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7 Things you need to know about AIS Vessel Tracking

The world of maritime technology and AIS vessel tracking software can be confusing and overwhelming. We ensure our advanced and powerful maritime software is intuitive and easy to use. Here’s 7 Things you need to know about AIS Vessel Tracking.

More than Vessel Tracking

Everything you need to know about AIS Vessel Tracking

How does BigOceanData use AIS data to monitor vessel activity?

BigOceanData takes data from a number of terrestrial and satellite AIS data suppliers and combines this with data from a plethora of other sources to provide vessel operators and port agencies with all they need to understand and manage vessel activity.

The AIS information is displayed against a map backdrop based on Google maps but with full access to global sea charts supplied by C-Map .  A single click takes the user from the vessel icon on the map to powerful information such as vessel activity for the last 72 hours and the last 10 port calls made by a ship.

A full report suite is available to facilitate more detailed analysis of vessel activity, either on an individual or whole-fleet basis.  The production of these reports can be automated and they can be sent to pre-agreed e-mail or SMS addresses on a scheduled basis, if required.

The AIS information is sensitised against weather and seastate information, piracy activity and sensitive areas (such as Nav Area Warnings and Marpol zones).

Can BigOceanData guarantee that AIS tracking will always be available for all my vessels?

The simple answer is – no!  No supplier of vessel tracking and management solutions can legitimately claim otherwise.

AIS devices can fail or be powered down.  There are gaps in AIS coverage due to there being insufficient coastal collection stations in certain areas or because AIS satellites cannot always receive a weak AIS signal.  BigOceanData addresses these fundamental problems with the AIS technology by using data from multiple terrestrial and satellite AIS providers.  In this way we are able to minimise the number of ‘blindspots’ in our AIS data service.  

Nevertheless, the fact remains that for applications where the availability of vessel positions must be guaranteed alternatives to AIS tracking will be required.  The BigOceanData portal can collect and integrate data from a large number of dedicated on-board tracking devices utilising technologies such as Fleet Broadband, Inmarsat and Iridium.  Data from any of these devices can be mixed with the global AIS picture to provide a very detailed situational awareness for fleet operators.

Satellite AIS services seem expensive, do I really need to use it to manage my fleet?

AIS coastal stations can monitor the positions of all AIS-fitted vessels within range of the coast (typically out to 20 miles).  This allows authorities ashore to improve their awareness of vessel movements and to enhance existing coverage from shore-based radar systems.

More recently it has become increasingly common for AIS data to be collected using satellites equipped to eavesdrop on the AIS VHF frequencies.  Satellite-AIS (S-AIS) allows AIS data to be collected when ships are beyond the normal coverage of coastal receiving stations (now known as Terrestrial-AIS) thereby providing trans-oceanic vessel monitoring capabilities.  The use of satellites means there is a significant cost-of-acquisition of the oceanic AIS data.

Here at BigOceanData we feel strongly that S-AIS is integral to any vessel monitoring or management system.  That is why we include S-AIS data alongside more traditional T-AIS data in all of our tariffs, at no extra cost, to our clients subscribed vessels.

Are there alternatives to AIS for tracking and managing vessels?

Prior to AIS being deployed in 2002 it was common practice to use dedicated satellite-based tracking devices to follow ships’ movements.  These devices are still widely in use today for specialist applications such as Long Range Identification and Tracking, SSAS, Fisheries Vessel Monitoring, Oilfield Security Solutions, wherever 2-way communications are required to enable cooperation between the vessel at sea and the shore-based management organisation.

BigOceanData pioneered the use of Inmarsat-C for co-operative tracking of fishing vessels in the mid-1990s.  Since then, we have used Argos, Fleet Broadband, Globalstar, Inmarsat-D, Iridium, Isat M2M, Orbcomm and Skywave  satellite technology and short-range radio-based technologies to track and manage vessels both near-shore and deep-sea.  We are able to combine data from any of these devices with the global AIS information to provide a data-rich environment for vessel operators and port authorities.

Can I use AIS to communicate with a vessel?

No – the AIS system does not support 2-way communications ship to shore.  

For applications where such communications are necessary or where specific data needs to be sent from vessels to operations HQs ashore, dedicated vessel management devices are required.  Such devices use maritime communications services (such as Fleet Broadband, Inmarsat and Iridium) to send data from ship to shore, and vice versa.  These devices provide high levels of cooperation between vessels and shore-based operating agencies; however, they require the use of satellite airtime for the transmission of the data signals.

For many applications, such as fishery control and offshore security solutions, these so-called cooperative devices are essential.  BigOceanData has been supplying end-to-end solutions of this kind since the mid-1990s.  We are one of only a few service providers able to mix data from dedicated tracking devices with AIS data for advanced vessel tracking and management applications.

Should I have privacy concerns using AIS data to manage my fleet?

The very nature of the AIS system is that the basic vessel data (position, course, speed etc.) is openly available, for safety at sea purposes.  This information is, therefore, in the public domain.  However, any subsequent manipulation of that data by BigOceanData is undertaken in a highly-secure data environment within which individual clients’ data is held in total privacy.  So, whilst BigOceanData has no influence on the privacy or security of AIS data prior to receiving it into our systems, once we have the data we protect it completely together with any subsequent manipulation of the data and any interactions with it.

If a client requires a totally private vessel management solution then the alternative is to fit dedicated tracking devices based on satellite communications for deep-sea applications or GPRS (mobile telephony) and short-range radio for near-shore requirements.  In addition to offering complete privacy, these solutions provide 2-way communications enabling direct control of the vessel, if required.

Can AIS be used for Ship Security Alerting System (SSAS) purposes?

No – AIS is unsuitable for SSAS because it does not support the sending from ship to shore of a ‘Panic’ alert.  Essentially, the SSAS legislation requires a dedicated 2-way tracking and communications device. Typically, Inmarsat-C equipment has been utilised for SSAS although other devices are used to satisfy the requirement.

The BigOceanData platform includes a ‘SSAS Alert Manager’ feature to collect SSAS alerts and send them on to the relevant flag authorities by e-mail and/or SMS.  This re-routing of the alert is automatic but is accompanied by an on-screen pop up to alert the local vessel management team. All alerts are recorded in the system database and can be re-produced in report format.

BigOceanData supports a number of different type-approved SSAS devices whenever new or replacement equipment is required.  Where a supplier of a SSAS service is no longer available or a change in provider is required, existing SSAS equipment can be ‘repointed’ to the BigOceanData portal so that the reporting and alerting functionality can be preserved.

The BigOceanData platform supports the integration of SSAS-derived vessel position information with the global AIS data set to provide enhanced tracking and management services for specific maritime security incidents.

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BigOceanData is a vessel tracking software portal and service provider for maritime and vessel management.

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