As cargo ships grow to keep pace with global demand, ports are increasingly in need of accurate, real-time information on conditions to operate effectively. Close monitoring of under-keel clearance—the space between the ship and the seafloor—is critical to safely managing port traffic. NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, Jacobson Pilot Services, Inc., and the Southern California Coastal Ocean Observing System (a regional association of the U.S. Integrated Ocean Observing System, IOOS®) teamed up with the Port of Long Beach to build out the observing infrastructure around the port and provide integrated data to support safe navigation of deep-draft ships. The port, in turn, worked with an industry expert to present NOAA’s data on an accessible, real-time software platform. The effort’s flagship success came in April 2017, when the Captain of the Port increased the draft limit from 66 feet to 67 feet, with a long-term goal of reaching 69 feet. This approach has the potential to reduce lightering costs—the cost of removing cargo from the ship before it reaches port to decrease the draft—which run nearly $10 million per year, while effectively managing the risk of grounding. NOAA is considering how the approach might be applied at other U.S. ports.
In FY 2017, NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey released a strategy for public comment to improve NOAA nautical chart coverage, products, and distribution. The National Charting Plan describes the evolving state of marine navigation and nautical chart production, and outlines action that will provide customers with a suite of products that are more useful, up-to-date, and safer to navigate with. Since the introduction of Electronic Navigational Charts (NOAA ENC®) 30 years ago, the size of commercial vessels has increased fourfold and navigation systems have become more sophisticated. Additionally, there are now more than 15 million recreational boat users in the U.S., many of whom have joined professional mariners in using electronic chart displays and NOAA digital chart products when navigating. User groups of all types are increasingly expecting more precise, higher-resolution charts, and greater timeliness and ease of access to chart updates. The Plan presents strategies to meet the growing demand.
In FY 2017, the Office of Coast Survey completed a full load of the Electronic Navigational Charts (NOAA ENC®) into the Nautical Information System (NIS). The NIS is a centralized data storage repository, which means that all the data is stored and maintained there. ENCs can now be extracted directly from the NIS and used for a multitude of purposes, including for public use and for the private sector to reformat into proprietary products for resale.
The International Board on Standards and Competence for Hydrographic Surveyors and Nautical Cartographers approved the Office of Coast Survey’s (OCS) new certification program in nautical cartography at its 40th meeting in New Zealand. The new program will grant certificates to up to 13 cartographers per year through a combination of lectures, hands-on chart production experience, work details to various OCS branches, and field trips to working hydrographic survey vessels. The first class will begin in Silver Spring in fall 2017. The 51-week program will be comprised of six courses.
A NOAA Navigation Response Team (NRT) responded to a request for assistance in surveying a submerged prehistoric archaeological site located offshore of Sarasota County, FL. After a series of consultations, the Office of Coast Survey and an archaeological team from the Florida Division of Historical Resources and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management worked on the water for two days, obtaining high-resolution data and imagery across the site. With the data in hand, Florida can pursue future efforts to preserve the site and protect its artifacts.
In January 2017, the Office of Coast Survey released a new international navigational chart that creates a smooth navigational transition between Cuba and U.S. waters in the busy Straits of Florida. The chart, officially named INT Chart 4149, is the result of a data-sharing effort between the U.S. and Cuba. During a recent meeting between NOAA and Cuba’s National Office of Hydrography and Geodesy, both parties agreed on the content of the chart.