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Old 09-06-2017, 9:03 PM
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Default Port Entry Procedures & radio traffic

Hi Everybody,

I spent some time this weekend checking out the entrance/exit to the Chesapeake Bay. Some of what I found made sense, and some seemed to follow a different standard. I wonder if someone familiar with Hampton Roads (or the entry procedures of another port) might have some insight.

Here's what I've learned:

1 - Virginia Pilot Assoc. will call out to approaching ships (at a point where they think they'll be in radio range) on Ch-16. Some answer at first, some don't--another attempt will be made later. As well as I can tell, these calls are often made before ships enter the approach lanes to the Bay, but the ship is probably visible to AIS. Once contact is made, the ship is asked to switch to Ch-14, where various factors are discussed possibly including its maximum draft, anticipated time for pilot boarding and scheduled arrival at its destination. The Pilots Assoc. is already aware of the PLANNED times via the ship's agent. After initial contact, the ship is asked to guard 14 & 16, and call Va. Pilots an hour prior to its expected arrival for pilot pickup. Pickup instructions will be given at that time.

2 - I am hearing no calls at all to or from Maryland Pilots Assoc., who must provide Baltimore-bound ships with a bay pilot, and who are headquartered next door to the Virginia Pilots in Lynnhaven Inlet. This is a change from what I've heard in the past. I believe that I've heard Virginia Pilots speaking to Baltimore-bound ships, so there must be some coordination between the agencies.

3 - When the ship is approaching the pilot boarding area, they will contact Va. Pilots on 14, and receive their estimated pickup time and boarding instructions. For ships in a Hampton Roads anchorage, such as the one off Cape Charles, VA a pilot will go to the ship and take navigational command before it gets underway.

4 - Once a pilot has boarded a ship and is ready to get underway he will call Norfolk Joint Port Operations (sometimes referred to as "Jayhawk Tower") on Ch-12. This is why you always hear American English from these ships. Once he's announced his intentions, he will be asked for the ship's IMO number, it's last port of call, the number of people onboard, and if all are in good health. If the answers suit--and they usually do--the ship will be given permission to transit to its destination in the Port. NOTE: Most often, I'm finding that this permission is asked and given when the ship is close to the COLREGS/Inland demarcation line. The entry channel (Thimble Shoals) begins right around here.

5 - I'm also hearing some clearances to 'enter the regulated area.' Judging by the position of those ships at the time permission is given, they appear to be near or outside the two buoyed approach routes from open sea to the Chesapeake Bay. I'm assuming that the 'regulated area' must be these approaches.

So far, I haven't found recordings of the same ship getting two sets of permission to enter, although I'm not a resident of the area and could be missing something. I did this research over a couple of days. I'm wondering if there's a dual-permission situation in place, or if certain circumstances require some ships to contact the port for permission to enter the further reaches before (I'm presuming) they have a pilot aboard.

I'd be interested to know what's known of procedures in ports like Hampton Roads that are close to open sea. Having trouble researching this online.

73/Allen (N4JRI)
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Old 10-01-2017, 8:14 AM
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That's really good info to have, next time down that way I will be setting up to listen to that marine radio activity. Thanks for posting..... sorry I can't help with anything.
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Old 10-02-2017, 12:16 PM
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That's really good info to have, next time down that way I will be setting up to listen to that marine radio activity. Thanks for posting..... sorry I can't help with anything.
Please do! 156.600 (Ch-12) is where the primary mysteries will be solved.

Some general info that's come up:

1 - Looking at nautical charts via the app iSail GPS, I keep finding numbers with several decimal places as references to various restrictions, rules, etc. These turn out to be sections in the Code of Federal Regulations, Title 33. Look up that same number under Title 33 CFR, and you get some info.

2 - Also helpful are NOAA pubs called US Coast Pilot. Book 3 involves the areas around me, which Book 2 may deal more than things further up the Chesapeake Bay. While these show a fairly recent date, some of their information--particularly about the upper James River--is almost laughably old. Even so, a good source of learning for this non-mariner.

NOTE: All this is available in PDF. I've been able to download individual excerpts from these publications directly to my iPad.

3 - 33 CFR 165 describes a very large 'regulated area' at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay outside the Colregs demarcation line. Am not sure if ships need permission to enter the approach lanes, because super-panamax's and carriers using the two-way deepwater approach are simply advised to give a security call on Ch-16 when they intend to use it. It may be that the permission is only needed for parts of the 'regulated area' that are outside the marked approaches.

