First U.S. federal channel using USACE survey data receives improved quality classification from NOAA

By Rachel Medley

The U.S. federal channel in the Delaware Bay is vital to maritime commerce, leading deep draft vessel traffic to and from the major ports of Wilmington, Delaware,  Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Camden, New Jersey. To navigate this federally maintained waterway safely and efficiently, mariners rely on the surveyed depths displayed on nautical charts. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Philadelphia District regularly surveys this area, utilizing sophisticated techniques and equipment to map the depths of the seafloor. NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, in turn, adds quality classifications to these channel depths and displays them on the nautical chart.

The portion of the federal channel from Newbold Channel Range down to the mouth of the Delaware Bay is the first waterway in the U.S. to have an improved quality classification assigned to USACE survey data—category of zone of confidence (CATZOC)  A2. Improving survey quality and upgrading the CATZOC classification allows operators to accommodate smaller margins of error while still ensuring that navigating maritime approaches and constrained environments remain safe. These decreased tolerances allow ships to maximize their loads, ultimately increasing inbound and outbound cargoes.

“This is a huge leap forward toward the sophistication of nautical charts, and will help the maritime sector along the Delaware River. I want to commend the men and women at NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey and the Army Corps of Engineers District Philadelphia for working together to provide safer timely high-quality data for maritime commerce. I applaud Commerce Secretary Ross for recognizing the vital role that NOAA’s Coast Survey provides to the maritime industry and thank him for this outcome. This synergy between NOAA and the Army Corps is exciting to see, and I support efforts to replicate this pilot project in other ports and waterways around the country.”

  • U.S. Senator Chris Coons (D-DE)
View of the Delaware River from MSC Gayane outbound off Fort Miffilin Range.
View of the Delaware River from MSC Gayane outbound off Fort Mifflin Range. Credit: Captain J. Stuart Griffin, Mariners’ Advisory Committee Chairman (MAC) and Delaware River and Bay Pilot.

Allowing additional draft. What’s it worth?

Upgrading how NOAA encodes USACE channel depth data reduces additional safety margins applied to the draft of large ships during transit and berthing operations. The USACE District Philadelphia is in the process of deepening the Delaware River from Philadelphia to the sea, with a controlling depth in the federal channel from 40 feet to 45 feet (from Beckett Street Terminal north the channel remains authorized at 40 feet). Every foot of draft represents a significant dollar amount in the shipping industry depending on the type of cargo the ship is carrying. For instance in Long Beach, California, for every extra foot of draft allowed by the port, tank vessels can add $2 million of extra product. As ships load cargo, the draft of the ship increases—in the case of the Delaware River, the draft cannot exceed the 45-foot controlling depth (once USACE completes dredging) or the ship will run aground.

Shipping companies and insurance underwriters determine the maximum draft allowed for a vessel during transits of waterways in U.S. ports, adding a margin of error to the draft for safety. In some cases a safety margin of 25-30% may be added, ultimately resulting in dollars lost for the shipping and terminal operators. Not to mention, negating the expense and time involved in dredging a channel. The navigational tolerances are determined using guidelines that include the known quality of survey data in a particular waterway. The better the quality of the survey, the lower the risk associated with the ship transit, resulting in additional cargo loading per transit.

What is CATZOC?

Survey data within an electronic navigation chart (ENC) is encoded with a data quality indication known as CATZOC. CATZOC quality helps the mariner determine the accuracy of charted conditions on the seafloor at the time of the last survey. In particular, the mariner should understand that nautical chart data, especially when displayed on navigation systems and mobile apps, possess inherent accuracy limitations. CATZOC quality designations, A1-D, are the specifications that were met at the time of the survey.

Currently all federal channels are designated as a CATZOC B if the USACE has collected the data. This a recent development as previously all federal channels were designated as a CATZOC ‘U’ for Unassessed. Rear Adm. Shep Smith, Director of NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey, was asked by Intertanko, a maritime association that represents the interests of the tanker industry, to remove the ‘U’ designation on ENCs as it was impeding the industry’s ability to do a proper risk model assessment of ships entering U.S. ports. Nationwide, the USACE is the federal authority for maintaining federal channels; NOAA does not normally assess USACE surveys and as such designated all surveys as a CATZOC B.

