhat presumptious - the actual portrayal would depend on how the manufacturer of the navigation system implemented it.

Th St. Lawrence Seaway has been on the cutting edge in the use of AIS since the early 2000's for which they should be commended.  However, they mostly serve a captive audience so they can make these sort of changes fairly easily.  The problem is that the rest of the world is using other messages, and it is unlikely many manufacturers will implement the SLS messages in their software, putting users at a disadvantage if they do sail the Seaway.

There is an international effort to develop and use common AIS messages, and to establish a registry of international and regional messages.  IALA is hosting this registry, which (unfortunately) currently has no submissions.  In the US, we are actively working to clarify the process for development and qualification of new mesages, and plan to submit messages to the IALA registry.  Others, including the SLS are encouraged to submit messages to the registry and are invited to join in or find out more about the US efforts on AIS application specific messages.

Data standardization - FILS and e-Nav

By Brian at July 17, 2010 08:53
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I attended the Federal-Industry Logistics Standardization (FILS) meeting in Huntington, WV this past week.  As the name indicates, this is a public-private effort to standardize various data used in commercial navigation.  This information includes “navigation points of interest” (NPI) such as facilities (docks, terminals, etc.), bridges, river miles; vessel data, and commodity (cargo) data.  Huge progress has been made in identifying critical data that is (or should be) shared amongst the FILS stakeholders and designating a lead entity for the data.  This will hopefully reduce duplication of effort and redundant databases that don’t match each other and are difficult to reconcile.


For example, USCG has been designated the lead authority for vessel data - the Corps of Engineers will use the USCG’s vessel database for their purposes, and Industry will access it as appropriate.  All stakeholders will be able to make updates to the data (e.g., as a vessel changes owners).  The Corps of Engineers has been designated the lead for NPI, and will provide similar services.


The work FILS is doing is critical to the success of e-Navigation, but it is definitely not “sexy.”  There has been a lot of tedious slogging through databases, sometimes going entry-by-entry to correct existing data and reconcile different databases that contain similar information.


These is still a lot of work to be done to make the data available to all stakeholders with a need for it.  A lot of this is more policy than technology- developing rules and methods to make sure there are apprpriate rules and controls on access to the data, while not impeding the efficient use of the data by those with a legitimate need for it.


There is also work to be done making sure the FILS work is in line with similar efforts at the national and international level, such as that being done by the CMTS e-Navigation Strategy working group, the IALA e-Navigation COmmittee and the IMO.  In particular, the IALA e-Nav Archtecture working group has developed a "Universal Maritime Data Model" or UMDM that provides a framework for standard descriptions of maritime data elements.  Apparently there is some work yet to be done to reconcile the UMDM with work done by the International Hydrograhic Office (IHO) on a data model for charting.  The UMDM had been scheduled to be presented to IMO at the NAV meeting in August, but this has been put on hold to avoid conflict with the IHO's work.   More evidence of the difficulty, importance and hard work associated with these data efforts.

Efficiency, reliability and e-Navigation

By Brian at May 16, 2010 11:22
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A spate of articles in the national and Pittsburgh area press (see here and here) highlight the aging infrastructure on the inland waterways.  While this aging infrastructure is "hard" (i.e., concrete and steel) there is a "soft" part of the infrastructure that will be critical in dealing with these problems.  As the hard infrastructure ages and is (hopefully) repaired or replaced, there will be a need to operate the diminished capacity more efficiently and reliably.  e-Navigation has a critical role to play here - in disseminating information about infracture outages (e.g., lock repairs) providing estimates of their resolution and assisting vessels using the waterways in operating more effciently and smoothly.  For example, by making sure shipping companies know about waterways infrastructre restrictions, they can better plan vessel voyages.  Vessel operaors (pilots) will know the status of the waterways they are on, and can adjust speed or operations, saving money (less fuel burned) and time (e.g., accomplishing logistics or repairs without delayin the transit).  And lock operators can perform maintenance and repair based on knowledge of anticipated vessel movements.

Ideally, e-Navigation services will help to keep the hard infrastructure more reliable, providing real-time information on infrastructure usage and condition, allowing better maintenance decisions to be made.  Of course, there has to be a recognition by those controlling the purse strings that "soft" infrastructure - such as that needed for e-Navigation - is still infrastructure, and needs to be supported as much as concrete and steel.

