In the latest issue of ‘The Navigator’ magazine, The Nautical Institute explores multiple aspects of VTS communications and how the system is so important for safe navigation. Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) is an essential service provided by a shore authority to help manage ship traffic. It aims to improve safety and security, protect the environment and improve commercial efficiency, particularly in congested areas.
Not all ports have a VTS; Under SOLAS, it is up to the country’s government to arrange for this service where the volume of traffic requires it. It is vitally important that VTS provision is harmonised on a global basis so that all ports are consistent and that mariners can feel comfortable using these services wherever they are in the world. This crucial work is carried out by the International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities (IALA).
VTS is shore-based and the support it provides can range from providing simple information messages, such as the position of other traffic or meteorological hazard warnings, to extensive traffic organisation within a port or waterway. Many mariners do not recognise that there are three distinct types of VTS service:
–> INS – Traffic Information Service ensures essential information is available in time for onboard navigational decision making
–>TOS – Traffic Organisation Service prevents dangerous maritime traffic situations from developing and provides for the safe and efficient movement of vessel traffic within the VTS area
–> NAS – Navigational Assistance Service assists onboard navigational decision making and monitors its effects.
It is important to recognise that even in an area with NAS, where the VTS is providing decision making assistance, you remain in control of how your vessel moves. Any guidance must be result based – it tells you what the outcome of your actions should be, but not what to do to get that outcome. For example, the VTS may tell you to make good a course, but not what to steer to make that course good.
- End goal: The goal of VTS is to improve safety, security, environmental protection and the commercial efficiency of the port.
- Relationship matters: The professional relationship with VTS operators is as important as those among the crew onboard.
- Clear and concise: Clear communication depends on proper use of both technology and language. English may not be a first language, so be as clear and concise as possible, using SMCP where possible.
- Know your VTS types: There are three types of VTS: INS, TOS and NAV. The sailing directions for the region will tell you which kind of VTS is operating in the area.
- Information station: INS is an information service only. It may include information on other vessels, visibility or weather, AtoNs, etc.
- Spatial awareness: TOS is a Traffic Organisation System. It manages space in the waterway, which may include allocating arrival or departure times and assigning anchor spaces.
- A helping hand: NAS is a Navigation Assistance Service. It can provide results-oriented advice and information to assist in onboard decision making.
- The eyes have it: VTS has reliable and accurate coverage of the traffic situation in the area – but don’t forget to use your own eyes as well!
- Keep in touch: Vessels operating in a VTS area should acknowledge information and respond promptly to inquiries and warnings.
- A new career path?: There are international standards for VTS Operator training. Being a VTS Operator could be a career option for mariners.
Emma Ward, Editor, said:
There is so much to be learnt from VTS operators and the way that vessels can communicate with them. By highlighting the vital work these people carry out, I hope that we can encourage navigators at all levels to take a keener interest in the communications and techniques behind VTS.
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