Shipping Lanes and Regulations

The ocean is a highway for ship traffic, and highways require rules. Shipping lanes and regulations keep ships organized by guiding them on established “roads” and indicating the direction the traffic is moving. Different types of “roads” and zones exist for straight traveling, turning, and avoiding collisions. Staying within these routing measures often means steering clear of endangered species, wrecks, coral reefs, and other areas.   So why should ocean planners pay attention to the Shipping Lanes and Regulations data set?

  1. You wouldn’t build a wind farm in the middle of a fairway. These areas are the highways of the ocean. Planners should look at both this data set as well as AIS data to see where ships are going in the ocean and to stay out of the way.
  2. It includes some ecological and military data. Often, fairways are designed to go around areas that are ecologically important or designated military areas.
  3. The U.S. Coast Guard determines these fairways. These areas have been chosen to keep ships and the ocean’s inhabitants out of harm’s way, and ships prefer to follow them.

Quick Caveats. With the potential for offshore wind development, more routing measures may be required to help ships navigate around development areas safely. The U.S. Coast Guard is the authority for developing these measures, often working closely with NOAA Office of Coast Survey cartographers who design the lanes and regulations. When necessary, Coast Survey surveys the area for wrecks, shallow areas, and other hazards before these proposed new lanes are finalized.

Data-Source Experts
Kyle Ward, Navigation Manager Southeast, Office of Coast Survey, NOAA

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