The Role of AIS Data for Shippers & BCOs to Get Full Container Tracking & Visibility

The Role of AIS Data for Shippers & BCOs to Get Full Container Tracking & Visibility

Ocean freight visibility would be nothing without the technology tools and systems that contribute to the tracking of container ships. AIS data, or automatic identification system data, is one of those sources of information that end-to-end visibility depends on. Tens of thousands of ships and hundreds of thousands of other vessels use AIS worldwide for reasons outside of freight tracking, as AIS wasn’t originally created for this purpose. It does, however, play a vital role by working behind the scenes to visibility solutions like VIZION to help shippers, BCOs, and intermediaries know exactly where their freight is.

What is AIS and AIS data?

AIS is a system for transmitting and receiving basic vessel information between ships, from a ship to shore, or ship to satellite. It was originally designed to provide a safety measure for locating vessels and for collision avoidance. Today, it also offers valuable information for supply chain reporting and analysis. With the intent of increasing transparency surrounding ocean vessels, the International Maritime Organization (IMO) in 2004 began to require certain vessels to use AIS devices—ships of 500 GT (gross tonnage) or more, ships of 300 GT or more traveling internationally, and passenger ships regardless of their size. For comparison, the largest container ships can have a gross tonnage of well over 200,000 although GT numbers range in the tens of thousands for most cargo ships.

Vessel AIS transceivers use VHF (very high frequency) marine radio to send several types of data in their transmissions. Static information is sent out every six minutes or as requested and includes IMO number, name, call sign, dimensions like length and draft, and estimated time of arrival to a specified destination. Dynamic information includes navigational status, position, speed over ground, and course over ground and must be refreshed every few seconds to give the most accurate picture of a vessel in motion. The course over ground (COG) is the actual path traveled, a standard measurement for the vessel’s course that removes the complexity of factors like current and wind. In other words, it’s the most useful information that, when combined with location data, goes into determining where a vessel is headed and its progress to get there.

The Role of AIS Data for Container Tracking & Ocean Freight Visibility

The better the quality of data shippers and BCOs can get from ocean vessels, the more they understand about their containers on board and how their supply chains will be impacted down the line. The quality of data is essential. While some companies try to use the bare-bones updates provided by the ocean carrier, it is not practical for shippers that need data that is accurate and dependable to inform their decisions.

Unlike the information that carriers supply to shippers regarding their container shipments, AIS provides precise location data of the vessels. When delays occur, this makes it easy to detect based on the location and calculate an updated estimated time of arrival, without waiting for an update on the carrier’s website. From the location information and distance to the port where it’s headed, VIZION API uses AIS to provide an estimated time of arrival to shippers as one of two ASI milestone events the API reports on, the other being the vessel’s departure. This, in combination with thousands of event types from other sources, translates to 60 standardized milestones VIZION provides the shipper.

With this data, shippers and BCOs get a reliable viewpoint of their containers’ journey that benefits the rest of their supply chain. They can better respond to disruptions and mitigate risk. AIS also contributes to better lead times. By building out more frequent updates and ETAs from AIS data, shippers get better accuracy as to when the vessel will arrive to its destination port, which allows users to plan better. Each benefit comes down to providing a higher level of service for their customers, as supported by quality data, automation, and improving operational efficiency.

AIS Informing Ocean Freight Visibility Solutions

AIS is just one tool that contributes to better visibility for ocean freight. With a complete solution, shippers, BCOs, and intermediaries don’t need to be concerned with the details of AIS and how to manage the data and translate it into actionable information. They can power their operations with the transparency of container tracking and get the benefits of visibility and accuracy, knowing where their shipments are and when they are expected to arrive. VIZION offers this level of transparency as a frictionless API, integrating data from many sources and providing data enrichment add-ons for end-to-end visibility. Reach out to an expert at VIZION today to book a demo and learn more.

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