USACE survey techniques factor into CATZOC quality

The maintenance of all federal channels falls under the jurisdiction of the USACE, and as such, Coast Survey recognizes the USACE as the authority for survey data acquired in these active waterways. USACE districts around the country help the flow of commerce in and out of the nation’s busiest ports and Coast Survey applies data from 22 of these districts to nautical charts for safe navigation by deep draft vessels. The USACE districts use sonar equipment to measure sediment movement within the channel to maintain channel-controlling depths and determine dredging needs.

The USACE Philadelphia District is unique in that it is fully utilizing its multibeam sonar equipment, which has the capacity to survey large swaths of the seafloor and detect features and obstructions that might be harmful to deep draft vessels. As vessels in the nation’s waterways continue to grow in size, USACE districts that are utilizing their multibeam systems are helping to ensure that the general bathymetry of the seafloor bottom is well known at the time of the survey. This is particularly important as vessel drafts are nearing the seafloor bottom in port areas across the country, running higher risk of hitting a feature or object in the waterway.

“The Delaware River port community is taking steps to utilize the planned deepening of the main channel.  We are already seeing arrivals of post-Panamax sized vessels that require special transit considerations and planning. Our valued partnerships with USCG, USACE, and NOAA are critical to the safe movement of deep-draft commercial traffic in our waterway. As the USACE nears completion of the project to deepen the main shipping channel, improvements in sounding data quality have enabled NOAA to provide safety assurances to shippers in the form of improved CATZOC designation for the estuary. This has real-world relevance to ship owners and charterers who move vessels on the Delaware and will allow them to more effectively utilize the full channel depth upon completion of the deepening project.”

  • Capt. J. Stuart Griffin, Chair of the Mariners’ Advisory Committee (MAC) and Delaware River & Bay Pilot

Updating NOAA nautical charts

Coast Survey is exploring various ways of changing and improving charted information for the mariner as outlined in the National Charting Plan. Coast Survey is working with USACE Philadelphia District to determine the CATZOC quality of the survey data acquired in the Delaware River. The CATZOC value of the surveys collected over the past year by USACE District Philadelphia have been designated by Coast Survey as meeting a CATZOC A2 standard. There is a significant improvement in survey quality designation from a CATZOC B to a CATZOC A2. CATZOC A2 seafloor coverage indicates that the full area was surveyed and allows for the detection of significant seafloor features. CATZOC B seafloor coverage does not have sufficient quality or resolution, indicating that while hazardous objects are not expected, they may exist and may be undetected because of the survey quality.

Coast Survey has encoded ENCs with the CATZOC A2 quality in portions of the federal channel along the Delaware River that are surveyed by the USACE District Philadelphia utilizing robust multibeam survey methods. There is not a refresh rate or time frame required with international CATZOC standards, however, USACE Philadelphia District typically resurveys the main navigation channel on an annual basis using the same multibeam survey techniques that NOAA used to assess the current CATZOC value.

Potential impact to shipping companies and terminal operators

For the portion of the federal navigation channel from Newbold Channel Range down to the mouth of the Delaware Bay, this designation will decrease the risk margin placed on ships transiting the waterway and make fuller use of the actual controlling depths in this waterway.  Additionally, “this could potentially help to lessen the expense and risk of lightering operations,” reports Eric Clarke, marine operations cargomaster at Philadelphia Energy Solutions.  Commonly, shipping companies whose risk models are calculated using the CATZOC B quality levels mandate lightering operations before transiting to terminals where water depths are more restrictive.

Through coordination efforts between USACE Districts and Coast Survey, federal agencies are working to serve up better data and information to the mariner so they can make more informed decisions to keep commerce moving effectively and safely in the nation’s busiest waterways.


The author, Rachel Medley, is chief of the Customer Affairs Branch at NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. She also serves as the NOAA liaison to the Delaware River and Bay for navigation issues. For more information, please contact Rachel.Medley@noaa.gov

Coast Survey prepares to serve nation during 2018 hurricane season

“But, sir, what does the country want in the coast survey? They want a very useful work done, a very important work done, and they want it done in the best manner.” U.S. Senator John Davis (MA), 1849, explaining the importance of the coast survey to safety and the U.S. economy during the 30th Congress, 2nd Session

As the nation’s nautical chartmaker, NOAA Coast Survey provides critical emergency response information to coastal communities and waterways. Each year, Coast Survey prepares for hurricane season in order to perform the work in—as the late Senator Davis put it—“the best manner.” Last year’s string of powerful hurricanes underscored the importance of coordinated efforts for storm preparation, response, and recovery. With the official start of the 2018 hurricane season just around the corner, Coast Survey’s regional navigation managers spent the large part of April and May meeting with U.S. Coast Guard (USCG), port authorities, NOAA National Weather Service, and communities to prepare emergency response capabilities.

