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Precision marine navigation is the ability of a vessel to safely and efficiently navigate within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone and operate in close proximity to the seafloor, narrow channels, or other hazards. NOAA’s Precision Marine Navigation Program supports a one-stop-shop for marine navigation data. This includes forecasts, real-time observations, warnings/advisories, and high resolution bathymetry.

NOAA provides critical marine navigation data that mariners use to plan their transits or make decisions while at sea. However, this data is spread across several different websites, is often encoded in different formats, and may need to be accessed using different devices, such as portable pilot units, electronic chart systems, electronic chart display and information systems, and mobile phones. This presents challenges for navigation system manufactures in acquiring and processing NOAA data for distribution to their customers.

a collage of puzzle pieces showing different marine navigation imagery
The new online service will include a wide array of navigation data, such as Electronic Navigation Charts, high resolution bathymetry, water levels, surface currents, and marine weather hazards.

Combining NOAA navigational data and presenting it all in one online location will help improve decision-making throughout the maritime transportation industry. Through the Precision Marine Navigation website, all marine navigation data services that NOAA provides to mariners are disseminated from a central location, allowing for systems to easily ingest and display the data for users to make decisions more efficiently. The many streams of data available to mariners become even more powerful when combined, potentially allowing mariners to optimize their routes in new ways to save time and fuel. NOAA is working to engage industry partners throughout the development of this new online service to ensure it meets the needs of the many users who rely on this data.

In the summer of 2020, NOAA released the first reformatted data service in support of Precision Marine Navigation through the NOAA Big Data Program. The first data service is for surface water current forecasts, which are extracted from the 15 regional NOS Operational Forecast Systems and from the Global Real-Time Ocean Forecast System for the Atlantic and Pacific Basins. The data is being automatically processed and uploaded to the NOAA Big Data Program cloud four times a day (every six hours) and is now available for companies to test using different types of navigation software.

Case Study: Port of Long Beach

Port of Long Beach viewed from above

The port of Long Beach in California acted as a case study for the Precision Marine Navigation Program. This port was an ideal candidate for this project for several reasons. First, it's one of the larger ports in the United States. Second, the port is exposed to the open ocean and is influenced by unique wave, swell, and water-level conditions that make navigation challenging. And third, ultra-large crude carriers entering Long Beach were vulnerable to potential groundings when waves arrived in long period swells.

By engaging a third party software manufacturer, which integrated NOAA’s data, navigation within the port was not only safer, but authorities were able to increase the draft for incoming ships from 65 feet to their goal of 69 feet. Each additional foot of draft allows carriage of 40,000 additional barrels of crude oil, and the reduced need for lightering saves shippers an estimated $10 million per year.

The Long Beach case study demonstrated the benefits of integrating NOAA’s datasets and provided the catalyst for more widespread implementation of the Precision Marine Navigation program.

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Did you know?

Our nation’s ports are the lifelines of our economy. In 2016, foreign trades through U.S. ports were valued at $1.5 trillion—$475 billion exports and $1.0 trillion imports were moved by vessels. When goods travel through ports, it means they are traveling via ship.

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Author: NOAA

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