situations develop and change. Another advantage is the
ability to create a number of AtoNs emanating from a central location, which reduces installation and ongoing maintenance associated with physical AtoNs.
Because virtual AIS allows quick and easy updates, it has
been chosen to mark safe passages through shifting bar
entrances. Another Vesper Marine customer uses a combination of physical and synthetic AIS to augment existing
Aids to Navigation that mark multiple entrances to a large
marina complex. In addition to AIS AtoNs, message types
called Application Specific Messages will become more
commonly used to annotate onboard navigation displays to
communicate shoals and reduced draft areas, high wave
hazards, spills, fishing closures, distressed vessels and
weather information such as storm fronts, ice routes, etc.
MEJ: In assessing how well AIS is working worldwide, has
AIS succeeded in helping to reduce the number of collisions
or near collisions in ports and harbors and at sea?
Robbins: I don’t have any specific figures on the number
of situations, but there is no doubt that AIS has significantly
reduced these types of incidents and will continue to do so.
Authorities across the world report how effective AIS is for
increasing safety, and we have heard stories from numerous
owners of how their AIS equipment has been essential in
avoiding hazardous circumstances. AIS rule changes, such
as the US Coast Guard’s recently expanded AIS carriage
requirements for commercial vessels, confirm how valuable
AIS is as a safety tool.
Helping to drive better decisions at sea
MEJ: There seems to be a lot of interest worldwide in AIS
AtoNs (Aids to Navigation)—physical, synthetic and virtual. Vesper supplied a virtual AtoN to mark a dangerous
submerged rock in New Zealand’s Doubtful Sound. In other
parts of the world AIS AtoNs have been used to mark
wrecks and other obstructions. How widespread is the use
of AIS AtoNs, including physical, virtual and synthetic
Robbins: Vesper Marine has designed physical and virtual AIS AtoNs, which have been installed all over the world
to mark a wide variety of hazards to navigation as well as
underwater pipelines and other subsea infrastructure. A few
examples are virtual anchorage areas along the African coast
for offshore LPG-platform work vessels, submerged reefs
that were the site of a prior wreck resulting in serious environmental damage in New Zealand, port authorities in the
Pacific, Middle East and Africa marking harbor entrance
channels and even offshore seismic research and search vessels identifying towed instruments.
MEJ: What is the state of the art of AIS AtoNs outside the
US and what’s next for the technology and its applications
in the marine world?
Robbins: We continue to see the use of AIS AtoNs growing quickly as people recognize their ability to increase the
visibility of marine hazards and enhance safety. This
includes both physical AIS AtoNs, often mounted on floating buoys, as well as virtual AIS AtoNs used to mark both
permanent and temporary hazards. One key advantage of
virtual marks is they can be created or moved instantly as
Although AIS (Automatic Identification System) is used around the world, MEJ tends to
focus on how the technology operates in the US. For our international focus we asked a cou-
ple of experts to expand the view beyond the country’s borders.
Jeff Robbins is a high-tech industry engineer, executive and avid boater with thousands of miles
under his belt. In 2007, Jeff combined his love of the sea with his product development skills and
launched New Zealand-based Vesper Marine, which has grown to become a leader in advanced AIS
systems. Jeff's more than 25 years of experience in computer software and embedded systems development have provided him with the in-depth technical background needed to develop unique AIS
solutions such as the Vesper Marine Virtual AIS Beacon.