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Real-time Data Helps Miami Seaport Safely Bring in Ships

PORTS® provides critical environmental data to help pilots make quick navigation decisions.

The city of Miami stands in the distance as a shipping vessel carrying multi-colored shipping containers, stacked eleven to fourteen wide and three to four high, is guided into the crystal blue waters of PortMiami by a tug boat.

A container ship enters the shipping channel at PortMiami, where vessel pilots now have access to real-time current information to help guide them safely into port. This NOAA system, called PORTS® (short for Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System), is deployed in many busy waterways throughout the U.S. to provide key environmental parameters — including water levels, currents, waves, salinity, bridge clearance (air gap), winds, air and water temperature, and visibility. Sensors are tailored to meet specific needs at each seaport.

Every day off the Florida coast, pilots steer mega-ships down a watery highway into the Miami seaport. Each ship must stay on a narrow, carefully-planned course to protect not only the lives of those on board, but also the sensitive ecosystem in which the vessel operates, as well as the thousands of containers loaded up with furniture, machines, clothes, food, beverages, and other commodities bound for the United States.

As ships approach the port in Miami, they face a particular challenge: strong currents from the Gulf Stream run perpendicular to the shipping channel. This makes navigation especially difficult. Pilots need information on these currents to make immediate and rapid navigation decisions.

Miami ship pilots now have access to real-time information that will help them get into seaport more safely, thanks to a new NOAA system called Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System (PORTS® ).

A green bouy rocks in the blue waters near PortMiami.  One man is climbing to the top of the bouy to install a current meter while his partner stands at the base of the bouy, looking out to the Coast Guard ship that is passing by.  The city of Miami stands off in the distance.

NOAA field team staff Jory Bunn and Winston Hensley install current meters on a U.S. Coast Guard Aids to Navigation buoy near PortMiami.

The system, established in a public-private partnership between NOAA and PortMiami, consists of three current meters located on U.S. Coast Guard buoys that measure current speed and direction. Sophisticated sensors collect data every six minutes and send it to NOAA via Iridium satellite, where it is published online at tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov.

PORTS® around the United States provide vessel operators with real-time status of key environmental parameters — including water levels, currents, waves, salinity, bridge clearance (air gap), winds, air and water temperature, and visibility. At each location, the local partner identifies the sensors they need to enable the best safety of life and property decisions for the seaport.

The trend towards bigger vessels and greater port traffic means increased potential for accidents. An investment in PORTS ® provides data and decision-support tools that can help mariners and port operators avoid maritime accidents. Studies show vessel accidents are reduced by more than 50 percent at seaports where PORTS ® is in place.

Some PORTS® can even help ship operators maximize cargo and plan more efficient routes based on how high water levels will be along the way. Just one additional inch of usable draft can translate into millions of dollars of additional cargo per vessel transit.

Now that Miami PORTS ® is completed, 31 systems provide safer and more efficient navigation to seaports across the U.S., supporting seaports handling around 85 percent of the nation’s cargo by tonnage.