As commercial navigation becomes more dependent upon electronic technology, the use of paper navigation charts like the hand written ones completed by Henry Bosse in the early 1900s and used on the Dredge Thomson until 2005 are becoming a thing of the past.
Recognizing the technology change occurring within the industry, the Corps is adapting, too, by providing navigation data in electronic format, as well as the traditional print version. The program is part of the Inland Electronic Navigational Chart, or IENC, program, which started in 2001.
The Corps maintains approximately 8,200 miles of rivers, within 22 states, spanning 15 districts. The IENC program is centrally based at the Army GeoSpatial Center in Alexandria, Va. Denise LaDue, IENC production manager, said a significant part of the success in getting surveys and initiatives needed for the electronic charts is the coordination between all the districts. “The individual districts collect survey data for their respective area of responsibility and then send it to the Army GeoSpatial Center for inclusion in the IENCs,” she said.
The towing industry downloads the IENCs and uses an electronic charting system, or ECS, to utilize the charts for navigation. The boat captain then inputs information into the system, such as the boat dimensions and the number of barges. Keith LeClaire, technical lead for the St. Paul IENC program, said the district maintains 76 data layers within the charting system such as channel depth, hazards, lights or daymarks, bridge profiles including their pictures and dimensions, as well as automatic alerts of caution areas such as dredging operations. With all this data, captains can get a pictorial representation of their boat on the river and see their alignment in relation to the navigation channel, said LeClaire. “It’s exactly like the in your car that shows you how to get from point A to point B.
“The Corps has always had the responsibility to provide navigation charts for the commercial towing industry,” he continued. “We still have this responsibility, but now in addition to publishing paper charts, we support the IENC program by providing high resolution navigation data as well as storing, updating and maintaining this data.”
The district updates and maintains data for approximately 243 river miles within the inland waterway system, including the Mississippi, Minnesota and St. Croix rivers. “With our technology, we can provide precision data that supports the mariner,” said LeClaire. “With the program being around for more than 10 years, our primary job now is to provide quality assurance through field reconnaissance.” He said this is done by comparing the historical IENC data to the data collected during on-water reconnaissance every year.
This means accurate, real-time data and greater consistency for the commercial navigation industry. The program’s value, said LeClaire, lies in the fact that the river is always changing and this program allows navigation captains to not only be aware of the changes, but know about them when they happen.
LaDue said the program goal is to increase navigation safety. She added that as the program progresses, the rate at which the Corps can provide important information, such as hazard alerts, to the towing industry will be faster, which will continue to provide value to the industry.
These days commercial navigation is becoming dependent upon the electronic chart program, the newer captains vs. the old timers, said LeClaire. Before captains carried around paper charts and worked on specific areas of the river, becoming familiar with that area. Now, with the electronic system, captains do not need to know the river like they use to and can extend their shipping area. Now-a-days you see captains carrying around a briefcase with their electronic gadgets in it.