NOAA Joins Forces With Port Miami For Cargo Ship Safety


The Challenge

As vessels come near the port in Miami, they face a particular challenge: strong currents from the Gulf Stream run perpendicular to the shipping channel. This makes steering mega-ships especially difficult. Pilots require information on these currents to make immediate and rapid navigational decisions.


With the development of the new NOAA system called Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System (PORTS), Miami ship pilots now have access to critical real-time information that will assist them into seaport more safely.


What is PORTS and Why is it Needed?

PORTS is the result of a successful public-private partnership that consists of three meters installed on U.S. Coast Guard buoys that measure current speed and direction. Sophisticated sensors collect data every six minutes and sent to NOAA via Iridium satellite, where it is published online at Studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of having PORTS in place: it reduces ship collisions by more than 50 percent, expands the number of cargo ships can transport, reduces transit delays for commercial traffic, enhances recreational activities, and improves hazardous spill response.

PORTS around the United States provide vessel operators with real-time status of key environment parameters including water levels, currents, waves, salinity, bridge clearance, wind speed and direction, as well as air and water temperature and visibility. With this type of data available, vessel operators have what they need to direct the larger ships into port and avoid maritime accidents.


Including Port Miami, there are now 31 PORTS in the country, supporting 85 percent of the nation’s cargo by tonnage.



Objectives of the PORTS System

The objectives of the PORTS program are primarily to promote navigation safety, to increase the efficiency of United States ports and harbors, and guarantee the protection of coastal marine resources.


Navigation Safety: The real-time tide and current data provided through PORTS represents one component of NOS’s integrated program to develop safe navigation. PORTS data, when combined with up-to-date nautical charts and precise positioning information, can provide the mariner with a clearer picture of the potential dangers that may threaten navigation safety.

Improved Economic Efficiency: Our nation’s waterfronts, ports and harbors have historically been centers of rapid industrial and urban growth, and have advanced critical national objectives by promoting energy explorations, fishery production, commerce, and recreation. Knowledge of the currents, water levels, winds, and density of the water can increase the amount of cargo moved through a port or harbor. Just one additional inch of usable draft can translate into millions of dollars of additional cargo per vessel transit.


Coastal Resource Protection: Most ports are located at the mouths of major estuaries, which provide critical habitat for many important biological resources.


The prevention of maritime accidents is the most cost-effective measure that can be taken to protect fragile coastal ecosystems. One major spill can cost billions of dollars and destroy sensitive marine habitats critical to coastal ecosystems. PORTS provides information to make navigation safer, thus reducing the likelihood of a maritime accident.


Who is Impacted?

Through the use of NOAA’s Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System (PORTS), super-sized ships coming through the recently expanded Panama Canal can now more safely and efficiently enter the Miami seaport. In addition to the improved vessel safety, past NOAA studies have shown that a PORTS system, like the one dedicated by NOAA and Port Miami officials today, can provide considerable economic benefit to the local community. Already one of the busiest ports in the world, Miami’s harbor supports over a hundred thousand jobs while providing billions to the national economy.