Playing ‘what ship is that’ on the Harbour

Sydney Harbour with ship info.

If you live near, or are just visiting, a harbour there’s nothing more fascinating than watching the ships go by and contemplating the exotic places they have been. But now you need wonder no more, you can find out exactly which ship is what. That may rob the situation of some fantasy and romance, but it provides a great deal of real information to chew on.

Live Ships Map at is part of an academic, open, community-based project. It provides free real-time information to the public, about ship movements and ports, mainly across the coast-lines of many countries around the world. Call up the site and you see a standard Google map superimposed with a range of icons denoting the various types of ships. Click on a ship and you call up additional information: name, speed, next port, photograph and more.

The system relies on data coming from Automatic Identification System (AIS) transponders. The International Maritime Organization requires all vessels over 299GT to carry an AIS transponder on board; this transmits their position, speed and course, among some other static information, such as vessel’s name, dimensions and voyage details. The information is broadcast on a couple of VHF channels. Marine Traffic picks up the information and plots it onto a map. Lovely stuff.

This amazing service provided by Live Ships Map at is one of those moments when the Internet delivers on its promise to revolutionize the way we see the world. Suddenly we can see in real-time the position of all the ships on the harbour and with a click find out more about them. The service is free on the Internet and there are apps available for the usual devices.

A note to Sydney Ferries

For those who catch Sydney Ferries and have noticed the ridiculous terminals on each wharf that have for years now been promising real-time GPS positions for the ferries, this website may be the ultimate irony. I say Sydney Ferries should buy an Ipad for each wharf and glue it to the terminal while it runs the Marine Traffic app – problem solved for a couple of hundred dollars a wharf.

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