How does the MarineTraffic app work

Discover and observe ships (online) - Marine Traffic

The ferry is not in sight, the employees of the ferry company know or understand (supposedly?) Nothing. And you, the passenger, look foolishly into the tube - of course in the figurative sense - because in reality you look disgruntled and / or expectantly at the water. Is it worthwhile to leave the waiting position to have another coffee, to eat a piece of cream cake or to look around for an overnight stay?

You can now answer that yourself with Because all ships can be identified and tracked on this portal, if they are of a certain size. Click on the symbol to get information about the country's flag, ship type, status, speed / course, length x width, draft, destination port and when the data was received. also has a large image gallery where users can upload their recordings of ships.

We owe this tracking option to the Automatic Identification System (AIS) or Universal Automatic Identification System (UAIS). The automatic identification system is a radio system that improves the safety and control of ship traffic by exchanging navigation and other ship data. It was adopted as a binding standard on December 6, 2000 by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The equipment requirement for ships in international voyage is regulated in the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS). Since January 2004, all commercial vessels over 300 GT on international voyages and since July 2008 also those over 500 GT on national voyages are obliged to operate an AIS system. Ships that are longer than 20 m or have more than 50 passengers on board must also be equipped with an AIS on-board device. Warships (understandably) do not fall under the regulations of SOLAS. National exemption regulations may apply to traditional ships.

View post


AIS transmits a lot of data

The Solas rules do not apply to inland waterway vessels, national or EU rules apply here, and many ships that navigate the Rhine in Germany, for example, are equipped with them, as you can determine yourself on the map from That the whole thing works is also shown by the forum entries from enthusiastic users, for example in the Maps Blog (

The AIS reports a lot of data (source Wikipedia) that can be received and evaluated by any AIS receiver within range: Static ship data (IMO number, ship name, call sign, MMSI number, type of ship (freighter, tanker, tugboat, passenger ship, SAR, pleasure craft etc.), dimensions of the ship (distance of the GPS antenna from the bow, stern, port and starboard side)). In addition to the static, there are dynamic ship data (navigation status (under engine, under sail, at anchor, moored, unable to maneuver, etc.), ship position (LAT, LON, in WGS 84), time of ship position (only seconds), course over ground (COG), Speed ​​over ground (SOG), heading (HDG), rate of change of course (ROT).

In addition, travel data (current maximum static draft, dangerous goods class of the cargo (IMO), travel destination, estimated time of arrival (ETA) and number of people on board are transmitted. For inland AIS there is also: ENI ship number, association data (type ERI, length, Width), dangerous goods class of the cargo, draft, loading condition, left / right side of the fairway, max. Height above water, etc. Not all data have to be sent. Especially in recreational shipping, often only the ship's name, MMSI, position, course and ship size are transmitted To be able to evaluate the data, an AIS receiving station must be nearby. If there is no receiver in the vicinity, the data can of course not be forwarded. This means that currently ships can only be tracked near the coast with AIS Low-flying satellites (LEO - Low Earth Orbit) that can receive and transmit VHF signals. The commercial service is n According to its own information, it is the first AIS provider to combine terrestrial AIS positions with satellite positions. This enables users to track ships on the high seas. That is currently more than 75,000 ships every day.

Those who live near the water can also install an AIS station themselves to become part of the system. With a bit of luck, the station can also be obtained free of charge from MarineTraffic (, which incidentally is a project of the Greek University of Aegean. You can even equip your ship / boat with a transmitter, or send the data via apps for iPhone / iPad and Android. uses commercial services such as FleetMon ( for its ship radar ( This means that all ships that are currently in the Hamburg area in the port and Elbe can be tracked - around the clock in real time. For more information on the individual ships, click on a symbol or on one of the listed ship names.

We have already reported on a similar service to identify and track aircraft, (

Further development is called AIS-Plus

Precisely because AIS is used so frequently, such position reports are inadvertently overlaid at individual coastal stations that are located on heavily frequented ship routes. The signals can no longer be clearly decoded or assigned to individual ships. This can be particularly dangerous for smaller ships that have installed AIS transmitting and receiving systems with lower performance on a voluntary basis. In the worst case scenario, they will no longer be noticed regularly by the surrounding coastal stations.

With the AIS-Plus project funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), improved receiver algorithms are now being developed and the transmission signal optimized in the laboratories of the DLR Institute for Communication and Navigation.

The port of Rotterdam is the largest port in Europe. It will also be the demanding test area in which the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and its industrial partner Weatherdock AG are putting a new ship signal system to the test. The “AIS-Plus” system is to be jointly developed and brought to product maturity within 18 months by October 2018.

The new AIS-Plus system should provide reliable position reports even in the case of high traffic volumes and poor transmission conditions and thus complete coastal surveillance.

Use on fishing boats and life jackets

The areas of application of the new technology for maritime security are diverse: In addition to small ships, life jackets can also be equipped with the new AIS system, for example. In the event of a disaster, the AIS-Plus system can reliably determine these even with numerous position signals. This can be vital for shipwrecked people.

The monitoring of fishing zones would also be more precise: “On the Indian coast, for example, fishermen are only allowed to fish in a certain area and are provided with an encapsulated AIS transmitter on board for control - with several hundred boats in a small space, reliable position determination is possible with the current AIS system is difficult to achieve, ”says Dr. Simon Plass.

The existing AIS system will not be affected by the new technology: “We do not interfere with the existing system, we are compatible and will even be able to receive it better with our new receivers than with conventional receivers,” explains Dr. Simon Plass from DLR.

The port in Rotterdam will be a good test candidate for this: in 2016, over 27,000 seagoing vessels and 100,000 inland waterway vessels docked there. If the receiver and transmitter of the new AIS-Plus technology work precisely and reliably in this environment with other AIS signals, it could be introduced in parallel with the existing system.

Ingo Paszkowsky

Sources: Own research, DLR

Title graphic: Screenshot MarineTraffic