GPS Jamming: A Potential Threat to Maritime Navigation

June 10, 2016

Maritime navigation has made huge strides in recent years. One innovation in particular, GPS, has made navigation easier than ever. As a result, many mariners are now conditioned to expect excellent GPS performance.

That’s fine – to a certain point. But here’s a new twist. If a mariner relies solely on electronic charts for navigation, what’s the fallback position when their electronic navigation fails, or worse yet, is purposely jammed? On Jan. 19, 2016, the Coast Guard addressed this issue:

“This past summer, multiple outbound vessels from a non-U.S. port suddenly lost GPS signal reception. The net effect was various alarms and a loss of GPS input to the ship’s surface search radar, gyro units and Electronic Chart Display & Information System, resulting in no GPS data for position fixing, radar over ground speed inputs, gyro speed input and loss of collision avoidance capabilities on the radar display.”

According to a recent paper by The General Lighthouse Authorities of the United Kingdom and Ireland, GPS signals measured at the surface of the earth are quite weak. This means the system is vulnerable to interference and jamming, resulting in possible denial of service.


Electronic Navigation: Not under your control

It’s important to remember that the quality and reliability of electronic navigation is not entirely under the control of the mariner, no matter how diligently hardware/software upgrades are implemented:

“A GPS signal can be disrupted for a variety of reasons, including the illegal use of a GPS jammer. Indicators of GPS compromise include intermittent signal, no signal and/or incorrect signal.”

Several methods have been used to disable, confuse or otherwise render a GPS tracking device useless. One method is the use of a GPS ‘spoofing’ gadget – a device that sends a fake radio signal that overrides the GPS signal and reports a fake location. These are not only illegal, but can be dangerous to other GPS users.


Best practice: be equipped with both printed charts and GPS

Here at Oceangrafix, we agree with the Coast Guard. Electronic navigation is a great tool for mariners. But if the threat of jammed GPS exists, relying solely on electronic navigation is not a best practice by any means. Digitally updated, print-on-demand charts from Oceangrafix can’t be jammed, compromised, or otherwise manipulated. We believe that conscientious mariners will invest in—and use—both options to ensure safe navigation.


It’s Hurricane Season—Be Prepared!

May 17, 2016

Part 2: The 2016 Hurricane Forecast

Spring is hurricane season. Some years, Mother Nature delivers widespread destruction (think Katrina in 2005); other years, there are few, if any, landfalls. What does this year’s storm season have in store?

This Year’s Forecast

Statistically, there is no direct correlation between the number of storms or hurricanes and U.S. landfalls in any given season. According to the 2016 Atlantic hurricane season forecast released by Colorado State University, a total of 12 named storms, five hurricanes, and two major hurricanes are expected this season. Some of these storms could hit the US mainland, but landfalls are impossible to predict with any accuracy. As a point of comparison, each year for the past 30 years there has been an average of 12 named storms, six hurricanes and three major hurricanes.

Be Prepared!

Hurricane Preparedness Week (May 15-21, 2016) is your time to prepare for a potential land-falling tropical storm or hurricane. NOAA offers daily tips on how to best prepare for hurricane season. Share these tips with your friends and family to ensure that they’re prepared as well. Remember: even areas well away from the coastline can be threatened by widespread flooding, powerful winds, and tornadoes.

Along with earthquakes, hurricanes are nature’s most powerful and destructive phenomena. If you live in an area prone to hurricanes, you need to be prepared. Given a hurricane’s potential for destruction, it’s best to be prepared for the worst while hoping for the best.


It’s Hurricane Season—Be Prepared!

May 16, 2016

Part 1: Learning More about Hurricane Forecasting

Every spring, the hurricane season descends upon us again. Here are two ways you can learn more about the science of hurricane forecasting and tracking.