However, anything over 65' is required to get permission to anchor anywhere in the regulated area that isn't a designated anchorage on the charts. I need some time to sit down and absorb exactly what some of these areas are. This dichotomy my explain why I wasn't hearing that much talk about the 'regulated area'

4 - What I'm experiencing in terms of radio traffic is that anything involving offshore comms is not going to be available to me in port--at least not with a mobile or portable antenna. While I can hear Port Control communicating with ships who are inbound from the Pilot Area, I can't pick up the site where they're talking to ships offshore. Need to be near Virginia Beach for that. I may have to wait until weather gets cold (and rooms get cheap) to visit Virginia Beach and properly solve the rest of this. In the meantime, it's fun working the puzzle.

73/Allen (N4JRI)
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Old 10-02-2017, 1:17 PM
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Default Port Entry and radio traffic

Very interesting stuff ! Please keep it up.
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Old 10-03-2017, 6:46 PM
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Very interesting stuff ! Please keep it up.
Yes, please keep it up.
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Old 10-13-2017, 1:04 AM
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Okay, mystery largely solved. Was in Virginia Beach last night, and combined recording with ship tracking to get a picture of what takes place.

1 - Regulated Navigation Area (offshore) - This is an area running across the entire Virginia shoreline from the border with Maryland to the border with North Carolina, extending eastward to the 12-mile territorial limit. Vessels of 300 gross tons or more must have permission to enter, meet certain requirements, observe speed limits at certain places, and are subject to any orders which may be given by the Captain of the Port (Hampton Roads) including being boarded. Ships are also subject to this if they are coming from another US port. This is all per 33 CFR 165.501. I found an NPRM for this dated 2003, where the stated purpose was to permanently codify some restrictions that had been applied in the wake of 9/11. Ships in this area would guard 156.800 (Ch-16) and are probably also in contact with Virginia or Maryland Pilots and guarding 156.700 (Ch-14). I have hard the Joint Harbor Operations Center hail them on both channels, using 156.600 (Ch-12) as the working channel for conversation between harbor control and ships. Ships primarily guard Ch-16 & 14 in this area. They will switch to guarding 13 & 16 when they cross the demarcation line with their pilot aboard.

Vessels asking permission to enter from sea are asked to provide their IMO #, destination, last port of call, number of persons aboard, and if all persons aboard are 'in good health.'

AIS tracking showed that the vessels I saw anchored offshore were all outside this regulated area, and that they were near, but outside the boundary when receiving permission to enter. Ships sailing up and down the east coast appear to stay outside this boundary when in transit. The only ones I saw enter, were entering the two approach lanes to the Chesapeake Bay.

2 - Regulated Navigation Area (inland) - The regulation has a detailed description, but essentially it's everything south of Cape Charles, all of Hampton Roads, and the Elizabeth River south to the I-64 bridge in Chesapeake. Extends up the James River to the US17 "James River Bridge" in Newport News, just west of the shipyard. Vessels of over 300 gross tons must get permission to transit into the harbor from the Colregs/Inland demarcation line near Cape Henry, and to transit outward from their berth in port. This is also done on 156.600 (Ch-12) in port. This same channel is used for harbor control at Little Creek, and at Fort Eustis. The Norfolk Naval Station uses 156.700 (Ch-14) for internal port control. Fort Eustis is outside the Inland Regulated Navigation Area.

3 - Both Virginia and Maryland Pilots Assoc. (co-located in Lynnhaven Inlet) will periodically hail ships which are due. Ships are fairly distant when contact is first made. I was able to locate a couple ships on my AIS app. At the time of initial contact, one was in international waters opposite the VA/NC state line, and the other was in international waters off Cape Charles (south end of Eastern Shore). During this contact, ships are asked for their ETA to the pilot boarding area off Cape Henry, and their maximum draught on arrival. They are asked to contact their pilots association 1 hour prior to estimated boarding, at which point a boarding time and location will be determined. Initial contact is on 156.800 (Ch-16) and working channel is 156.700 (Ch-14). After initial contact, ships are advised to guard both 14 & 16.

So things seem largely worked out. I would've liked more ships to track, but made the mistake of recording Ch-12 only. This provided a lot of information, but ships were rarely addressed by name on the working channel. Most of the mention of names is during the hail on Ch-16. If JHOC doesn't read back the IMO #, I have no idea what ship I'm getting the info on and can't find its location.

Will hope to take another shot at this later on. Room prices are now plummeting in VA Beach.

73/Allen (N4JRI)

Last edited by n4jri; 10-13-2017 at 1:09 AM.. Reason: cleanup
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Old 10-13-2017, 8:55 AM
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Great rundown! That's pretty involved compared to what I hear living next to the Inter Coastal Waterway but with no major commercial ports near by.

