Marine traffic control filter: How many vessels are out on the water right now, and where are they?
November 12, 2005 7:29 PM   Subscribe

Marine traffic control filter: How many vessels are out on the water right now, and where are they in general?

I remember seeing an animation of air traffic for a day over the US and was pretty amazed. Assuming there isnt something similar for global marine traffic, Im curious how many transport ships, cruise ships, military ships etc there are out on the water at any given time, and are there certain paths they all take or are there ships wandering all over the oceans? Extra points for charts showing suspected pirate patrol areas.
posted by dino terror to Travel & Transportation (17 answers total)
I don't think there is...
posted by phrontist at 7:44 PM on November 12, 2005

I always found this site kind of cool - I used it when Hurricane Rita hit, to see who was going to stick it out, and who was hightailing it out of Dodge.
posted by Liosliath at 7:52 PM on November 12, 2005

I don't think there's anything like an air traffic map, for the simple reason that the kind of ships you're talking about spend the majority of their time in international waters where they can't really be made to report their position.

Regarding piracy, however, you're in luck; check out the International Maritime Bureau Piracy Reporting Center, which has a weekly piracy report and maps (though the public maps are from 2004).
posted by IshmaelGraves at 8:03 PM on November 12, 2005

Sweet, this is as good as I could have hoped for!
posted by dino terror at 8:15 PM on November 12, 2005

I am not an expert, but:

There are about 46,000 merchant vessels in the world fleet. I don't think you'll be able to find statistics about military ships, since countries probably don't want to report that.

Maritime shipping vessels have had to follow predetermined routes since the 1960 SOLAS convention [PDF of source]. These are the "shipping lanes".

Re: Pirates, here is an agency that keeps track of maritime piracy and publishes a newsletter about it. The newsletter contains reports of weekly pirate activity.

An interesting thing I learned from people who build boats for ocean voyages is that the vast majority of them—even the ones owned by private individuals—have a secret (illegal) compartment for storing automatic weapons, just in case.
posted by Hildago at 8:22 PM on November 12, 2005

Lioslath that site is fantastic!
posted by 6550 at 8:49 PM on November 12, 2005

I can't take credit for it, another MeFi-er mentioned it in one of the posts on Katrina...though I can't seem to track it down now!
posted by Liosliath at 9:44 PM on November 12, 2005

OK, I found it - I can now partially credit eriko for the link, though he mentioned it as a way to look up ship call signs, not all the cool maps and stuff.

The original mention is buried in this massive Katrina post, at 6:09pm.
posted by Liosliath at 9:49 PM on November 12, 2005

There's a whole 'nother class of vessel out there too--the cruising and racing sailboats. While the tall ships keep pretty much to the same routes as commercial traffic, the rest of the sail (and there's whole bunches of them) tends to follow the older sailing routes (duh) that make best use of prevailing winds and currents while avoiding hazards that call for tight navigation. While sailors increasingly travel point-to-point via gps like motorized ships do, there are certainly routes and places they congregate where they're more alone, too. For example, "I-65" goes north up 65 degrees out of Antigua when Race Week gets out, taking everyone to Bermuda; there the stream splits and those doing summer in North America continue north on 65 to Nova Scotia and Maine, while those returning to Europe from a winter in the Caribbean turn right for the Azores. So too the Trades take the winter traffic across from the Canaries to the Caribbean and the Thorny Path is the route that funnels everyone south from the Intracoastal Waterway through the Bahamas and on to the Caribbean; on the west coast of North America, bunches of boats in things like the Baha Ha-ha are in feeders for the South Pacific Milk Run. Things like Jimmy Cornell's World Cruising Routes or the British Admiralty Sailing Routes are the places to go for detail.

Want pirates? They follow the sailors, too. We were shadowed all one night off the Moroccan coast, but as the Trades filled in we left them behind; others have reported similar sightings and even boardings along this stretch between Gibraltar and the Canaries. And the Red Sea and the east coast of Africa are notoriously pirate-some, such that most sailboats now make that run in groups.

But no one keeps track of the small sailing vessels, other than port clearances. That's part of the appeal of bluewater cruising for many: there are few places left on this planet where you can still disappear if you're willing to go a bit out of your way.
posted by salt at 10:11 PM on November 12, 2005

Ships do not really have traffic control except in some special places. The ship tracking site obviously is nowhere near complete, listing only the 4000 ships participitating in the VOS program.

I don't think you'll be able to find statistics about military ships, since countries probably don't want to report that.

You are incorrect: Haze Gray & Underway has a pretty thorough listing of military ships of the world.
posted by lazy-ville at 10:19 PM on November 12, 2005

"The ship tracking site obviously is nowhere near complete, listing only the 4000 ships participitating in the VOS program."

That's more than obvious, they state it right on the top of their index page.

I dunno, I think 4,000 ships is a lot for someone who's not an expert on maritime matters - do you have another link that shows more?
posted by Liosliath at 11:12 PM on November 12, 2005

I didn't mean it as a slag towards the site, it is pretty cool and I definitely do not know of any better one. My point was that there probably are none, since shipping is much less controlled and regulated than aviation. The site clearly leaves out a lot of ships, for example, there are only 2 ships in the whole of baltic sea, none in the black sea and one in the persian gulf.
posted by lazy-ville at 11:21 PM on November 12, 2005

Don't know if this will be what you are looking for, but I used this site to track my MINI as it came across the pond.
posted by sillygit at 9:45 AM on November 13, 2005

You know, lazy-ville, you bring up an excellent point. There's probably all kinds of interesting "hijinks on the seas" going on, every day. For that matter, how do ports know who's approaching, if the ship doesn't identify itself? Radar? How would they then contact them on the radio to get identification, if they didn't know what channel they were on? I seem to remember some kind of movie about a ship with a large hydrogen bomb that was approaching the NYC area - can't think of the name right now. It may have been a TV show, actually.

I don't think the VOS site listed any military ships, either - no wonder nothing's showing up in the Persian Gulf!
posted by Liosliath at 10:48 AM on November 13, 2005

Liosliath: There's an international standard for what channels to communicate on, so the ports and the ships that were approaching them would be on the same channel, in theory. I know that in the US, you have to be monitoring channel 16 whenever you can, because that's the channel that distress calls and coast guard messages go out on. I believe that's an international standard as well. Generally you treat this channel as a lobby, and when you want to carry on a private conversation, both parties agree to switch to a different channel.

I have no doubt that large shipping companies and military have satellite tracking for their vessels, I just don't think either of them would have an incentive to put that info online where people could see it, so chances are you're not going to get the sort of traffic control view you're looking for.
posted by Hildago at 1:50 PM on November 13, 2005

Err, dino terror is the one looking for that, sorry. :)
posted by Hildago at 1:52 PM on November 13, 2005

Well, I knew about the default channel (same thing for trucks), but what if they purposely avoided that channel? Is that a situation where the Coast Guard (or whatever is comparable for the country in question) races out and demands identification? If the ship actively resisted being boarded, what happens next?
posted by Liosliath at 3:56 PM on November 13, 2005

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