Vessel Traffic Systems

Isn’t VTS a close analogue to ATC?

In theory, sure. In actual practice, in the USA, not really. I don’t think I’ve ever dealt with a VTS in US waters that did anything but answer your call to check in at a certain point. Compared to the VTS services I’ve used in places like Germany, its a very different thing. A German VTS operator will give you information on any concerning traffic as well as call vessels it sees may be getting into a close quarters situation near a pilot station. They are far more proactive than any US VTS I’ve seen and more akin to air traffic controllers. I’d imagine others have had better experiences, but those have been mine.


I presume many here have experience dealing with Singapore VTIS and STRAITREP?:

1 Like

Sort of, but not in the “controlling” (ie, ensuring separation) sense that happens in aviation. Furthermore, with a couple of exceptions, VTS in the US is operated by the USCG, not MARAD.

Not sailed on the USWC much? VTS out here tends to be much more proactive (closer to the German model) than others I’ve experienced in the US, which, as you said, seemed to be little more than just a check-in.


Does my username not give it away? :wink:


It would be if:

  1. If the visibility was less than 3 miles, every single vessel from paddleboards on up was required to use it.
  2. You needed a license to use it that was over and above whatever license you needed for the boat.
  3. Their area of responsibility was anyplace the water was deeper than 6 feet and all the way to shore at any marina.
  4. You had to go where they sent you.
  5. You had to file a float plan before leaving the dock.
  6. If there were too many boats in a certain area, flow control would not let you leave the dock or maybe make you steam around in circles for awhile.

I deal with the FAA every time I even go near the airport it seems like.
AFAIK I will go to my grave without ever dealing with MARAD unless I try to get a Jones Act exemption for my foreign-built boat. MARAD is equivalent to a subset of the FAA at best, I guess the closest thing to them would be the CRAF (Civil Rererve Air Fleet).

1 Like

I mean this does happen with a VTS to an extent.

“No anchor position avaliable, please drift outside VTS area” still rings in my head from the days spent drifting off Onsan.

I had no idea that US VTS is so hands off. Try getting close to the ship ahead when transiting the Turkish straits, and VTS will be on you in a flash.

1 Like

I was a Vessel Traffic Controller for two American VTSs, once as active duty, and then as a GS-11 civilian. Both in-between these gigs, and after the 2nd one, I sailed as an oceans-unlimited deck officer. I can absolutely tell you that we gave vessels who were checked-in a rundown of all the traffic they were likely to encounter. I remember the spiel as “No reported conflicting traffic”, or else, whatever traffic they were actually, likely to encounter. Once, after a fireworks display in San Francisco Bay was over, and as the totality of SF’s ferry and dinner-boat community began to make their way back to their docks with their sated 4th of July customers, I told an inbound container ship: “No reported conflicting traffic, with the exception of 10,000 ferries.” The SF maritime community never let me forget it.

Of course, with AIS, the need isn’t as great to actually tell a check-in vessel all of the likely traffic, as much of the information we use to give them is now readily available on this device.

I’d also like to add, before the advent of AIS, a Canadian entity had done a study comparing the stress levels of VTS operators with air traffic control operators. VTS was the more stressful of the two. Think about it: air traffic controllers will see a possible, conflicting approach between 2 aircraft, and had the option to put them at different altitudes. After that, they would not need to further monitor that developing situation for the possibility of a collision. Not so VTS operators; we would have to continue to monitor two vessels approach to each other, until they became passed and clear. While also keeping an eye on every other, similar situation in your own sector. We couldn’t assign them to a different water depth!


A lot more nitwits on the water than in the air! :laughing:

Nothing personal bud. Just relaying my experience in very few places with VTS in the USA. :man_pilot:

It is also important that communication is in “Standard Maritime English”:
Use of local slang or local lingo can cause confusion as it is may not understod by everybody in charge on ships and boats within the VTS area.