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NOAA Celebrates 30 Years of Safer Marine Navigation Through PORTS®

Learn about NOAA PORTS with this 30th anniversary video. Transcript

In the early 1980s, two shipping vessel collisions at the Tampa Bay Sunshine Skyway Bridge happened within weeks of each other. These accidents spurred Federal legislation leading to the development and establishment of NOAA’s first Physical Oceanographic Real Time System (PORTS®) in 1991. This July, PORTS celebrates 30 years of providing commercial vessel operators with accurate and reliable real-time environmental conditions to enhance the safety and efficiency of maritime commerce.

From the start, the PORTS program was unique in many respects. Establishing the network required integrating both observing and data management systems to deliver data from multiple sensors and locations in just one place. Data was quality controlled in real time to assure reliability and establish confidence in its use. These efforts laid the groundwork for providing users with situational awareness of their highly dynamic operating environment to enable precise decision making. At its inception, PORTS provided data on an hourly basis. Today, observations are delivered in 6-minute intervals and available on a variety of platforms from land-based phone lines to mobile internet applications – now serving over 35 PORTS locations.

Through the years, continuous testing, evaluation, and infusion of new technology has enabled the PORTS program to evolve along with the needs of its partners. PORTS has worked with local and regional partners to expand the suite of real-time sensors for oceanographic and meteorological observations at each location. Water level gauge observations were followed by current meters – deployed in busy shipping channels and installed along docks to assess conditions right where users most needed them. Air gap sensors are now installed on bridge infrastructure to address the emerging issue of ever-larger vessels, enabling ships safe passage beneath even with thinnest of margins. Visibility sensors provide insight for harbors routinely impacted by fog. This level of real-time knowledge has had invaluable benefits to NOAA’s Precision Marine Navigation by safeguarding scheduled commercial and recreational marine transit. Safety and efficiency of PORTS real-time data is further amplified by nowcast and forecast parameters from NOAA’s Operational Forecast System.

Video Transcript

[Paul Tash, Tampa Bay Times] "The most dreadful rainstorm rolled in early in the morning. There’s a report that a ship has hit the skyway and there are cars in the water an inbound freighter..."

[Dr. Mark Luther, University of Southern Florida] "...is overtaken by an intense early summer, late spring squall line collided with one of the main bridge supports and the southbound span of the bridge collapsed."

[Deborah Blum, Tampa Bay Times] "As I started approaching the tollbooth, I could see they were turning cars away, and that’s when I realized something very bad had happened."

[Paul Tash, Tampa Bay Times] "Thirty five people died. Twenty four of them were on a Greyhound bus and 11 others. And again, we all knew that it might have been any one of us on the bridge that day."

[Chris DiVeglio, NOAA PORTS Program] "The incident in Tampa Bay inspired the creation of the NOAA Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System. since its inception in 1991, the PORTS program has grown to more than 35 operational systems. PORTS is a publicly available navigation tool around various U.S. seaports.

[Nicole LeBoeuf, NOS Assistant Administrator] "NOAA’s PORTS Program provides essential decision support in real time, as well as for future planning in a changing world."

[Capt. Dave Berault, Mobile Bar Pilots] "I’m one of 14 pilots in Mobile, Alabama, all who use ports data on a daily basis."

[Capt. Beth Christman, Association of Maryland Pilots] "It’s invaluable because we know that ships are getting bigger. Bridges are not getting higher. Channels are not getting deeper and wider. And if we’re going to be able to service the Port of Baltimore with some of these larger vessels, then we need to be able to have this information at our fingertips."

[Capt. Carolyn Kurtz, Tampa Bay Pilots] "During a typical workday, I look at ports even before I get on the water. As soon as they get called for a job, I go to the screen and I look for the wind, sea state, and visibility so that I have a good idea of what the weather’s doing before I ever get on the ship."

