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Monday, 23rd August 2010

Resource of the Week: MarineTraffic.com

Resource of the Week: MarineTraffic.com
By Shirl Kennedy, Senior Editor

Real-time flight tracking on the Internet is old news. And many of us are also familiar with various options for keeping track of trains or buses. But what about tracking ships at sea?

OK, in all likelihood, this is not something most of us need to do on a regular basis. But Gary passed along a link to MarineTraffic.com last week, and I've been playing with it on and off since then.

When you first arrive at the site, what you see is a world map -- the Live Ships Map -- dotted with lots of translucent gray box, each with a number inside. Click on one of the boxes, in a part of the world that's interesting to you, and you're quickly zoomed in to that part of the map. And you see, in the water, an array of different colored markers representing different types of ships. (They look more like paper airplanes.) A color key is on the lefthand side of the page in the form of checkboxes; by default, the map shows you all types of ships, but if you want to restrict the view to, say, only passenger vessels, just clear the checkmarks from the other boxes.

Already this is pretty cool, but it gets better...much better. Move your cursor over one of the markers; a "tool tip" bit of info appears, giving you the name of the ship, how fast it's traveling, and its compass directional heading (in degrees). And look what happens when you click on one of the ships:

maersk

An infobox! Most, but not all, offer one or more photos of the actual vessel.

You can just click around the maps indefinitely, but there are other ways to navigate here. At the top of the lefthand key are three dropdown menus that allow you to go directly to any geographic area, a specific port or a specific vessel. Or you can use the tabs at the top to browse all ports and/or all vessels. The Gallery tab takes you to all the ship photos. (They're searchable.) Here's Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas, the world's largest cruise ship, that created such a media blitz when it debuted last year. It was located at Ft. Lauderdale's cruise port when I was writing this.

Let's see what other ships are in port at Ft. Lauderdale. Note that the markers for ships in port are little squares. (There are lots of nice yachts here. Click on the purple squares -- on the actual map -- to find out about them them.)

FLL

An FAQ tells you everything you need to about this site.

This web site is part of an academic, open, community-based project. It is dedicated in collecting and presenting data which are exploited in research areas.... It provides free real-time information to the public, about ship movements and ports, mainly across the coast-lines of Europe and N.America. The project is currently hosted by the Department of Product and Systems Design Engineering, University of the Aegean, Greece.

The data comes from Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponders.

AIS transponders on board vessels include a GPS (Global Positioning System) receiver, which collects position and movement details. It includes also a VHF transmitter, which transmits periodically this information on two VHF channels....and make(s) this data available to the public domain.

And it is, indeed, real-time.

Data received are uploaded in the database in real time and therefore they are immediately available on the map and on other pages. However, several positions shown on map may be not continuously refreshed (e.g. when a ship goes out of range). Vessel positions shown on map may be up to 1 hour old. Please note also that map web page is only periodically refreshed or whenever the ‘Refresh now’ link is pressed manually.

Don't overlook the Services link. Among other things, you can:


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