NOAA’s Hurricane Awareness Tour

Do you live on or near the Gulf coast? Then you’ll want to attend NOAA’s hurricane tour of five U.S. Gulf coastal cities. The tour will include a U.S. Air Force Reserve WC-130J hurricane hunter aircraft and the NOAA G-IV aircraft, both of which are used in hurricane forecasting. The tour itinerary includes:

  • Mon, May 16: San Antonio Int’l Airport, San Antonio, TX, 2:30pm to 5:00pm
  • Tues, May 17: Scholes Intl. Airport, Galveston, TX, 2:30pm to 5:00pm
  • Wed, May 18: Lakefront Airport, New Orleans, LA, 2:30pm to 5:00pm
  • Thu, May 19: Mobile Downtown Airport, Mobile, AL, 2:30pm to 4:30pm
  • Fri, May 20: Naples Municipal Airport, Naples, FL, 2:30pm to 5:00pm

Visit this website for more details: http://1.usa.gov/1q98ENi

Hurricane Tracking Charts

Are you interested in following the progress of this year’s tropical storms? Hurricane tracking charts allow armchair storm chasers and nautical enthusiasts to track and record storm progress throughout the hurricane season. Obtain the appropriate chart and track the storms right along with the experts!


How Do Paper Charts Get Updated?

May 8, 2016

The Process of Updating Paper Charts
Despite much advancement in navigational technology, the U.S. Coast Guard and NOAA continue to stress the importance of having accurate paper charts on board. Problems such as electronic failure or other complications can and do occur, often at the most inopportune time. When the unexpected happens, NOAA paper charts—long considered the standard—can serve as important insurance. Yet charts have to be accurate to provide value, and they soon become outdated. Unfortunately, many mariners do not fully understand how to keep their charts up-to-date. NOAA works diligently to keep its charts current. Corrections come from three main sources:

Source 1: NOAA performs surveys in oceans, bays, lakes and rivers to monitor changes to depth and shoreline and to locate and disprove Dangers to Navigation (i.e., wrecks, rocks and obstructions). NOAA also receives the latest channel surveys from the Army Corps of Engineers and the latest bridge information from the Coast Guard. And, some United States Power Squadrons collect on-water observations through their Adopt-a-Chart program and submit them to NOAA.

Source 2: Notice to Mariners. Each week, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) issues what’s called the Notice to Mariners. They contain important information that should be added to existing charts manually, thus bringing them up-to-date. Commercial mariners are fully aware of the Notice to Mariners because by law they are required to carry fully up-to-date NOAA navigational charts at all times.

Source 3: Local Notice to Mariners. The nine district U.S. Coast Guard offices issue the Local Notice to Mariners (LNMs) each week. LNMs provide marine safety information that keeps boaters informed about recent changes—such as a relocated navigation aid or a new obstruction or wreck. Both types of notices are intended to let boaters know it’s time to either manually update their existing paper chart or purchase an updated print-on-demand chart. Unfortunately, many recreational mariners fail to recognize the importance of these changes.


Encouraging the Next Generation of Sailors

April 17, 2016

Every year in June, the state fairgrounds in St. Paul, Minnesota, fill with over 10,000 classic cars and hot rods. As you stroll around this event, one thing becomes clear: the car owners are very open and encouraging to everyone, especially younger people, who are interested in the cars and the hobby itself. Why? Because the classic car demographic is aging. And the only way to keep the classic car hobby thriving is to get younger people to participate, thus encouraging the next generation of gear heads.

The same situation applies in our maritime world. Most of us knowledgeable about navigation are seasoned sailors, and we have navigation skills that the next generation of sailors needs. For instance – an alarming percentage of younger sailors don’t know how to navigate using a printed chart. Instead, they rely solely on GPS and oftentimes don’t understand traditional navigation skills. And without proper navigation skills, sailors of any age can get into real trouble.

At OceanGrafix, one way we’re helping to address this issue is by supporting the Junior Mates program at the Beach Haven Charter Fishing Association (BHCFA) in New Jersey. They offer a voluntary summer school for youths 13 – 17 who want to learn to be mates on commercial charter boats. The course runs for eight weeks each summer and is taught by leading charter boat professionals. Students learn knot tying, navigation, boat handling, tackle and boat maintenance, weather, safety, first aid, and all of the other skills that will educate a sailor. Recently, the BHCFA decided to offer their more advanced students the opportunity to learn how to read and use a nautical chart. OceanGrafix was happy to donate the charts they needed because we know that the ability to read printed charts is a key component of boating safety.

Just like the car enthusiasts are building the next generation of gear heads, the BHCFA is working hard to encourage the next generation of sailors. At OceanGrafix, we like to do the same. What experience and knowledge can you pass along?


