Power of the network

MarineTraffic.com is powered by the world’s largest independent network of terrestrial AIS stations, combined with satellite AIS from partner Orbcomm. Today this network enables the movements of 180,000 vessels to be reported on a daily basis. Among these vessels are the 90,000 ships that make up the world’s commercial fleet, listed by type in the table below provided by the European Commission’s Equasis database: a recipient of MarineTraffic data.

Vessels Equasis

How does it work?

Vessels of 300 gross tonnes and upwards are required by international law to carry an AIS transponder. AIS transponders combine a standard VHF radio transceiver with a GPS receiver. Position data from the GPS receiver can be transmitted by the VHF transceiver to other vessels, terrestrial AIS stations and satellites. AIS signals travelling ‘horizontally’ generally have a range of 40 nautical miles on average. If a vessel is within 40 nautical miles off the coast and there is an AIS receiving station in the area, the vessel’s position data can be transmitted via VHF and then logged and uploaded to the MarineTraffic database via the internet.

If a vessel is out of range of terrestrial receiving stations, its AIS signal can be picked up by satellites, beamed back to earth and the relevant data uploaded to the MarineTraffic database. VHF signals travel much further ‘upwards’ than they do ‘horizontally’ meaning that they are easy for low-orbit satellites to receive. Combining terrestrial and satellite AIS data, MarineTraffic is able to create a complete animated picture of activity on the world’s oceans on the www.marinetraffic.com Live Map.

MarineTraffic Live Map

MarineTraffic has a dedicated team of network support staff who work to support its AIS station operators. Station operators are volunteers who provide a location for AIS receiving equipment (provided for free by MarineTraffic) and ensure it is functioning and has a live data connection. Given the ‘receiving station’ name tag, AIS equipment is surprisingly compact, consisting of an antenna and box housing a VHF receiver and small computer connected to the internet autonomously or via a standard desktop.

equipment AIS

From MarineTraffic HQ in Athens, network support staff co-ordinate the upkeep of 3,000 AIS stations which take in data from 180,000 vessels each day, including data received by satellites. Approximately 75 percent of these stations are online at any one time. Of the stations classed as ‘offline’, many are hibernating – not actively broadcasting – as there are no ships within range. A small proportion of stations may be offline due to a faulty internet connection or hardware issue. Working pro-actively with station operators, the network support team is able to prevent many hardware issues and keep equipment in a state of constant operation / readiness. We also provide reactive support to ensure that if a problem does occur, it is quickly fixed.

Over the past three years, increasing the number of receiving stations and intensifying the level of pro-active and reactive support has resulted in a steady increase in the daily reporting total. In 2014 this averaged 115,000 ships per day versus 180,000 today – an increase of 65,000 vessels per day.

This increase has also been helped by improvements to the satellite network which feeds AIS data from ships out of terrestrial AIS range into MarineTraffic’s systems. In March 2016, MarineTraffic’s satellite partner Orbcomm significantly increased its network capacity and message delivery speed, completing the launch and calibration of 17 new ‘M2M’ (machine to machine) satellites. Users of MarineTraffic SAT products now have very fast and comprehensive tracking options for vessels mid-ocean.

old style map

Thanks to the advanced filters tool on www.marinetraffic.com, the scope of MarineTraffic’s network can be harnessed and applied. If a broker or trader is interested, for example, in finding a dry bulk ship of 150,000-200,000 dwt underway in ballast, heading to Tubarao, Brazil, built between 2005-2017, and flagged with the Liberian registry, this is perfectly possible.

Applying filters with these criteria at the time of writing (30 January) yielded five vessels:

This functionality, which extends to niche vessel types including cement carriers and livestock carriers is hugely useful for a wide range of transport, logistics and other businesses linked to shipping via the global supply chain. In this case a hull cleaning company looking to pitch for business in Tubarao, with capacity around the end of February / early March would be presented with five leads.

MT Filters

To arrange a discussion about the MarineTraffic network and how it could help your business, email network[at]marinetraffic[dot]com

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