Extension of AIS requirement would affect thousands of vessels

The U.S. Coast Guard has proposed adding thousands of commercial vessels to the vessel Automatic Identification System (AIS) and the Requirements for Notices of Arrival and Departure (NOAD). It’s part of a continuing program to enhance waterway security, oversight and operational safety.

The proposed new rules would apply to all vessels in U.S. inland and offshore navigable waters, including almost all vessels previously exempted from the present AIS requirements.

The Coast Guard estimates the new rules would result in about 17,500 new AIS installations. Those vessels include 298 cargo ships, 748 industrial ships, 553 offshore vessels, 97 research vessels and 122 tank ships in the category of self-propelled vessels 65 feet or longer engaged in commercial service.

New AIS installations will be required on 4,560 vessels 26 feet or longer of more than 600 hp engaged in commercial towing and on 5,520 fishing vessels. It would be required on dredges or floating plants in or near a commercial channel or shipping fairway, and self-propelled vessels carrying or engaged in the movement of certain dangerous cargoes.

Passenger-vessel requirements for on-board AIS now at 150 persons or greater capacity would be reduced to 50 persons or greater. AIS would be required on vessels capable of speeds in excess of 30 knots and carrying 12 persons or more. Those rule changes would affect 3,235 vessels.

“With these new rules we are going back to what we intended to do in 2003," said Jorge Arroyo, AIS regulatory project officer with the Coast Guard. He said the original AIS regulations were introduced in July 2003 as part of the Marine Transportation Safety Act of 2002 in response to post-9/11 maritime security concerns. Those original proposed regulations were modified at that time to accommodate the “claims of severe economic impact … and fishermen concerns about the secrecy of their fishing grounds."

The public comment period closed April 15. The Coast Guard will now consider revising the proposed rule in view of those comments. The rule would then be submitted to other departments for review.

“Realistically, actual publication of the final rule will occur between one and two years from now," Arroyo said. Previously, AIS was required only in the 12 Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) regional designated coastal areas. The areas included nine from New York City to Puget Sound, plus VTS zones at Prince William Sound; Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., in the Great Lakes, and seasonally at Louisville, Ky., on the Ohio River. That covered about 3,000 vessels. The new rules will allow specific vessel exceptions for bank-to-bank ferry operations, inland lakes, or areas of operation in less than a one-nm radius.

Some vessel owners still request that the final rules provide provisions for waivers from AIS requirements based on vessel operating and cost factors. For example, Watermark (formally Chesapeake Marine Tours Inc.) in Annapolis, Md., has operated 11 inspected vessels without AIS equipment, have had “zero casualties in our 37 seasons of operation" sailing close to shore in waters too shallow for commercial ships, while maneuvering “among hundreds of unlicensed, recreational boaters," said Capt. Brandon J. White, Watermark’s director of operations.

“This proposed rule would do nothing to lessen this risk," White said, but the total AIS costs could “threaten the viability" of the company’s operations.

New rules attempt to mitigate the economic impact by generally allowing newer Class B devices in addition to the Class A devices approved since 2002. Arroyo noted that the current cost of AIS Class A devices is about $2,800, while the Class B devices are in the $500 range. However, a Coast Guard report cautioned that Class B may not be suitable for all operating conditions.

“Not all vessels will probably be allowed to have Class B because the time between updates can be up to three minutes, and they have an output power of 2 watts," said George Lariviere, vice president of Whiffletree Corp. in Bridgton, Maine. He said Class A devices with updates every two to 10 seconds transmitting at 12 watts are more suitable for vessels such as high-speed ferries.

Arroyo said AIS and related chart and radar equipment have proved to have important transportation efficiency value. One New York harbor tug company cut fuel costs by 30 percent after AIS was installed because dispatchers could see where all their assets were, allowing for improved scheduling at reduced speeds.

Tug captains on the Mississippi and Missouri river systems have cut fuel consumption, because knowing the exact locations of vessels heading to locks allows speed adjustments to avoid long idle times while other traffic passes through.

The proposed rule changes would require “continual operation of AIS and its associated devices" and the ability “to broadcast vessel position, course and speed" integrated with other external devices or displays “at all times the vessel is underway, at anchor or moored in or near a commercial channel," Arroyo explained.

AIS integration with Electronic Chart Display and Information System, Automatic Radar Plotting Aids and radar will be required only for vessels subject to International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea, or SOLAS, regulations.

By Professional Mariner Staff