Mariners face many hazards in the Arctic. The melting of sea ice, reduction of multi-year ice and increase in first-year ice throughout the Arctic has generated an increase in maritime traffic.

To help tackle this problem, the Coast Guard has partnered with the Marine Exchange of Alaska(MXAK) to provide critical navigational safety information to Arctic mariners via digital means.

This cooperation is part of the RDC’s Next Generation Arctic Navigational Safety Information System project and aims to provide reliable navigational safety information so mariners can mitigate risks as they travel in the Arctic region.

The MXAK had already established the infrastructure to support Automatic Identification System designed to autonomously and continuously exchange pertinent vessel navigational information, such as vessel identification, dimensions, position, course, speed and status.

The Coast Guard has also developed its Nationwide Automatic Identification System to capture AIS broadcasts via a network of shore stations located in areas to provide coverage to major U.S. ports and waterways, but it has very limited terrestrial coverage in Alaska and the Arctic.

The RDC project wants to incorporate those AIS transceivers and develop a software system to transmit navigational safety information through AIS directly to users.

The system would not only provide access to real-time information but could also format the information to be portrayed on the vessel’s navigational display, USCG reports.

Ice edge reports transmitted by the Marine Exchange of Alaska-RDC project from Barrow, Alaska, via Automatic Identification System / Credit: US Coast Guard

Furtermore, the system will transmit electronic Aids to Navigation (eATON) information to mariners. eATON aims to extend the range of an existing aid, beyond visual sight and directly to the mariners’ navigational display. Virtual eATON are used to augment existing aids or to provide an aid where it is extremely difficult or not cost-effective to do so, USCG says.

Dave Series of the 17th Coast Guard District Waterways Management Branch, notes: “Conventional buoys cannot survive the ice conditions found in the Arctic, and daybeacons or lights placed anywhere in the tidal zone will not survive winter ice conditions either. The technology demonstrated in this project coupled with eATON represent a next-generation technology that would allow the Coast Guard to provide navigational safety information to the mariner where it is most needed, right in the wheelhouse of the ship on the navigation display.”

Additionally, Coast Guard’s 17th District requested that the project send two electronic Aids to Navigation in Cook Inlet through their Anchorage AIS transmitter.

The way that mariners see the information on their vessel screens / Credit: US Coast Guard

The new project except from benefiting the near shore area (within 30-40 miles of the shore), also investigates ways to extend the range of AIS, to what is termed beyond line of sight, according to USCG.

The AIS technology is currently being tested in Fishers Island, New York and in early 2018 RDC will release a report on its findings to the Office of C4 and Sensors Capabilities (CG-761), which will determine if the technology warrants Coast Guard implementation.

“As the environment in the Arctic continues to change, maritime traffic is increasing and transiting farther north. Research of this type is important to ensure the safety and security of mariners as they increase operations in this region,” Karin Messenger, Environment and Waterways domain lead for the Coast Guard Research, Development, Test and Evaluation Program (CG-926), concludes.