[Brian Miller, Maryland Port Administration] "Many of our challenges are actually seasonal. So in spring and fall, we get heavy fog, which the PORTS system helps the pilots navigate through. Also, we get heavy winds during the winter. So that also helps them with the winds and the currents that are affected by those weather weather systems."

[Donna Schatz, Prince William Sound Regional Citizens' Advisory Council] "Information on surface currents, including strength and direction, can be of great value in the safe docking and undocking of the crude oil tankers at the Valdez Marine Terminal in Alaska."

[Capt. Steve Gibson, Matagorda Pilots] "We’re able to not only react to the currents in the channel, but be proactive in setting up for crosscurrents, flood or ebb tides."

[Capt. Stuart Griffin, Pilots Association for the Bay and River Delaware] "PORTS enables us to ensure safe passage of vessels, specifically things like under keel clearance, as well as air gap or the clearance of a vessel’s antennas and mast under a bridge safely."

[Capt. Jesse Pullin, San Francisco Bar Pilots] "The port sensor is important because it takes into account the sagging of the bridgespan due to heat and traffic load, which can result in a reduction of clearance by several feet." [External unknown speaker] "Air draft 181 on the ship, air gap 186 on the NOAA PORTS data."

[Capt. John E. Cameron, Charleston Branch Pilots Association] "PORTS allows us to handle the largest container ships trading in the U.S., at both optimal safety and efficiency. So having the historical data helped us plan the operation and having the real time data gave us assurance that we had the clearance that we had planned for."

[Capt. John Timmel, Tampa Bay Pilots Association] "We’ve protected the environment while at the same time increasing the profitability of the ports of Tampa Bay."

[Jena Kent, CO-OPS] "PORTS provides a holistic view of the marine conditions and high traffic areas. Where the difference as small as a couple of feet are of great concern."

[Capt. Terry Gilbreath, Alabama State Port Authority] "Our main shipping channel is 45 feet deep and we sail vessels with 45 foot draft frequently. We used the operational forecast many times in the last month to set sailing priorities during these low water events."

[Tim Osborn, NOAA Office of Coast Survey] "This is really one of the testaments as to the value and the importance of real time operational systems which allows a ship like this [image of massive ship going by in narrow channel] with maybe one or two feet of under keel clearance to be able to transit up, and then to go ahead and go to overseas markets."

[Fred Myer, Port of Portland] "The system’s validated the partnership of the federal government, the pilots and the ports in developing navigation on the Columbia River."

[Nicole LeBoeuf, NOS Assistant Administrator] "To enable PORTS, we rely on strong and valuable partnerships with other federal agencies and state agencies, as well as the private sector and academic and nonprofit partners and stakeholders to deliver valuable information into the hands of those who need it most."

[Darren Wright, Former PORTS Manager, NOAA] "I would get an email or a phone call or a pilot would pull me aside at a conference or a meeting and say how PORTS data helped him avoid a grounding."

[Jeff Orrock, National Weather Service, NOAA] "Accurate water level observations are critical for us, especially when we’re getting into times of predicting how high the water is going to go and providing those coastal flood warnings with enough lead time so that folks can prepare."

[Capt. Stuart Griffin, Pilots Association for the Bay and River Delaware] "There’s really no substitute for live data from the PORTS program that either confirms or disproves your calculations when making transit planning decisions."

[Fred Myer, Port of Portland] "Congratulations to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for operating and maintaining the PORTS system with outstanding data reliability for 30 years."

[Juan Kuryla, Port of Miami] "On behalf of Mayor Daniella Levine Cava and the entire board of county commissioners, the port family, we want to wish NOAA PORTS a happy 30th anniversary."

[Capt. Lynn Korwatch, Marine Exchange of the San Francisco Bay Region] "We are delighted to be able to celebrate many years of getting real-time information that provides value to all of the users in our region."

[Capt. Dave Berault, Mobile Bar Pilots] "Thanks for allowing us to participate in the 30th anniversary of the PORTS program by sharing a few observations about our use of PORTS."