What is Marine Traffic Data & How to Use It

What is Marine Data?

Marine traffic data is a treasure trove of descriptive information that provides insights about movement of freight by water, ships, sea routes, and ports at a global scale.

It is typically used by coastal or logistics authorities to track and monitor vessel movements as it also resembles a great supplement for collision avoidance on the marine radar. Financial institutions use marine data to generate alpha by inferring macroeconomic signals, insurance companies thrive to optimize their underwriting and product pricing whereas several NGOs apply it to detect illegal fishing initiatives or impact on climate and ecosystems.

Why is Marine Data Important?

Since hundreds of years oceans have been important for people as a means of transporting goods from one place to another. But as containerization as the greatest revolution of modern transport of the 20th century took place, global vessel traffic has blown up and today, more than 90% of cargo that is carried by sea transport with growing demand. Today, around 80% of the global trade by volume and over 70% of the global trade by value are carried by ships (United Nations conference on Trade and Development) and thousands of container ship float around the oceans, lakes and rivers each day. This increase in global ship traffic has made it indispensable to start tracking vessel positions in order to get an overview of the water-based traffic situation and prevent ships from collisions to protect losses and environmental damages.

Since 2004, the Automatic Identification System (AIS) is a worldwide standard that automates tracking on board of vessels with a gross tonnage of over 300 and all passenger ships regardless of their size. A few years ago, this data was only available to fleet managers, institutional authorities and governments. However today, many data initiatives, data platforms and data providers have made this data publicly available and more conveniently accessible for various applications on business cases.

How to use Marine Data?

Domestic Coast Guards & Harbor Guides: Are obliged to maintain safety and security for shipping activities of all kinds. With marine data, they can prevent, approach and clear potential conflicts, collisions and incidents in a busy ocean in a highly automated way.

Energy Companies: When setting up new Off-Shore parks or a new energy capturing platform in the ocean, historical marine traffic data is an essential element for selecting non-hazardous positions that are easy to navigate around.

Shipping & Logistics Companies: As measurement of logistical efficiency does not start or stop at the harbor, many global logistic enterprises are tracking their vessel process in real time and make this information available to their customers.

Investment Companies: On the never-ending hunt for new sources of alpha quantitative hedge funds or similar financial institutions e.g. map historical and real time maritime data from oil tankers to identify mispriced securities and forecast what’s actually going on in economic supply and demand across the planet.

Insurance Companies: Global insurance and especially re insurance companies apply marine traffic data to better quantify the hazards posed by a maritime accident in terms of hull loss, fatality, and direct economic loss and can optimize their underwriting processes and policy pricing respectively.

NGOs: In order to detect illegal fishing activity, or measure impact of global sea freight cargo on several ecosystems or climate change, various NGOs make use of this data.

What Are Typical Marine Data Attributes?

Asides data about ports, regions, water depth or vessel images Marine traffic data providers offer a variety of dynamic data and static data points such as:

  • Vessel Identifier
  • Ship Position (LAT, LON)
  • Navigation Data (Heading, Course, Speed)
  • Timestamp
  • Key Vessel Particulars (Ship Length, Type, Beam, Flag, Shipyard)
  • Voyage Information (Route, ETA, Origin, Destination, Draught, etc.)
  • Fleets
  • Ship Status
  • Port Status
  • Historical data (on previous routes, harbors, durations etc.)
  • Marine event data

How is Marine Data Typically Collected?

Marine traffic data is mostly collected from more than 3200 AIS aggregators in over 140 countries around the world that get the individual AIS signals directly from ships via a satellite or ground receivers. From here onwards the raw data is further processed to various data platforms that then provide cleaned up data or raw data through APIs. AIS message packets are encoded in NMEA sentences (64-bit plain text) as this sample below shows:

> [[!AIVDM,1,1,,B,1INS<[email protected],0*38

However, as AIS data is by far the largest and most important source of the marine traffic data, it misses out on all kinds of smaller ships typically used by fishing companies. For these sea traffic types governments apply a tracking system (VMS data) to create more visibility on that front as well. It can be sourced directly from many governments.

How is Marine Data typically priced?

In most of the cases, a basic API can be accessed for free and more advanced data points, functions and features are available subject to a one-time or license fee.
Core pricing criteria is typically the API data service level agreement and frequency of calls (# of calls per day / real-time), the number of vessels to be monitored, and the amount of information needed for a vessel.
Historical data sets are also most commonly subjective to a commercial engagement with a marine data vendor. Data from satellite AIS source typically costs more than those collected by AIS land-based stations.

What to ask a marine data provider?

Q: How many AIS signals to you receive during a day?
Q: What’s the update frequency provided?
Q: Do you include VMS or VIIRS data?
Q what satellite systems are used to build the data sets?
Q: Since when do you collect your data in today’s format?
Q: What additional software and services to you offer?
Q: How is the data visualized?
Q: How long is the testing period & what does it cost?

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