I often hear pleasure craft calling local marinas for docking instructions and making service requests.

We do have draw bridges which talk to vessels about opening but one by one they are being replaced with high bridges.

Seatow is active as a "AAA" on the water, and they also have an automated radio check setup on one of the marine channels.

Thanks for sharing what you have heard and figured out.
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Old 10-23-2017, 9:15 AM
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I entered many ports in west Africa on Offshore Supply Vessels and Well Stim vessels while working in the offshore oil industry there. Our company would make preliminary arrangements for port entry through an agent which would notify port authorities of our E.T.A. Upon arrival at a designated point, generally a few miles south of the sea buoy, I'd call Port Control on VHF ch 16. They would then have me switch to an alternate freq to ask the usual questions; my draft, last port of call, number of personnel on board and nationality. They would instruct on which side to deploy my pilot boarding ladder and what speed to proceed at. English was always the language used whether it was Luba, Equatorial Guinea, Lagos Nigeria or Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire.
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Old 10-26-2017, 3:31 AM
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Originally Posted by KN4EQG View Post
I entered many ports in west Africa on Offshore Supply Vessels and Well Stim vessels while working in the offshore oil industry there. Our company would make preliminary arrangements for port entry through an agent which would notify port authorities of our E.T.A. Upon arrival at a designated point, generally a few miles south of the sea buoy, I'd call Port Control on VHF ch 16. They would then have me switch to an alternate freq to ask the usual questions; my draft, last port of call, number of personnel on board and nationality. They would instruct on which side to deploy my pilot boarding ladder and what speed to proceed at. English was always the language used whether it was Luba, Equatorial Guinea, Lagos Nigeria or Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire.
There's every indication that this is also true here. Comms with the Pilots Associations frequently refer to arrangements with shipping agents, and some of the comms with the Harbor authorities do as well. Tug company comms generally include fairly accurate estimates of ship arrivals. In this age of data communications and satellite phones, I feel pretty lucky that VHF radio carries as much info as it does!

I also notice that there are no references to HF comms in any of the sources I've found. I guess the satellite phones pretty much trump that.

73/Allen (N4JRI)
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Old 11-30-2017, 7:26 PM
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Was in VA Beach for 3 days over Thanksgiving on the 9th floor of the Hilton. Lots of traffic. I concur with what n4jri has gleaned. One thing I did notice was that once contact was established on 16.....the Maryland Pilots would go to 14 and give directions on where and when to pick up pilots ("have ladder 1.5 meters above water with heaving line). Didn't catch where they stopped, but the Virginia Pilots went to12 and seemed to stop vessels between buoy 14 and 16 of Cape Henry to pick up pilots.

Eugene KG4AVE.
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Old 12-07-2017, 5:58 AM
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Originally Posted by Eugene View Post
Was in VA Beach for 3 days over Thanksgiving on the 9th floor of the Hilton. Lots of traffic. I concur with what n4jri has gleaned. One thing I did notice was that once contact was established on 16.....the Maryland Pilots would go to 14 and give directions on where and when to pick up pilots ("have ladder 1.5 meters above water with heaving line). Didn't catch where they stopped, but the Virginia Pilots went to12 and seemed to stop vessels between buoy 14 and 16 of Cape Henry to pick up pilots.

Eugene KG4AVE.
That's funny, Eugene. I was staying at the Travelodge on 28th St. (3rd floor) that Friday night/Saturday morning. Spent most of Saturday investigating rustbucket bulkers on the Southern Branch. Will email you about something related.

73/Allen (N4JRI)
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Old 12-08-2017, 10:45 AM
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Down here in SC, I've heard traffic from ships in the 8 MHz (USB) range on HF. Usually the conversation sounds like a land-based station on the coast talking with a ship a good ways off the coast. I guess it's some kind of long-range calling.
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Old 12-08-2017, 12:26 PM
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Almost the same procedures here where i live in Brownsville Texas,before a ship can come in to port here it has to set off shore and wait while Customs comes aboard and give inspection before preceding in to the Port of Brownsville......
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Old 12-09-2017, 1:38 AM
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Down here in SC, I've heard traffic from ships in the 8 MHz (USB) range on HF. Usually the conversation sounds like a land-based station on the coast talking with a ship a good ways off the coast. I guess it's some kind of long-range calling.
Any specific freqs popular? I don't see anything spelled out in the stuff I was investigating, but most of that activity takes place within VHF range. I understand that a lot of the sailboat crowd use HF a fair amount.

73/Allen (N4JRI)
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