Automatic Identification System (AIS)

An AIS transponder is mandatory on all commercial vessels transiting through the Seaway’s traffic sectors (from the St. Lambert Lock in Montreal to mid-Lake Erie).

Automatic Identification System (AIS)

In 2002, the St. Lawrence Seaway took a giant step forward in the enhancement of navigation safety and efficiency by implementing the universal Automatic Identification System (AIS), and integrating it with the Seaway’s Traffic Management System (TMS). The project was successfully completed by a team that included the U.S. Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation, the Canadian St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation, various marine transportation interests, and technical assistance from the U.S. Volpe Transportation Systems Center.

What Is AIS?

AIS is a communications protocol developed under the aegis of the International Maritime Organization (IMO), International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC).

Using Global Positioning System (GPS) technology, any vessel equipped with an AIS transponder transmits its exact location to the Seaway’s Traffic Control Center and, in addition, to other ships on the waterway equipped with an AIS display. The location of each vessel is continuously tracked and displayed on a computer generated map of the Seaway, together with its speed and course.

Complementing this information, the Seaway’s TMS broadcasts (through AIS channels) other pertinent data such as local wind speed and direction, water levels and flows, ice conditions, availability of the next lockage, and safety-related messages as dictated by circumstances. The end result is a tightly integrated navigation aid that enhances the ability of each ship captain and/or pilot to navigate the Seaway safely and efficiently.

Benefits of AIS to Shipowners

  • Enhances safety (especially under adverse weather conditions) through real-time ship-to-ship communications of vessel locations, speeds and courses.
  • Potentially reduces transit times (with accompanying lower fuel consumption) through better traffic management, and enhanced scheduling of lock passages.
  • Enhances fleet management for shipowners (arrival times can be more accurately estimated, leading to more efficient scheduling of appointments with pilots and ship inspectors, thereby minimizing delays).
  • Enhances navigation via the provision of timely and accurate environmental information, broadcasted through AIS channels by the Seaway’s TMS

Benefits of AIS for Seaway Management

Real-time, accurate vessel position information enables:

  • efficient traffic management, with continuous monitoring of vessel location and speed under all weather conditions
  • enhanced scheduling of lockages and vessel tie-ups
  • faster response times in the event of an accident/incident, coupled with more accurate information concerning hazardous cargoes
  • the ability to monitor all vessel speeds in real-time to ensure compliance with Seaway speed limits
  • greater coordination in the scheduling of ship inspections
  • enhanced monitoring of vessels for safety and security purposes

Is AIS Fully Operational?

The AIS-based Traffic Management System reached Initial Operational Capability (IOC) in July 2002. All necessary AIS shore base stations are in place, and messaging formats have been finalized. Water levels, weather data and lockage order-of-turn for each lock within the Seaway are now broadcast in real-time.

AIS Message Specifications

Full scale shipboard AIS testing and evaluation began in July 2002 and continued throughout the 2002 navigation season. Final refinement and testing of the Seaway AIS-based Traffic Management System was completed in March, 2003.

The SLSMC notice providing Final Rules for Mandatory AIS Carriage was issued on December 23, 2002.

How Was AIS Funded?

Through agreements with the Canadian Shipowners Association and The Shipping Federation of Canada, the cost of implementing AIS was shared equally by commercial carriers and the two Seaway management corporations, the SLSMC and the GLS.

Shipowners contributed $0.006 Cdn per gross registered tonne, applied to Seaway transits effected from May 1, 2000 through to June 30, 2002, with the maximum annual contribution per ship capped at $5,000 (Cdn.).