Testimonials: Skippers about AIS

Entrepreneur De Roeck

Stephaan De Roeck is skipper of the MS Tripoli, a seaworthy estuary barge. ‘We transport containers from the port of Zeebrugge to the hinterland and the Rhine basin. We sail under charter with PortConnect, mainly in the area of sea between Zeebrugge and Flushing.’

Entrepreneur De Backer

Renaat De Backer sails the MS Were Di, also on behalf of PortConnect. He transports containers between Zeebrugge and Antwerp, and occasionally also to Ghent, Willebroek, Avelgem, and Saint-Saulve in France.

What do you find most useful about AIS?

Renaat De Backer: ‘To help you navigate; it’s especially useful on the Westerschelde. You get extremely precise information about the position of the sea ships you encounter: their name, position, approach speed ... This makes navigation easier and safer.’

Stephaan De Roeck: ‘It certainly increases the safety of your ship on a busy ‘motorway’ like the Westerschelde. Otherwise the big ocean-going ships would simply ignore you. Now with AIS you automatically know all the necessary information. This means you can more easily call them, whatever the weather, because you know their names. No, I really would not like to be without it.’

Renaat De Backer: ‘My colleagues sail on the Danube in Austria, where AIS is mandatory. They are very happy with it. AIS has a much greater range than radar, and has no trouble with twisting bends. They can now see oncoming ships from kilometres away, and instantly have all the necessary information. With Romanian or Czech skippers who sometimes speak little German, it’s essential, not a luxury.’

Are there other benefits?

Stephaan De Roeck: ‘Definitely for the shipping providers. They can plan ahead better. For example, they know exactly when a sea ship is arriving in Rotterdam and what ships are in the neighbourhood.’

Renaat De Backer: ‘The ports get a better picture of ship movements and the need for dockside berths. Naturally this leads also to benefits for the inland shipping entrepreneurs: the flow goes more smoothly.’

With what is the AIS transponder integrated?

Renaat De Backer: ’For me it is linked to the electronic chart on my computer.’

Stephaan De Roeck: ‘I have a new system in which my radar image and my electronic chart are integrated. It’s called radar overlay. It is also integrated with AIS. So on a single screen I see all the information needed to navigate safely. If it is too busy, I can display the AIS data on another screen, to prevent my radar screen becoming overloaded.’


According to you does AIS have any disadvantages?

Renaat De Backer: ‘Well, an advantage for the shipping provider can be a disadvantage for an inland shipping entrepreneur. My shipping provider constantly knows exactly where we are and how quickly we are progressing. This could be conceived as a loss of privacy. Of course, whether this is serious is a personal matter, and everyone has to determine for themselves if he wishes to exchange information or not – such as their position via AIS. Independent inland shipping entrepreneurs in particular will probably not find that so attractive.’

Stephaan De Roeck, ‘I am under contract for 24 hours a day so am always busy for my shipping provider. I have no problem that PortConnect can always see our position. Another benefit for me is that when I am at home I can see where the ship is located. A disadvantage is that you are therefore very predictable. You already have a new cargo allocated to you without much possibility to negotiate an attractive freight price.’

‘Another disadvantage for me is the occasional abundance of information. If like me you want to see everything on a single chart, then your screen can become quite overloaded. Especially when AIS becomes compulsory in Antwerp in 2011. Then you must be able to filter out information.’

Do you find AIS a user-friendly system?

Renaat De Backer: ‘I just switch the system on and off and it works smoothly. But I’m probably not getting everything out of it that I could. And technical instructions are only in English. Actually it would not be a bad idea to organise a course so that everyone gets the hang of the complete system.’

Stephaan De Roeck: ‘I must admit that I quickly got the hang of it. During installation I got guidelines how to use AIS. Before I leave, I fill in the voyage data, that’s all. The system does the rest.’

Entrepreneur Vanhaecke

On the MS Chridi Rudi Vanhaecke has worked with AIS for three years. ‘MS Chridi transports containers, ore, coal and grain to the Danube region, to Linz and beyond. On the Austrian Danube the use of AIS is mandatory. I think that’s a good idea; the Danube is very twisty and there are many Eastern European inland shipping entrepreneurs with whom communication is not always easy. AIS certainly increases safety; if it’s linked to your Inland ECDIS chart you see all the vessels approaching from kilometres away. Another advantage is that the lock-keeper really sees which ships are nearby, so he can work more efficiently. Otherwise, it sometimes happens that a ship reports that it’s on its way, while actually it still has an hour to sail ...’

‘AIS does have its drawbacks, mainly in regard to the information that AIS divulges; your tonnage, your speed, your mode of operation ... That can lead to unfriendly behaviour. If other ships see how fast you are travelling, they can try to overtake you. Fortunately you are not obliged to send every bit of information via AIS, otherwise third parties could get their hands on it. In that case the shipping police would no longer need to perform spot checks. And it’s possible for shipping companies to put pressure on market prices. I think that AIS should be used for its intended purpose: safety. There should be binding commitments to shield the information you transmit via AIS from prying eyes.’

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