Topical matters

Planning and Reporting of Testbeds in the Maritime Domain

1.    General Information

Name of the testbed: Western River Electronic ATON Joint Technical Capabilities Demonstration

Location:  Mississippi River from Upper Mississippi River Mile 857 to Lower Mississippi River Mile 155


Status: in preperation

Contact: Mr. Dave Lewald,

Testbed website:

Initial Organisations: United States Coast Guard (USCG)

Initial funding:


2.    Executive summary



3.    Testbed Information

Description of Western Rivers:

The Western Rivers marking system differs from the U.S. Aids to Navigation System due to the unstable nature of the river waters and channels.  The Coast Guard operates this system on the Mississippi River from Upper Mississippi River Mile 857 to Lower Mississippi River Mile 155; its tributaries including all or portions of the Arkansas, Green, Missouri, Monongahela, Ohio, and Tennessee River; South Pass and Southwest Pass to the navigational demarcation lines dividing the high seas form harbors, rivers and other inland waters of the United States.  The biggest differences in the Western Rivers marking system are:

  1. Buoys are not numbered and shore structures are not numbered laterally
  2. Numbers on shore structures indicate mileage from a designated point (normally the river mouth)
  3. Diamond-shaped non-lateral daymarks, red/white or green/white as appropriate, are used instead of triangular or square lateral daymarks where the river channel crosses from one bank to the other
  4. The conventional direction of buoyage, for the purpose of installing the proper aid signals, is upstream.  Local terminology however, refers to the “left” and “right” banks viewed from a vessel proceeding downstream
  5. Lights on the right descending bank show single flashing rhythms and may be green or white.  Lights on the left descending bank show “group-flashing-two” rhythms and may be red or white
  6. In pooled waters (behind dams), buoys should mark the nine-foot contour for normal pool elevations
  7. In unstable waters (free-flowing rivers), buoys should mark the project depth for the prevailing river state.  Buoys may be set in deeper water when a drop in water level is predicted.  Buoys should not normally be set, however, in water depths less than the project depth when a rise in water level is predicted.  Constantly changing river conditions prevent strict design guidelines.  Unit Commanding Officers and Officers-in-Charge must use their best judgment concerning the number and placement of aids
  8. Isolated danger marks are not used

Description of Testbed:

The Automatic Identification System (AIS) is an autonomous and continuous broadcast system that exchanges maritime safety/security information between participating vessels and shore stations.  In addition to providing a means for maritime administration to effectively track the movement of vessels in coastal and inland waters, AIS can be a means to transmit information to ships in port or underway that contributes to navigation safety and protection of the environment.  The intent is to transmit this additional information from shore-side AIS base stations in a binary message format as part of an overall e-Navigation (e-Nav) strategy.

Since 2007, the United States Coast Guard (USCG) Research and Development Center (RDC) has been working on an AIS Transmit Project to determine what additional information is required by AIS users, recommend how the information should be transmitted, and test the transmission of this information at test lab sties.  This information is transmitted using AIS Application Specific Messages (ASMs).  Several standard ASMs have been defined and prototype methods developed for message creation, routing, queuing, transmission, and monitoring.

An initial Inland River test bed was established by RDC in Louisville, KY in October 2011.  This test bed evolved through two phases, and tested the generation and transmission of information to users on the Ohio River.  This information includes environmental data (wind, water levels, and currents) as well as lock queue information.  Message reception was limited to the range of the base station located in Louisville, KY.  Further work was done by RDC in support of the United States Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) in 2013-2014 to develop an AIS transmit capability using USACE’s network of AIS Aids to Navigation (ATON) transmitters located at the locks and dams operated by USACE.

The Western River Electronic ATON Joint Technical Capabilities Demonstration (JCTD) builds upon this previous work and expands upon it.  The test area will be expanded to include most of the Ohio River and part of the Mississippi River.  E-ATON and electronic Maritime Safety Information (e-MSI) will be provided to mariners in the test area by the USCG and USACE.  The USCG will document the performance of the e-ATON test system and user community responses.

Goals/Purpose of the JCTD:

The goals of this demonstration are to:

  1. Inform the Coast Guard of the policy and authority requirements to provide safe navigation information
  2. Develop a test scenario and test plan that will allow the Coast Guard to distribute selected navigation and e-MSI information to mariners through Coast Guard and Army Corps infrastructure.
  3. Identify how information moves now and make recommendations on how to move information more efficiently, including crossing Agency boundaries.
  4. Develop a communications plan to collect feedback from the marine community during the demonstrations.

To meet these goals a test bed will be established and operated in the Ohio River area for at least 12 months.  Prior to establishing the Ohio River Demonstration, all system and processes will be tests in a RDC Test Lab.  This Test Lab will be maintained during the Ohio River Demonstration to assist with any troubleshooting needed during the course of the Demonstration.

Functional Capabilities:

The Ohio River Demonstration will utilize the USCG base station at Louisville, KY and the USACD AIS network installed at the locks and dams on the Ohio River.  This demonstration will be augmented with additional AIS ATON transmitters and base stations to improve coverage.  AIS messages to be transmitted during the demonstration include:

  1. Type 21 ATON reports (physical, synthetic, and virtual ATON),
  2. Types 4, 20, and 23 management messages, and
  3. Type 8 broadcast binary using environmental, waterways management, geographic notice, linked text, and ATON discrepancy ASMs.

Both government and civilian AIS users will be involved in the demonstration.  During the demonstration, the AIS network will be monitored to document the system’s performance.  Feedback from the AIS users will be collected during the demonstration to document effectiveness.

The type of user group/s involved in the test


Details of e-Navigation gap/s considered for the testbed


The category of e-navigation gap/s considered in the testbed


Details of e-navigation solution/s considered in the testbed


The category of e-navigation solution/s considered in the testbed


Links to similar / relevant testbeds



 4.    Testbed methodology

Methodology used for data collection


Summary information on testbed respondents / participants

To be presented


 5.    Testbed results

Summary of findings

To be presented


 6.    Conclusions and recommendations


To be presented


To be presented


7.  Publications

Report available for download here


 8.    Reference material

To be presented