Quality AIS data – smarter solutions making waves

The growing volume of AIS messages has shed the light on the increasing demand for new, smarter solutions in the maritime domain

AIS on the rise

The maritime digitalisation landscape is rapidly growing and the Automatic Identification System (AIS) has been a key factor towards the development, implementation and adoption of more data-driven solutions enabling informed decision-making & strategic planning. 

Since its inception as a short-range collision avoidance system, AIS tracking technology has taken flight, with AIS transponders deployed aboard all large vessels and many smaller vessels around the globe, providing a complete global picture of the world’s shipping activity.

Paired with technology advancements, land-based and space-based AIS-receiving capabilities expanded dramatically together with the meaningful use of the data as the wider applications of the system have been gaining traction and penetration. 

Like any real-life dataset, this process also included challenges and, while not all AIS systems and platforms are created equal, the right system can deliver maritime AIS products and services of high quality to create real value for professionals across sectors.

AIS is used in applications ranging from pollution control and environmental monitoring to vessel routing and traffic management, security and validation of vessel declaration, fisheries protection, vessel safety monitoring and vessel performance analysis.

It is also at the core of advanced solutions, way beyond vessel tracking, ranging from online chartering services to trading and cargo flows monitoring platforms and predictive models that rely on highly accurate, timely available data for logistics management, supply/demand analysis, vessel fixing, trends in positional and behavioural patterns, associated macroeconomic and leading indicators.

Solutions based on AIS data play a crucial role in a multitude of maritime performance toolkits, asset management and optimal utilisation; either purely AIS-driven or fused with additional data sources, valuable insights get generated and reliable analytics and metrics make room for informed decision-making transforming performance data into actionable streams of information for industry professionals.

Its importance to both commercial and government users is set to increase further as the quest for sustainable and efficient shipping operations intensifies to monitor emissions and compliance with environmental goals on a vessel-by-vessel basis. 

The data coming directly from vessels is fundamental to meet targets set and regulated from local and international organisations for broader energy efficiency which, in turn, eventually feeds into the relationship between shipowners and their finance providers.

Accurate Data at Your Service

The importance of AIS to international shipping and the connected supply chains of today, means that reliable data is at the heart of confident decision-making; any modern organisation would always prefer to make strategic or tactical decisions based on data it can trust. 

To put this in a maritime context with some examples, consider the data on which search and rescue teams must act in real-time with only minutes to spare and lives to save. Government agencies must determine the reasons behind unexpected vessel behaviour to act accordingly, often resulting in effectively addressing life-threatening situations; they must decide whether position reports and activity reflect compliance inside territorial waters with fishing quotas or emissions reporting.

In a crowded channel or other chokepoint, Vessel Traffic Management systems must be able to timely pinpoint course, speed, rate of turn, and proximity for dozens of vessels to avoid collisions and keep ships safely moving to effectively perform operations that fuel modern economies. 

For vessel operators, the same data has a fundamental contribution to ship, crew, and cargo safety. Commercial decisions with substantial financial implications rely on accurate vessel positions in relation to their next charter. In essence, the same drivers to reporting emissions and the data that flows into a noon report are used to demonstrate energy efficiency measures.

In the logistics and supply chain domain, effective tracking and tracing cargo movements enables all involved actors to better plan their business operations, manage inventories and allocate resources accordingly. The end-to-end visibility on cargo whereabouts contributes to addressing costs and adding value at any link of the chain.

In any of these examples, being able to track, monitor and analyse vessel movements with confidence requires accurate, trusted data to base the best possible decisions. From removing uncertainty and guesswork during the evaluation of situational awareness in a crowded canal, port or passage to supporting or removing gut feeling when opting to make a ballast voyage in search of employment as, potentially, the data on all the candidate vessels are there.

Global Growth, Continuous Evolution

Substantial growth in merchant shipping volumes and the need for global vessel tracking has made AIS data a fundamental source for a breadth of applications related to the maritime ecosystem. 

Global vessel tracking using AIS has grown tenfold since 2010, and reliable detection at scale has been a challenge for the industry to meet the continuous needs for visibility and transparency even in remote areas or in regions where there are thousands of AIS-equipped vessels where vessel tracking can be impacted by the sheer number of signals.  

To meet these needs, exactEarth has introduced vessel-based AIS signals in addition to its satellite-based AIS data. “Our newly added Vessel-AIS service further augments our services’ real-time capability by combining vessel-based AIS data with our existing feed to form the exactEarth Platinum Plus service. The added AIS receivers significantly enhance vessel detection in ports and regions of high vessel density and deliver the latest in real-time global AIS vessel identification and location data services”, writes exactEarth CEO Peter Mabson.

The data available to maritime users and government agencies from exactEarth is already recognised as being among the highest quality available from any service provider. Initial observations since the fusion of Vessel-AIS to Platinum Plus show an immediate addition to the volume of position updates and revisits, particularly for vessels in highly-congested sea regions.

Data collection from land, space and directly from the vessels is ongoing and the addition of more and more sources helps with constantly getting the full picture at any moment and at any part of the world. 

At the other end, customers expect high data quality and demand consistent, and accurate updates on positions, AIS-driven events and intelligence making the addition of quality control layers essential.

“Any high-quality addition that enhances overall visibility and transparency through AIS is more than welcome. After all, there is high complementarity between coastal, satellite and vessel-based AIS reception means. In a customer-centricity context, such an approach for continuous improvements can only lead to benefits for the industry”, says Stellios Stratidakis, Head of Data at MarineTraffic.

Such an approach also relates to improving the overall quality and integrity of AIS data streams – something that our partners at exactEarth also strive for. And greatly facilitates the creation of value-adding datasets, analytics and services.

Delivering Value

Enhanced AIS data means reducing the gaps and minimising uncertainties while ensuring awareness and reliable addressing of industry-specific challenges across domains. Delivering insights that matter and result in operational efficiencies and actionable information to base decisions.

Data quality is of paramount importance to this process; superior data quality leads to more confidence today, resilient and informed businesses and users that combine domain with data expertise to boldly face any upcoming challenges of tomorrow. 

Data processing, smart utilisation and fusion pave the way for continuous innovation and solution engineering addressing more and more industry pain points and contributing to a greener, safer and more efficient shipping.

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Editor’s note: This post was originally published in June 2021 by exactEarth and updated by MarineTraffic