Keeping Track of the Big Boats - Kill Time Online! by Trevor

I was checking all my nautical sites, and while on gcaptain.com (I did not recommend because it is slightly technical and focuses more on freighters and cargo ships) andI stumbled across an online AIS mapping system. Wikipedia explains AIS:

The Automatic Identification System (AIS) is an automated tracking system used on ships and by Vessel Traffic Services (VTS) for identifying and locating vessels by electronically exchanging data with other nearby ships and VTS stations. AIS information supplements marine radar, which continues to be the primary method of collision avoidance for water transport.

Information provided by AIS equipment, such as unique identification, position, course, and speed, can be displayed on a screen or an ECDIS. AIS is intended to assist a vessel's watchstanding officers and allow maritime authorities to track and monitor vessel movements. AIS integrates a standardized VHF transceiver with a positioning system such as a LORAN-C or GPS receiver, with other electronic navigation sensors, such as a gyrocompass or rate of turn indicator. Ships outside AIS radio range can be tracked with the Long Range Identification and Tracking (LRIT) system with less frequent transmission.

This site gives a bit of information about vessel movement, and MarineTraffic.com is about what I imagine an air traffic controller looks at all day (when they are awake!). Not only are you able to browse the entire world for AIS reporting ships, but you can view by type of ship, and a few other parameters. Obviously tracking the big yachts is going to be my primary use for this! Just taking a look at some of the yards in Florida, I was able to quickly find Johnny Depp's Boat, VaJoLiRoJa. Fun fact about his boat, if you say the name fast enough, it sounds like "The Jolly Roger", which would make you think of the pirate movies that paid for the boat, but it is actually the first names of all in his family, VAlerie, JOhnnie, LIly-ROse, and JAck.

As you can see on the left side of the screen, I have filtered out everything but the yachts. Also, notice the ad for an iPhone app! That would be a great time killer on the road!

Looks like the Beaver Island ferry, the EMERALD ISLE is a little late for it's 4:30 projected ETA. If you like big boat, or fancy yourself a diehard yacht spotter, this may be the site for you. These closeups only show a few areas in the US, with a lot of commercial boats filtered out, but there are a lot of boats on this site. Be sure to check out some of the destinations around Europe (Med, Monaco, Cannes, etc) to see some of the big boys! Zooming out still gives you a tiling of green squares with the number of reporting vessels in each area, so you can quickly find the hot spots.

I highly recommend you poke around, and if you find any interesting boats, say something in the comments!

Editorial: Mackinac Island Ferry Fiasco by admin

How do you know you are really getting to the northern tip of the "mitt"?  For me it is when I start to see a ton of billboards for Mackinac ferry service, of which there are three (Arnold, Shepler's, and Star Lines).  To get filled in on the full story to date I would suggest starting with this Mlive article.  The short of it is the city counsel is considering purchasing docks currently owned by Arnold Transit, which would effectively put the city in the drivers seat when negotiating with the ferry companies. The "positive" effects trumpeted by the city flexing their muscle with the purchase of the docks would be to lower ticket prices.  The three companies were asked, in public, to get together to try and figure out a way to lower ticket prices (something they refused to do!).  Imagine if the order of events were reversed.  All three companies did meet in private to discuss ticket prices, and then were asked in public about these meetings.  Public sentiment certainly would not be on their side.

Another point worth making, what is a "low" enough ticket price?  Is lower $.01? or $20 lower?  If the city counsel believes it can control ferry ticket pricing, then perhaps they are wasting their time.  They should really be focusing on controlling the prices of milk, bread, gas, and housing.  Ferry rides should be the least of their concerns.

If all of this seems absurd, that is because it is.  Humility is the answer here.  It takes about 10 seconds of humility to realize there is little hope of a few local government officials fully understanding how the ferry business operates.  Do they know the annual cost of operations, insurance costs, fuel costs, advertising costs, crew costs, peak travel times, how many ferry companies there should be, and how much tickets should be? No, and rightly so, why should they.

When thousands of people travel to Mackinac Island every year, they almost magically can get a ferry ride.  They do not have to wait in long lines, buy tickets weeks in advance, look hopelessly for parking near the ferry, worry about the safety of the boat they are on, or worry about getting back.  With the swipe of a credit card they can "magically" be on their way towards a vacation destination.

Here is a copy of our letter to the mayor and city counsel.  If you enjoy any of these ferry operators, we hope you will show your support to them as well.