AIS is an automatic tracking system used on ships and by vessel traffic services. It provides information such as identification, position, speed, and course of ships, enhancing maritime safety and the protection of the environment. By broadcasting these details, AIS aids in avoiding vessel collisions and assists in the efficient navigation of crowded sea lanes.


How Volunteers Make a Difference

Through volunteer’s dedicated involvement in the AIS Voluntary Observing Ships Program, volunteers actively enhance our understanding of the marine environment. It supplements the ongoing scientific efforts to gather comprehensive data across the world’s oceans. 

One of the primary advantages of incorporating volunteers into scientific observation programs is the significant expansion of geographic coverage. The oceans, covering more than 70% of the Earth’s surface, present a vast area for monitoring. Volunteers, aboard their vessels, reach remote and otherwise inaccessible regions, thus filling critical gaps in global data collection. This widespread coverage is indispensable for creating a more complete picture of the oceanic conditions worldwide.

By providing observations from regular and diverse locations, they increase the density of data points available for analysis. This abundance of data enriches the quality of research, allowing for more precise and reliable conclusions. Volunteers undergo training to ensure that the data they collect meet established scientific standards, contributing to the overall integrity of the data pool.

The data collected by volunteers are integral to the improvement of weather forecasting models. Accurate and timely marine and atmospheric observations allow meteorologists to predict weather events with greater precision, thereby aiding in the preparation for and mitigation of severe weather phenomena. These data contribute to climate studies, offering insights into long-term climate patterns and changes. Through their observations, volunteers play an important role in enhancing our ability to respond to and understand meteorological and climatic shifts.

The program enables the collection of necessary oceanographic information. This includes sea surface temperatures, salinity levels, and biological indicators, which are important for understanding ocean currents, marine ecosystems, and the overall health of the oceans. Volunteers support a broad spectrum of aquatic sciences, from biological to chemical oceanography, contributing data that might otherwise be costly or challenging to obtain.

It enhances navigational safety by providing detailed and up-to-date information about maritime conditions. This information helps in the effective planning of safe routes, thus reducing the risk of accidents at sea. The data support the international efforts to safeguard marine environments from pollution and other human-induced hazards.


Getting Involved

The initial step towards involvement in the VOS Program is expressing interest. This can be done by contacting the national meteorological service, hydrographic office, or the designated VOS Program coordinator in your country. These organizations act as liaisons, connecting interested parties with the international bodies overseeing the VOS initiative. They provide important information, address inquiries, and guide potential volunteers through the preliminary process.

Potential volunteers are briefed about the type of data needed, how it should be collected, and the frequency of reports. They are informed about the training process, the equipment required aboard the ship, and how to properly use it to ensure data accuracy. Understanding these elements is important for volunteers to assess their capacity to meet the program’s needs and maintain the quality of contributions.

AIS Voluntary ShipFollowing a clear understanding of the program’s requirements, the next step involves equipping the vessel with the necessary instruments for data collection. While many ships are already outfitted with AIS technology, additional equipment might be needed for specific observations, like atmospheric or oceanographic measurements. Guidance on acquiring, installing, and utilizing this equipment is provided by the coordinating bodies. This ensures that all participating vessels are adequately prepared to contribute valuable data to the program.

Before officially starting their contributions, volunteers receive training. This might include online courses, manuals, and instructions on how to record and report observations accurately. The training ensures that volunteers are confident in their roles, understand the importance of their contributions, and are capable of collecting high-quality data. This preparation is fundamental to the success of the program and the reliability of the information gathered.

With the training complete and the vessel properly equipped, volunteers are ready to start making observations. This involves regular recording of environmental data according to the protocols learned during training. Participants report their findings through designated channels, ensuring the information is shared with the scientific community and relevant authorities promptly.

The culmination of the volunteer’s efforts is the sharing of data with the national and international databases. These platforms ensure that the collected information is accessible to meteorological organizations, research institutions, and other stakeholders. The process of data sharing is streamlined and secure, allowing for the efficient integration of new data into ongoing research and operational platforms.

Every observation made by VOS volunteers has the potential to create ripples that extend far beyond their immediate impact.  The extensive data collected provides policymakers and conservationists with the evidence needed to make informed decisions. This can lead to the implementation of more effective maritime policies, the designation of marine protected areas, or the development of strategies to combat marine pollution and protect endangered species.

The VOS Program fosters a spirit of global collaboration and shared responsibility. By bringing together volunteers from around the world, it emphasizes the collective effort required to address global challenges such as climate change and maritime safety. This collaborative approach builds a sense of global community and mutual support among participants.

Climate change, marine pollution, and declining biodiversity are just a few of the challenges that underscore the need for comprehensive oceanic data. Through initiatives like the AIS Voluntary Observing Ships Program, volunteers have a unique opportunity to contribute to a sustainable future for our oceans and our planet.

Whether you’re a seasoned mariner or a newbie to the nautical world, there’s room for you to contribute to this monumental scientific adventure. 


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  • State Perspectives of AIS and Maritime Surveillance
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  • How Navies Use AIS
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