combinations thereof). Mariners need—and want—a consistent operating environment internationally, which will require the establishment of uniform guidelines for both VTS and VTIS systems. The need for consistency is heightened by the prevalence of foreign vessels and crews in U.S. waters.

The effectiveness of VTS and VTIS systems would be maximized if they all provided the capabilities judged to be most essential to navigation safety and they included compatible equipment designed to the highest standards. The committee does not believe it is necessary, or even desirable, for all systems to use the exact same technological tools.

Automatic Identification Systems

AIS promises significant safety benefits, simplicity of operation, voiceless communications, and compatibility with a range of traffic management schemes (including VTS).4 AIS enables mariners and VTS watchstanders to identify and distinguish specific vessels that otherwise appear as identical "blips" on a video display or radar overlay.5 Another important advantage of AIS is the low cost (relative to many other technologies) of the equipment carried by participating vessels. AIS and similar systems have been used in Prince William Sound, Alaska, as well as in Canada, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. The USCG has recently initiated an AIS demonstration in the New Orleans region of the lower Mississippi River.

For AIS to be effective as a safety measure, all vessels (or at least vessels of certain sizes using specific waterways) would have to carry the same basic information systems and operate them according to uniform standards. Many port stakeholders and the USCG support universal standards and carriage requirements for AIS. The requirements could be generic, but the international character of the shipping industry and the prevalence of foreign-flag vessels in U.S. waters argue for systems that meet international standards.


Recommendation 1. The Interagency Committee on Waterways Management should coordinate the efforts of the U.S. Coast Guard, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the National Imagery and Mapping Agency to develop an integrated, comprehensive plan for maintaining the navigation information infrastructure for all significant U.S. ports and waterways and should solicit consistent, long-term support (public and private) to implement the plan.

Recommendation 2. The U.S. Coast Guard and U.S. Customs Service should develop a system to disseminate electronic information on hazardous cargo automatically from the Customs Service's cargo-tracking database for the purpose of improving emergency responses to spills, fires, and other incidents.

Recommendation 3. The U.S. Coast Guard should continue to move forward, in consultation with local port stakeholders, with its comprehensive national effort to implement vessel traffic services in key U.S. ports and waterways where such systems are needed. Periodic assessments of port safety should be made to keep plans up to date. The U.S. Coast Guard should also provide a uniform national system of traffic management implemented through coordinated federal vessel traffic services and locally adopted vessel traffic information services systems. Specifically, the U.S. Coast Guard should take the following steps while moving forward with the overall program:

  • develop, standardize, and implement objective criteria for selecting ports to be served by federally funded vessel traffic services while upgrading existing systems and implementing new systems that are urgently needed
  • develop training, certification, watchstanding, and operating standards for vessel traffic services applicable to all services regardless of whether or not they are federally operated
  • as the competent authority, ensure that all shore-based vessel traffic management activities, regardless of who operates them, comply with established international standards
  • facilitate communication among ports regarding lessons learned about the implementation of these systems

Recommendation 4. The U.S. Coast Guard should work expeditiously toward the implementation of international carriage requirements for electronic navigation and identification/location systems for all major vessels using U.S. ports and should continue to take expeditious actions to provide communications frequencies to ensure that automatic identification systems are internationally compatible.


AIS is one of various technological tools available for, and used in, VTS installations. For example, radar and closed-circuit television, which have traditionally been used by traffic managers for the surveillance of congested waterways, do not require that vessels carry special equipment. Newer technologies, such as AIS, can provide more precise vessel identification and position information but require that vessels carry transponders.


AIS consists of a shipboard transponder operating in the VHF maritime band that can automatically send vessel information (e.g., identification, position, heading, length, beam, type, draft, and hazardous cargo carried) to other ships, as well as to shore. The receiving stations can display the locations of all transponder-equipped vessels on an electronic chart or radar screen.

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