Understanding each others’ roles and responsibilities ahead of time is imperative to a response effort as strong storms can shut down ports and compromise our nation’s marine transportation system. Our East Coast and Gulf Coast navigation managers report on NOAA’s survey capabilities and critical assets at hurricane exercises and planning meetings. With Coast Survey’s expertise in underwater detection, NOAA navigation response teams and survey ships are often first on the water following a hurricane, making sure that no hidden debris or shoaling pose dangers to navigation.

Tim Osborn (left), the navigation manager for the east Gulf Coast, Dr. Neil Jacobs (center), Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction
Tim Osborn (left), the navigation manager for the east Gulf Coast, Dr. Neil Jacobs (center), Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Environmental Observation and Prediction, prepare to interact with attendees of the Hurricane Awareness Tour in Lakeland, Florida. Credit: Tim Osborn

This year, NOAA navigation managers participated in hurricane exercises in:

  • Texas: Beaumont, Port Arthur, and Houston/Galveston/Freeport
  • Louisiana: Port Charles, Port Fourchon
  • Alabama: Orange Beach
  • Florida: Lakeland, Tampa, Port Canaveral
  • Georgia: Savannah
  • South Carolina: Charleston
  • Virginia: Hampton Roads
  • Maryland: Baltimore
  • Pennsylvania: Delaware River and Bay (Philadelphia port complex)

Meetings are planned with USCG Sector San Juan staff as well as Puerto Rico South Coast Harbor Safety and Security in early June.

NOAA's southeast navigation manager, Kyle Ward (left) meets with USCG, Port Authority and other representatives of the Maritime community at the pre-hurricane meeting hosted at Port Canaveral, Florida.
NOAA’s southeast navigation manager, Kyle Ward (left) meets with USCG, Port Authority and other representatives of the maritime community at the pre-hurricane meeting hosted at Port Canaveral, Florida.

Additionally, Tim Osborn, the navigation manager for the east Gulf Coast, Alan Bunn, the navigation manager for the west Gulf Coast, and Lt. Cmdr. Jay Lomnicky, chief of Coast Survey’s Navigation Response Branch, recently participated in the Gulf Inland Waterways Joint Hurricane Team (JHT) meeting. This large Gulf-wide event held each year at the Port of New Orleans includes USCG, tug and tow industry, pilots, deep draft navigation, ports, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), and NOAA partners from Brownsville, Texas, spanning east to Panama City, Florida. Each participant is a working member of the JHT for the current hurricane season.

Alan Bunn (center), the navigation manager for the west Gulf Coast, and Lt. Cmdr. Jay Lomnicky (right), chief of Coast Survey’s Navigation Response Branch, attend a presentation by the USCG at the Gulf Inland Waterways Joint Hurricane Team meeting. Alan Bunn was presented with a Command Coin from USACE Galveston, in recognition thanks for his efforts, and that of OCS, in the Hurricane Harvey Response.
Alan Bunn (center), navigation manager for the west Gulf Coast, and Lt. Cmdr. Jay Lomnicky (right), chief of Coast Survey’s Navigation Response Branch, attend a presentation by the USCG at the Gulf Inland Waterways Joint Hurricane Team meeting. Alan Bunn was presented with a Command Coin from USACE Galveston, in recognition for his efforts, and that of OCS, in the Hurricane Harvey response. Credit: Tim Osborn

Capt. Jim Crocker, chief of NOAA’s Navigation Services Division, and Kyle Ward,  navigation manager for the Southeast Coast, participated in a USCG District 7 workshop in Miami, Florida, to discuss the region’s readiness for the upcoming hurricane season. District 7 is responsible for six regionally-based sectors stretching from Charleston, South Carolina, to Key West, Florida, and Saint Petersburg, Florida, to the U.S. Virgin Islands. Last year, each of these sectors was impacted by either Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Maria, or both storms. Hydrographic survey vessels operated by NOAA and the USACE are considered critical assets to the USCG.

When severe weather isn’t heading for the coast, NOAA navigation managers work directly with pilots, mariners, port authorities, and recreational boaters to help identify navigational challenges facing the marine transportation system, and provide the resources and services that promote safe and efficient navigation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NOAA adds grid overlay to chart anchorage areas in Port of New York and New Jersey

NOAA Coast Survey recently released updates for two NOAA electronic navigational charts (NOAA ENC®) in the Port of New York and New Jersey, which added a permanent grid system overlay to anchorages in Bay Ridge, Graves End, and Stapleton. Coast Survey performed the update at the request of the Harbor Operations Steering Committee and collaborated with the Sandy Hook Pilots Association and U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) Sector New York’s Vessel Traffic Services (VTS). 

