Keeping Boaters Safe in the Water
Thursday, October 9, 2014

If boaters were to rely solely on electronic charts to navigate Great Harbour Deep, they’d ram into the Long Range Mountains.

“If you went in there on electronic navigation after dark or in reduced visibility like fog, you’d come to grief if you just used your electronic charts and you couldn’t see anything,” says Jim Wyse, retired professor of information systems at the Faculty of Business Administration. “The charts are off, way off.”

The discrepancy between reality and the available navigational charts in Great Harbour Deep is just one example of the many inaccuracies that mariners must deal with when navigating the waters around Newfoundland and Labrador, and it’s one that puts coastal and near-shore mariners at great risk.

Even technologies such as radar are not enough to address the issue of inaccurate charts.

“Radar only detects masses that are well above water and have the physical shape and composition to reflect a radio signal,” says Prof. Wyse. “While radar can be useful in identifying chart inaccuracies, it provides very limited information on what to do about them since it can’t see hazards that are at or below water.

“Not only do mariners have to know when navigational charts are inaccurate, but also when these inaccuracies may be hazardous.”

Electronic charts also don’t provide information on local knowledge – hazards such as lobster traps, aquaculture sites or icebergs, for example, or navigation aids such as local landmarks and mooring locations, all of which are important in tricky navigation areas.

The problem of inaccurate or outdated charts is so extensive that Prof. Wyse, along with Mark Wareham, an instructor of naval architecture and marine systems design at the Marine Institute, has launched the Coastal Marine Informatics (CMI) initiative, which aims to consolidate diverse sources of marine information into one web-based resource.

“[The CMI] is a master directory of marine information around the coast,” says Prof. Wyse. “The overall thinking is to accumulate an easily accessible, Mr. Google version of marine information focused, initially at least, on the island of Newfoundland but to provide a model for other application areas as well.”

Prof. Wyse and Mr. Wareham first met three years ago as members of a committee organized by the Marine Institute that was focused on identifying and finding solutions for challenges associated with recreational boating. One such challenge was the lack of marine-based information to support recreational boating (the term “recreational boating” has since been replaced with “coastal marine activities”).

Prior to his retirement, Prof. Wyse had undertaken research at Memorial’s business faculty on the challenges associated with processing location-based mobile transactions. His work, which resulted in patents in Canada and the United States, led to the development of a location-aware prototype that quickly retrieves local information using proximity generation methods.

Both avid boaters in their personal lives who are well aware of the challenges faced by mariners in near-shore and coastal activities , Prof. Wyse and Mr. Wareham saw an opportunity to combine this research with community engagement initiatives led by the Marine Institute and began developing the CMI.

Launched in 2013, the CMI provides immediate access to information on over 600 marine locations throughout the island of Newfoundland. The information is compiled from a variety of websites and other information sources and is divided into categories such as harbours, lighthouses, marine weather conditions, harbour reports, etc. Each category can be searched by location.

The CMI is also indexed to Facebook, which allows users to add their own information, confirm chart corrections or even dispute available information, and a printed deck reference has been developed as an instruction manual for the online resource.

The capacity of mariners to add to the existing information helps ensure the available data remains current.

“The dynamic nature of CMI in itself is that it’s constantly being updated. It overcomes the problem with any print item, which is that the minute it’s printed, it becomes out-of-date,” says Mr. Wareham. “It’s static, whereas the CMI is dynamic and can be updated and added to. So that’s one of the biggest benefits.”

While the CMI is live, its development is ongoing with both Prof. Wyse and Mr. Wareham gathering information and adding to it on a volunteer basis. Over the winter, they hope to grow it to include up to 1,000 locations and 15 categories of information.

They also hope to find some funding in the near future to improve the website’s interface and usability, and potentially to look for other applications for this type of spatial directory.

Similar web-based resources could be used to support small-scale industrial and marine activities such as fish harvesting, aquaculture or managing invasive species, or it could be used to track real-time hazards such has icebergs. The prototype could also be extended to other sectors such as tourism, for example, where it could act as a one-stop-shop for tourist attractions, historic sites or accommodations.

“The number of applications, that list keeps getting longer,” says Prof. Wyse.

“We’re limited by our time more than anything else,” adds Mr. Wareham