This equipment control console at one of the Pittsburgh area locks (running on a 286 (!) processor):

needs attention as much as this crumbling concrete lock wall:

(We were warned not to walk too close to the edge; and prohibited from venturing onto the guidewall beyond the lock gates)


By Brian at April 26, 2010 12:36
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I'm attending the American Society of Civil Engineers PORTS2010 conference* this week and presenting a paper on Tuesday afternoon.  I arrived Monday just in time for the luncheon. Several awards were given out and then the lunch speaker was announced.  It was a civil engineer and I resigned myself to an earnest but boring (to me) talk about pouring concrete and big projects, maybe with a few incomprehensible equations and unreadable tables thrown in.  Instead, I was pleasantly surprise to be treated to a presentation called "Bridginess" presented by Brian Brenner that was quite entertaining and educational.

He covered several seemingly-unrelated aspects of bridges in a very humorous way - including an allusion to the movie "Diner:" he said he made his wife take a test on bridges before she could marry him (he proceded to give us this "test" and then said we were all now qualified to marry him).  In addition to pointing out the symbiotic relationship between ports and bridges, he also presented his ideas about what makes a bridge "bridgey" through images of spans, some famous and some not, and discussion about why they were "bridgey" or not.  Mostly subjective, of course: his favorite bridge is the Verrazano**, whereas I find it rather boring (of course the most beautiful bridge is the west span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge).  But bridginess also captures a bridge's harmony with its surroundings and utility, including for navigation.  It was one of the best luncheon speeches I've attended, appropriate to the theme of the conference, interesting and entertaining.

I get absolutely nothing from this, but here's a link to Brenner's book "Bridginess."


*here's a nice article calling the conference "the ‘Super Bowl’ of navigation conferences" - appropriate (and probably intentional), as the gala dinner was held at the Jaguars' stadium

**he also pronounced Mackinac as ending in "nack" instead of "naw," but I quibble.

The Inland Navigation Rules have a new home

By Brian at April 15, 2010 08:15
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Thanks to Denny Bryant for his post today:

"The US Coast Guard issued a final rule placing the Inland Navigation Rules in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR). Several years ago, Congress authorized the Coast Guard to adopt regulations for the Inland Navigation Rules and directed that the statutory version of the Rules would be repealed upon such adoption. The final rule comes into effect on May 17. This is solely an administrative process and no substantive changes to the Inland Navigation Rules are intended."

Here's a link to the new rules.

While there are no substantive changes to the rules, this is not a trivial action - this places the Nav Rules in the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), rather than as part of the US Code (USC).  Prior to this move, any change to the inland rules literally required an act of Congress - it would entail a change to legislation.  This also allowed for the possibility of landlubbers making changes to rules intended for mariners' safety without real knowledge of their impact. 

With the rules in the CFR, changes can now be made administratively, as with other regulatory actions  This should allow for more flexibilty and responsiveness to changes necessary for navigation safety.  The CFR process also provides the opportunity for public input and comment, ensuring stakeholders have their say in proposed rule changes.  I don't anticipate any immediate changes to the Inland Nav Rules, but it's good to know that the process to make future necessary changes is now somewhat easier. It might be nice if the rules in the CFR were cleaned up a bit, such as moving some of the requirements that are currently in the CFR annexes onto the Rules themselves.  Again, this sort of housekeeping is made much easier by the fact that the rules are now all in the CFR.

Dissemination of lock outage information

By Brian at March 31, 2010 12:54
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A Wisconsin (or Minnesota - it's unclear from their website) radio station posts that "the navigation season is being held up on the Mississippi River" due to maintenance at a "lock and dam at St. Louis."  I don't have details which lock and dam - there are two close by, L/D 27 and Mel Price - and I'll try to look at the St. Louis District website and other places and see what's available.

This is just the sort of information that the Lock Operations Management Application (LOMA ) is designed to gather and disseminate to mariners and other waterway users and stakeholders.  LOMA will also assist those scheduling maintenance in determining how they can minimize impact on navigation.  I'll be posting more on LOMA in the near future.

Visit to Mel Price Lock and Dam

By Brian at March 13, 2010 15:15
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While at the Inland Waterways conference last week, we got the chance to visit a couple of the locks near St. Louis.  Here are a few photos from the Mel Price Lock and Dam, a relatively new project completed in the mid 1990s.

A tow approaches the lower entrance to the main lock chamber.  While it appears he is off course, there is actually a current pushing the tow to the left, and he was nicely lined up once in the lock.  This photo was taken from the service walkway that runs atop the dam and over the lock chambers.



Here's the tow in the chamber. This photo was taken from the old lock control room which is now a meeting room/visitor's center.