One of the things I love about being on or near the water is seeing the incredible variety of traffic. I enjoy all of it, but often wonder about some of the larger or more unusual vessels. Where are they from? Where are they heading?
Did you know that technology now makes it easy to find out about them, in real time? Marine traffic maps are available on the web and also as apps for smartphones. Here are some details about the ones I find most useful.
Marinetraffic.com offers an online live map of marine traffic throughout most of the world and provides various other ways to search their database for information. Their interactive map is easy to adjust – just drag it to show the harbor or port of your choice, as you would with a typical Google Map – you’ll have a view of the marine traffic there. Hover over any vessel marker on the map with your mouse or pointing device to see basic information about the vessel including its speed and destination; click the marker for even more details, including photos if available.
The Filter button (2nd one from the top on the left side of the map) allows you to filter out certain types of vessels and it contains a key to the color-coding of vessel types and places on the map. In addition to the live map view on this website, you can do a focused search of their database based on a specific location or port. Curious about a particular vessel? The Vessel Search feature allows you to search by name, type of ship, length, speed and other criteria. You can sign up to receive notifications and alerts about specific vessels. You can also upload photos to their site. Marinetraffic.com offers mobile versions, so it’s a great resource for learning more about the vessels around you when you’re on the go.
Vesselfinder.com seems quite similar. I hadn’t used it before, but took it for a quick test-drive and found it very easy to navigate. It also features a live interactive map that allows you to click on a vessel marker for additional information. The search capability seems robust; it allows for sorting by port, location, or by vessel-specific characteristics. Vesselfinder also includes a CruiseMapper section that includes a live map, itineraries and other cruise-specific information. Their site also integrates maritime-related news stories as well as a discussion forum. They offer mobile versions, a free version, and an upgrade.
Both of these sites provide a good starting point for exploration, but note that all areas of the world are not yet covered and there are a few other reasons why some vessels may not appear on the map. These interactive maps are based on AIS (Automatic Identification System) technology, which uses transponder signals and receivers. Large vessels are required to have an AIS transponder, whereas smaller craft are not. To further complicate things, vessels could potentially be out of range of a receiver.
Smaller vessels will appear on the map only if they have an AIS transponder or choose to voluntarily provide their location information in other ways. Interested in participating? You’ll find a detailed overview and additional info on each website.
If you delve deeper, you can find many similar tools and apps. I’ve tried several that seem comparable in terms of the data provided, but they either load very slowly or have interface issues that make them less useful than the ones I’ve highlighted. Since software technologies are changing so rapidly, it could be fun to revisit this topic again at a later date.
In my opinion, marine traffic maps and apps are useful innovative resources that enhance the boating experience. They offer an obvious safety benefit, but more importantly can make the world around you come more alive.