Virtual ATON marks sunken towboat on swollen Mississippi

The following is the text of a news release from the U.S. Coast Guard:

(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers established a virtual aid to navigation (ATON) to mark a sunken workboat in the lower Mississippi River during the historic floods there last week.

The tow vessel William Strait sank in 20 feet of water on the lower Mississippi River near Memphis on Dec. 14, 2015, following a collision with the tow vessel Margaret Ann.

The Coast Guard Office of Navigation Systems and 8th Coast Guard District Waterways Management Office worked with the Lock Operations Management Team (LOMA) from the Costal Hydraulics Laboratory (CHL) at the Army Corps of Engineers Research and Development Center to quickly establish the virtual aid until the floodwaters recede enough for the wreck to be salvaged.

Broadcasted via automatic identification system (AIS), the virtual aid transmits a constant bearing and range that can be seen on AIS integrated electronic charting systems and radars.

The Army Corps of Engineers LOMA team included employees from CHL and the Information Technology Laboratory (ITL).  Employees from the Army Corps of Engineers-Information Technology (ACE-IT) Operations and Security Departments, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Memphis District, Corps Marine Maintenance Facility at Ensely Engineer Yard, and the Coast Guard's Research and Development Center also took part in the effort.

“The multi-agency collaboration on e-Navigation and AIS began over 10 years ago, and in 17 years of federal service, it has be one of the most successful partnerships in which I have had the pleasure to work,” said Michael F. Winkler, a research hydraulic engineer at CHL. “The effort to have a virtual ATON mark the sunken vessel went from general discussion to successful transmission in just over 48 hours.”

Working with federal, state and local partners, the Coast Guard is leveraging AIS technology to increase situational awareness and navigation safety on U.S. waterways.

Most commercial vessels operating on U.S. waters are required to use AIS technology by March 1, 2016. To access the increased navigation and marine safety information, the Coast Guard is encouraging all mariners to equip their vessels with electronic charting systems that display AIS transmissions.

Some of the U.S. Coast Guard’s AIS initiatives have included sending transmissions from a portable AIS unit to mark ATON and hazards in a waterway in support of the Digital Lightship Resiliency Project on the Coast Guard cutter Healy and using AIS to mark the abutments on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge to improve bridge conspicuity.

“These initiatives will increase the reliability, availability, resiliency, and effectiveness of the ATON system, while simultaneously improving mariner situational awareness,” said Cmdr. John M. Stone, the chief of the Coast Guard Navigation Technology and Risk Management Division.

For more information about the Dec. 14 incident, click here.

By Professional Mariner Staff