The Daunting Task of Locating and Exploring Shipwrecks

February 28, 2016

Say “shipwreck” and one’s mind might wander to mystery and adventure featuring pirates, deserted islands, and chests spilling over with gold bullion. The reality is, of course, much more stark and devastating when taking into account loss of life, livelihood, and trade goods. A recent article by Jay Bennett in Popular Mechanics estimates more than 3 million shipwrecks are scattered across the world’s oceans. “This number represents ships throughout the entirety of human history,” Bennett writes, “from 10,000-year-old dugout canoes preserved in the muck to 21st Century wrecks you might have read about in the news.”

Beyond the mind-boggling notion of 3 million shipwrecks, one must also process the treasure contained within those doomed vessels, most of which is unknown and unsurveyed. According to Bennett, lack of time and money make it impossible to find and/or explore them all. “In fact, less than 10 percent of the shipwrecks that we’ve located—which account for just 10 percent of all shipwrecks in the world—have been surveyed or visited by divers,” writes Bennett.

It appears that the reason to find and explore these shipwrecks is multifold—the key reasons being safety (to ensure they do not pose a risk to other vessels), ecology, historical significance, and reward. Though it is difficult to map shipwrecks, the Popular Mechanics article reads, “NOAA’s Office of Coast Survey maintains a database of about 20,000 ships that is available to the public, primarily for the benefit of navigators and researchers. The information for that database comes from two organizations within NOAA, the Electronic Navigational Charts (ENC) and the Automated Wrecks and Obstructions Information System (AWOIS).”

As for actual sunken treasure, it’s estimated there is at least $60 billion resting on the ocean floor. A financeonline.com article titled, “8 Valuable Shipwrecks That Will Get You Interested in Sea Exploration” outlined some of the more interesting (and known) shipwrecks. For example, the SS Gairsoppa was lost in 1941 during World War II with 7 million ounces of silver. Uncovered in 2011, the silver is now worth $210 million. Queen Anne’s Revenge, which was infamous pirate Blackbeard’s flagship in the early 1700s, ran aground near North Carolina in 1718. According to financeonline.com, “Tens of thousands of artifacts of important cultural importance have been recovered so far ranging from navigation tools to storage items that give archaeologists insight to the period and pirate culture.” Diamonds, silver, and gold aside, 200 bottles of Heidsieck Champagne were in a 1916 shipwreck off of Finland. Recovered in 1997, the bottles can be purchased for $275,000 a piece at the Ritz Carlton in Moscow.

With searches for doomed ships sometimes costing millions of dollars, the concept of locating and then exploring the 3 million shipwrecks seems daunting at best. But, according to Popular Mechanics’ Bennett, organizations are offering sizable rewards “for private teams that build an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) and create a bathymetric map (like a topographic map, but of the sea floor).” With 90-95% of the ocean floor still unexplored, it will be exciting to see what science, explorers, and inspired teams come up with to ease the task of finding true sunken treasure.


Mystic Seaport Video Series Presents Museum Resources for Online Visitors

January 31, 2016

Since 1929, Mystic, Connecticut, has been home to the famed Mystic Seaport Museum, a year-round destination for people interested in learning about America’s seafaring past. Recently, the Mystic Seaport gained acclaim for serving as the home base for the Charles W. Morgan, America’s oldest commercial ship that is still afloat. After her 38th voyage, during which she made stops along the New England coast, the Charles W. Morgan reclaimed its space on Chubb’s Wharf as the flagship of the Mystic Seaport Museum. OceanGrafix was proud to partner with Landfall to donate 24 charts to the Charles W. Morgan voyage and play a small role in the historic journey.

But the Charles W. Morgan is just one part of the full Mystic Seaport Museum experience, which makes it a popular vacation spot for visitors not only from New England but around the world. From hands-on activities and special events to exhibit halls and historical interpreters, the seaport website states, “A quintessential New England experience, Mystic Seaport offers visitors of all ages a unique link to our seafaring past and endless, year-round opportunities to immerse themselves in new worlds of hands-on history.”

Sea lovers and landlubbers alike will be interested in the Mystic Seaport Museum’s web-based video series. One of the museum’s newest videos is “Ships, Clocks & Stars: The Quest for Longitude — Discover Every Season at Mystic Seaport,” which showcases Mystic Seaport’s exhibits during the winter months. According to Emily Su, a Mystic Seaport Museum employee, “‘Ships, Clocks & Stars’ tells the story of the competitive race to determine longitude at sea, and how the problem was eventually solved by ingenious and innovative thinking.” To view the video, visit here.


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