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Testing Virtual Nav Aids

The US Coast Guard is tasked with keeping American waterways as safe as possible, and one of the latest manifestations of that responsibility is the development of ‘virtual’ nav symbols designed to show up on electronic charts and AIS monitors.

The agency is currently testing 25 virtual aids to navigation (dubbed eATON) in the San Francisco Bay Area, to enhance existing three-dimensional buoys and day markers. "Don’t worry," said a CG spokesman, the buoy system will not be replaced by these virtual aids." They are simply being added to the pool of info that skippers will have at their disposal in order to make recreational boating and commercial vessel traffic safer. 

According to the Coast Guard, "The eATON are being transmitted through the Coast Guard’s Nationwide Automatic Identification System (NAIS) for display on ships’ electronic charting systems and radar. . . These eATON currently mark reporting points in the offshore traffic separation scheme approaches to San Francisco: the ‘SF’ buoy that serves as the San Francisco bar pilot embarkation point, and Mile Rocks Light and Harding Rock buoy, which mark a critical turn point for ships in the Central Bay." Bridge towers on the western span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge will also be virtually marked — no doubt an addition made in light of the 2007 Cosco Busan tower collision, where 53,000-gallons of oil were spilled into the Bay on a foggy day.

"There is no better place to evaluate this technology than the challenging waters of San Francisco Bay," said Capt. Gregory Stump, commander of Coast Guard Sector San Francisco, "and we look forward to receiving feedback from local mariners on how we can improve this service.”

For additional info on eATON initiatives, please visit You may send feedback on the virtual aid program to here.

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