Charting the Course: Coast Guard creates Gulf Coast digital detour

NEW ORLEANS – The U.S. Coast Guard is leveraging technology to guide vessels around a river lock renovation project on one of America’s busiest Gulf Coast shipping corridors.

The Coast Guard is using a combination of electronic and physical Aids to Navigation (ATON) to guide mariners through an alternate route during the three-month closure of the industrial locks in the Inner Harbor Navigation Canal (IHNC) in New Orleans.

The lock closure is scheduled to end Nov. 30, 2016.

The alternate route is the culmination of hundreds of hours of collaboration and cooperation between the Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and maritime stakeholders.

The Coast Guard established the physical and electronic navigational aids, the Army Corps of Engineers dredged portions of the route in Baptiste Collete and NOAA conducted depth surveys and updated charts.

“The alternate route allows Intracoastal Waterway commerce to bypass the closed lock via the Lower Mississippi River, Baptiste Collette, Breton Sound, Chandeleur Sound and Gulfport Ship Channel,” said Lt. Cmdr. Christopher Tuckey from the New Orleans-based 8th Coast Guard District’s Waterway Management Branch.

Tuckey said numerous professional maritime associations requested the alternate route near New Orleans.

According to Tuckey, the detour consists of 94 lateral ATONs, including 29 lighted buoys, 26 lighted beacons, and 39 Automatic Identification System (AIS) electronic ATONs or AIS ATONs; and three non-lateral lighted beacons that transmit AIS e-ATONs.

The Coast Guard has previously tested and deployed electronic navigation aids to augment its physical ATON system, to gain knowledge and tactical information on the use of AIS ATONs and to provide mariners with the time to use AIS ATONs in the system. But this is the first time an ATON system was designed using a combination of electronic AIS ATONs and physical navigation aids.

Electronic ATONs are being incorporated into waterway design to provide a new way to disseminate safety information.

With their ability to be used in operationally or environmentally restricted areas, AIS ATONs enable the Coast Guard to identify discrepancies and mark navigational hazards in situations where it was previously impossible.

“This alternate route demonstrates the flexibility that electronic ATONs bring to our waterways,” said Chief Warrant Officer Kristopher Franklin from the Navigation Technology and Risk Management Division at the U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters.

“It also highlights our strong partnerships with the Corps of Engineers, NOAA and the maritime community,” said Franklin, a native of Ramsey, Illinois.


Written by Walter T. Ham IV