The overlays, created by the Sandy Hook Pilots, consist of parallel and vertical lines that are labeled and charted over the anchorage areas. The VTS adopted this grid system overlay and uses it to assign specific anchorage locations for ship pilots and captains of tug and barge combinations.

A grid overlay of anchorage grounds in the updated Port of New York and New Jersey ENCs, US5NY19M and US5NY1CM
A grid overlay of anchorage grounds in the updated Port of New York and New Jersey ENCs, US5NY19M and US5NY1CM.

“Incorporating these overlays in an ENC will increase safety and efficiency in the port’s limited anchorage space. VTS will be able to clearly direct a vessel to a specific grid location, and that vessel will be able to see the location on their electronic chart system,” said USCG Capt. M.H. Day, Captain of the Port, Sector New York.

Coast Survey prioritizes new data for chart updates as being either “critical” or “routine” (i.e. “non-critical.”)  Critical corrections – items that pose an immediate danger to mariners – are published by the USCG in their weekly Local Notices to Mariners. Mariners who purchased a paper copy of a NOAA chart may hand correct their chart or purchase an updated chart from one of NOAA’s certified print agents. Digital versions of the charts are updated each week with items published in the USCG Local Notice to Mariners. Mariners interested in seeing where both critical and routine corrections fall on a given chart each week can use the Weekly Updates Site. Updates to this site are underway which will provide mariners greater flexibility in viewing an accumulation of changes over a specified date range rather than viewing them week by week.

NOAA quickly updates nautical chart, allowing large ships to dock with confidence in Port Everglades

NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey quickly updated NOAA electronic navigational charts (NOAA ENC®) to accurately reflect the 225 foot expansion of a slip in Port Everglades, Florida. Now at a total length of 1,125 feet, the elongated slip allows larger ships to dock with confidence. The Port Everglades Pilots – maritime pilots who maneuver ships through crowded harbors and confined waters – requested the chart update. With ENCs that accurately reflect the slip expansion in their hands, pilots can easily communicate to vessel captains that it is safe to dock their vessels in the slip.

Port Everglades is one of the top three cruise ports in the world, and is among the most active cargo ports in the United States. Every slip is kept in high use, and Coast Survey used a new data process that allowed the most critical and valuable information to be applied quickly and made available to the end user.

To update nautical charts, Coast Survey historically applied data that covered the entire shoreline. This process was cumbersome and time-consuming as updates were based on a print (not digital) cycle. However, in this case, Coast Survey utilized discrete shoreline snippets of the target areas, provided by National Geodetic Survey’s Remote Sensing Division (RSD), to ensure a quick turnaround of the corrected charts.

The 190-meter bulk carrier "Port Shanghai" using the recently extended portion of Slip 2 before the ENC was updated (left image), making it appear as though the vessel bow has grounded. After the ENC update, the change in the slip length was reflected in ENC cell US5FL32 and US4FL31 (right image). Credit: NOAA
The 190-meter bulk carrier “Port Shanghai” using the recently extended portion of Slip 2 before the ENC was updated (left image), making it appear as though the vessel bow has grounded. After the ENC update, the change in the slip length was reflected in ENC cell US5FL32 and US4FL31 (right image). Credit: NOAA

Harbor bathymetric survey data from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and shoreline revision data from a georeferenced WorldView-2 image, compiled by the RSD, were used to update the harbor (1:10,000) and approach (1:80,000) ENC charts. This ENC-first, digital structure as outlined in the National Charting Plan helps Coast Survey quickly apply updates to charts, increase efficiency, and streamline data workflows.

NOAA Office of Coast Survey wraps up a busy 2017 hurricane season

The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was powerful, with the strongest storms occurring consecutively from late August to early October. The sequential magnitude of four hurricanes in particular—Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Nate—made response efforts challenging for NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey. Coast Survey summarized this season’s response efforts along with the efforts of NOAA Ship Thomas Jefferson (operated by NOAA’s Office of Marine and Aviation Operations) in the following story map.

hurricane-season-storymap

Coast Survey hurricane prep starts now

Official hurricane season doesn’t start until June 1, but Coast Survey’s navigation managers are heavily involved throughout April and May in training exercises with the U.S. Coast Guard, ports authorities and NOAA’s National Weather Service.

