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Olmsted project is test site for AIS navigation aids

Published April 14, 2016
Electronic navigation charts display virtual buoys on the Olmsted Locks and Dam floating guide walls.  These markers are the first wave in a project to improve safety and efficiency of maritime operations.

Electronic navigation charts display virtual buoys on the Olmsted Locks and Dam floating guide walls. These markers are the first wave in a project to improve safety and efficiency of maritime operations.

The Olmsted Locks and Dam project, Olmsted, Illinois, is participating in the next wave of testing aids to navigation being transmitted by Automatic Identification System (AIS). After successfully establishing the inland waterways’ first virtual Aid to Navigation (ATON) on a ship wreck in the lower Mississippi River, the U.S. Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers are eager to test and develop a process for implementation at other locations. Olmsted is part of the Ohio River electronic Marine Safety Information (eMSI) demonstration. The goal of the eMSI project is to improve the safety and efficiency of maritime operations via the dissemination of navigation-related information that can be displayed on an electronic charting system.

The Lock Operations Management Application (LOMA) transceivers that are located at USACE locks will transmit locations of both virtual and synthetic ATON’s via AIS. When a transceiver signal is broadcast to coincide with an existing physical aid it is known as a synthetic AIS ATON. When a signal is broadcast to a location in a waterway where there is no physical aid, it is known as a virtual AIS ATON. Olmsted will have both types of ATONS being broadcast. Electronic charting systems for commercial boats display the transmissions and allow the Coast Guard to mark hazards with “virtual buoys” when high water, floods, or swift currents prevent the removal of the hazard or the safe placement of a physical buoy.

 “The success of the virtual ATON in the lower Mississippi opened up the possibility in areas that have changes in the navigation lane for commercial ships, thus, Olmsted provides the perfect test location,” said Capt. Chelsey O’Nan, executive officer, Olmsted Division. The navigation lane at Olmsted is adjusted to accommodate the intricate construction of the project, its specialized equipment and many moving parts.

LOMA was developed for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to provide an operational real-time information system to support USACE lock operations.

Scott Ohlemacher, head lock operator for Olmsted Lock and Dam and Lock and Dam 53, noted that before modern technology, lock and dam operators didn’t know whether a steamboat was headed in their direction unless they could see smoke from the stacks.

Today, the lock operators rely on LOMA to track boats, orchestrate the successful movement of commercial traffic through otherwise congested areas, and investigate accidents. “This (system) enables us to pass traffic through this area and reduce delays,” said Ohlemacher.

Zones are set in place to track times. Estimated time of arrival is automatically calculated for vessels and used to help track times and movements.

“The bottom line is, we as lock operators can aid in the movement of vessels to help keep the delay times down,” said Ohlemacher.

“Additionally, the playback mode can be used to track a vessel’s movement to help us see what course was taking place prior to an accident or near miss,” said Ohlemacher.

The lessons learned from accidents are shared with USACE and the Coast Guard to prevent future incidents and provide industry with additional information in times of poor visibility to assist in safe navigation.