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Which communication protocols should be implemented to enable safe navigation with automated and conventional barges?


The current communication between vessels or with the shore assumes that there are always  humans in the loop. However, in the future some barges will automatically deliver generated information and has to make decisions based on external information without any human interference.  

We foresee future where different types of barges are navigating on our inland waterwaysbut how should the communication develop to optimally enable safe navigation? 

We can identify different scenarios that can be grouped in three categories. The scenarios show examples and are listed on increasing difficulty. The solution has to cover as much as possible the scenarios below. 

Barge – Authority 

  • Scenario 1: to request or communicate a waiting place 
  • Scenario 2: to pass a drawbridge 
  • Scenario 3: to pass a lock (incl lock planning) 

Automated Barge – Conventional Barge 

  • Scenario 1: discuss priority 
  • Scenario 2: emergency signals / requesting assistance 

Barge – Third party (f.e. terminal) 

  • Scenario 1: communicating an ETA and correct location (waiting place, berth) 
  • Scenario 2: automated loading and unloading process (creation, execution and following up on the loading plan) 

Existing information protocols:

We can identify 2 communication protocols. The first part is the traditional way of working, but the last decade different navigation information technologies have created new methods of information exchange. 

  1. The traditional methods can again be divided in two categories:
    – Verbal communicationincluding radiocommunication via VHF. 
    – Non-verbal communication are buoys, optical signs, traffic lights, sound signals etc 
  2. Navigation information technology are the current River Information Services, which consist of the following services: 
    – Inland Ecdis is a standardized way to represent the navigation charts and include extra information (f.e. AIS and radar) to reduce the workload in the wheelhouse. 
    – ERI – Electronic ship Reporting in Inland navigationA new platform was created to optimize the information exchange between a barge and the authorities concerning the voyage and cargo transported. More information can be found here. 
    – Vessel tracking and tracing. Since a couple of years, it is obligated to always turn on the AIS (Automatic Identification System) to communicate the location of the vessel.  
    – Notices to skippers is a standardized format that enables the authority to send information to inland waterway userthat impact the navigation (water level, weather, fairway etc). 

 Types of barges that can be identified at the moment: 

  • Small pleasure crafts, which don’t have any communication guidelines 
  • Pleasure crafts, which make use of VHF 
  • Bigger pleasure crafts, which already make us of  VHF and AIS 
  • Barges used for professional activities require VHF and AIS 
  • Automated barges, where the crew on the vessel is exchanged by a person in a remote control center (first barges are requesting to operate) 
  • Autonomous, for the navigation of a barge, no human interference is necessary (hypothetical)