Why is Coast Survey involved? With our expertise in underwater detection, NOAA navigation response teams and survey ships are often the first ones in the water after a hurricane, looking to make sure that no hidden debris or shoaling poses a danger to navigation. The faster we can advise “all clear” to the Captain of the Port, the faster the U.S. Coast Guard can re-open sea lanes for the resumption of shipping or homeland security and defense operations. So our East Coast and Gulf Coast navigation managers – who are NOAA’s “ambassadors” to the maritime public – engage with response partners during hurricane exercises. Their reports of NOAA survey capabilities and assets are an important factor in testing federal response options.

Port of Morgan City planning
Ports along our Atlantic and Gulf coasts hold planning meetings, like this one at Port of Morgan City last year, to prepare for hurricane response. Photo credit: Tim Osborn

 

Tim Osborn, the navigation manager for the east Gulf Coast, has been organizing hurricane response for 15 years – since Hurricane Lilli in 2002 – and he brings NOAA priorities to the table.

“Ports and waterways are huge parts of our nation’s economy,” Tim says. “Our core mission at NOAA is to safeguard them and work – literally at ‘ground zero’ – to respond and reopen these very large complexes and job bases as quickly and safely as possible.”

Alan Bunn and NRT - Hurricane Isaac
Navigation manager Alan Bunn advises one of NOAA’s navigation response teams as they prepare to respond to Port Fourchon after Hurricane Isaac. Photo credit: Tim Osborn

 

Coast Survey navigation managers are planning to participate in hurricane exercises in Hampton Roads (Virginia), Charleston (South Carolina), Savannah (Georgia), Jacksonville (Florida), and in port locations all along the Gulf Coast. Additionally, a joint hurricane task force meeting, organized by the Gulf Intracoastal Canal Association and USCG District 7 office in New Orleans, will include pilots, federal agencies, port authorities, and the navigation community from Panama City (Florida) to south Texas. Plans are also in the works to engage with Puerto Rico and American Virgin Islands hurricane response teams.

“We are fast approaching another hurricane season,” said Roger Erickson, warning coordination meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “We have now gone five years in Louisiana and nine years in Texas without a land-falling hurricane, but there is always work to be done to keep our communities prepared.”

The people along the Atlantic coast can readily attest to Erickson’s observation. In the five years since Coast Survey navigation managers and survey teams responded to Hurricane Isaac’s fury at Port Fourchon, our men and women have worked to speed the resumption of shipping and other maritime operations along the East Coast after hurricanes Matthew and, of course, Sandy.

Kyle Ward - hurricane Sandy
Navigation manager Kyle Ward briefs U.S. Coast Guard officials on NOAA survey progress in the aftermath of Sandy.

 

For more information: “Port Recovery in the Aftermath of Hurricane Sandy: Improving Port Resiliency in the Era of Climate Change,” by U.S. Coast Guard Fellow Commander Linda Sturgis, Dr. Tiffany Smythe and Captain Andrew Tucci (USCG), examines how an effective private and public sector collaboration enabled a successful and timely port recovery.

Assisting tow industry along Chandeleur Sound Alternate Route

The Inner Harbor Navigation Channel in New Orleans facilitates the transportation of tens of millions of tons of cargo each year. Since the channel was recently closed for repairs, a temporary Chandeleur Sound Alternate Route was established to ensure the flow of commerce between the western and eastern reaches of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. NOAA experts assisted with the alternate route development in various ways, collaborating with the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and the maritime industry.

Navigation manager Tim Osborn represented NOAA on the Coast Guard’s weekly conference calls on the alternate route, asking for industry suggestions on how we could assist. Based on these collaborations, Coast Survey updated the nautical charts with the newly installed Aids to Navigation, while the National Weather Service began providing localized weather forecasts and warnings along the route. In addition, Coast Survey contracted David Evans and Associates (DEA) to survey the southern 33 miles of the total 66-mile proposed route. The survey required object detection survey coverage, with DEA submitting all observed soundings or obstructions shoaler than 12 feet as dangers to navigation. DEA found three dangers to navigation, and they were subsequently announced in the Local Notice to Mariners and applied to the applicable nautical charts.

NOAA survey Chandeleur Sound Alternate Route

Alternate Route DTONs

NOAA will continue to support the tow industry using the alternate route by adding new navigation data to the chart as we receive it, as well as by providing specialized weather reports along the route throughout the estimated three-month closure of the Inner Harbor Navigation lock in New Orleans.