By David Prince, Director, CHS Pacific Region
The products and services of the Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS) are used continuously by all mariners throughout Canada to aid navigation. Whether it’s a chart, Sailing Directions or Tides and Currents Tables, these essential products are the output of the dedicated professionals who work for CHS.
Founded out of the tragic loss of the SS Asia in Georgian Bay in 1882, the Government of Canada took over the responsibility of surveying and charting Canadian waters from the British Royal Navy. The first Canadian surveys on the West Coast occurred in Burrard Inlet in 1891, with a permanent Pacific office being established in 1907 in Victoria, to manage West Coast operations. Today’s CHS is part of Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s Oceans and Ecosystems Science Sector and is located at the Institute of Ocean Sciences in Sidney, B.C.
CHS focuses on three areas: 1) collecting highly accurate bathymetric data and tidal measurements; 2) management of data to make it accessible for many other purposes in addition to navigational products; and 3) production and publication of products and services to aid safe and efficient navigation.
Hydrographic surveys are conducted by a variety of means. CHS utilizes the Canadian Coast Guard ships which are equipped with multi-beam echo sounders that provide complete bottom coverage when gathering depth data. Similar technology is employed on smaller CHS vessels which are used for near shore surveys. CHS also utilizes the private sector to conduct LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) surveys from airplanes. This technique can measure depths of water up to 30 metres in ideal conditions, and can cover large areas of shallow water very quickly.
An important component of surveying is the measurement of tides. As the water levels are always changing, it is essential to correct survey data by reducing the depths collected by removing the tide component from the survey data, so that the chart can be referenced to a common low water datum. From there, the mariner will apply the tide level to derive the actual available depth at any given time. This is extremely important in areas where there is a low under keel clearance or where vertical clearance is tight. The ability to maximize the underwater and vertical clearance can be critical to a port in determining the maximum size vessels that can be accommodated. To measure the tides, CHS has a network of 16 permanent tide gauges around the province and establishes additional gauges in areas where surveys are being conducted.
These tidal measurements are critical for developing long-term observations which are used to develop annual Tide and Current Tables. CHS now has tidal data streamed via AIS directly to users, so the mariner has accurate, real-time data in addition to predictions.
The products the mariners are most familiar with are the CHS charts. Traditionally, these have always been available in a paper format but over the past couple of decades, navigation charts have also be produced in two digital forms, an Electronic Navigational Chart (ENC) in the vector based S-57 format to be used in conjunction with an Electronic Chart Display Information System (ECDIS), or a raster-based BSB type used in an Electronic Chart System commonly used by recreational boaters. All of these chart formats are based on the same source data and produced within a Hydrographic Production Database system. This database allows for the incorporation of updates issued as Notice to Mariners to ensure chart information is current.
Over the past few years, CHS has also developed highly detailed, large-scale ENCs at the request of clients in specific ports where situational awareness is critical. Working closely with clients, CHS has compiled these products to ensure the required level of detail is shown to aid critical navigation decisions during docking and undocking evolutions.
What navigators have come to rely upon is the high quality of CHS products and services. As CHS products are a mandatory carriage requirement under the Charts and Nautical Publications Regulations of the Canada Shipping Act, there is an inherent duty to ensure they are as accurate as possible. CHS has always employed a quality control system to ensure the highest quality, but this system was formalized in 2001 when CHS became International Standards Organization (ISO) certified.
CHS currently is certified to the ISO 9001:2015 standard and follows a set of quality management principles. These principles ensure we: are responsive to clients; consistently deliver valued products and services; analyze and make decisions based on risk management; achieve continuous improvement through innovation and adoption of best practices; and have an organizational commitment to have a rewarding and healthy workplace. These principles allow CHS to achieve its mission to provide up-to-date, authoritative and standardized hydrospatial information.
As mariners navigate around the world, it is important to have standards for the products they use for navigation. CHS represents Canada within the International Hydrographic Organization, a body that brings together maritime nations to standardize its products and services. This intergovernmental consultative and technical organization, established in 1921, supports safety of navigation and the protection of the marine environment. CHS leads and participates in all the major technical committees and working groups to ensure Canada is well positioned with advancing technology.
Hydrography is a science which is continually advancing. New technological developments drive the industry, in terms of how CHS collects information, supplies data and how mariners use these products and services to navigate safely. In addition to the latest LIDAR technology CHS uses, we are advancing the field of Satellite Derived Bathymetry, using spectral imagery to determine coastline changes and detect shoal areas. This is especially useful in areas of continual change, or in frontier areas that have not been surveyed in detail, allowing for effective planning to conduct safe surveys.
Another source of information that CHS is gathering is Crowd Source Bathymetric data. This is the collection of depth measurements from vessels, using standard navigation instruments such as an onboard echo sounder while engaged in routine maritime operations. CHS has limited ability to gather data itself, so utilizing data gathered by others, applying quality control and verifying repeatability, all add to the confidence in the data to help fill in gaps in bathymetric coverage. Though in its infancy, the potential data stream is enormous. This presents challenges in managing the data, but also presents possibilities in acquiring data in areas we may not be able to get to.
The next advancement in products for mariners will be the new S-100 framework of digital products. This will replace the existing S-57 vector-based chart products with a new series of products based on a transfer standard and multiple product specifications. This standard will allow integration of many useful data layers, such as high definition bathymetric surfaces, water level information, surface currents, maritime limits and boundaries and marine protected areas to name just a few. These combined with other sources of information will allow the user to have a comprehensive e-Navigation solution.
With Canada having the longest coastline in the world, the Government of Canada recognizes the importance of Canada’s oceans. The Oceans Protection Plan (OPP) announced in November 2016 aims to improve marine safety and responsible shipping, provide for the protection of Canada’s marine environment and offer new possibilities for Indigenous and coastal communities. Towards this goal, the CHS is receiving in excess of $110 million over a five-year period to address specific issues.
The Oceans Protection Plan is an advancement of our core program to deliver better information to mariners. There are four pillars that CHS is addressing within OPP. The first is to conduct modern surveys and produce ENCs in 23 highest priority ports. This involves CHS conducting multibeam surveys to today’s standards of accuracy and incorporating this data into chart products. Of these 23 ports identified nationally, 13 of them fall within B.C.
The second project requires CHS to conduct high resolution nearshore surveys in high-priority areas. Most areas of B.C. are surveyed and charted to some degree, but certain sensitive areas are poorly charted. A focus within B.C. will be Haida Gwaii and areas of the north coast.
The third pillar will be to deliver dynamic products and services. There are three components to this, the first being modernization and standardization of the tide gauge network. The second piece is the nationalized operationalization of both observational data and ocean-model forecast delivery systems (real time and forecast tides). The final piece is developing a continuous vertical datum model to more efficiently collect and manage bathymetry.
The fourth and final pillar is surveying and charting in the Arctic. Utilizing Coast Guard icebreakers and capacity within the private sector, CHS will increase its modern hydrography in key areas. This data will aid the increasing vessel traffic that navigates in the Canadian Arctic.
Though the Canadian Hydrographic Service has been surveying and charting Canadian waters for 137 years, there is still much to do. Mariners who now navigate with GPS have the ability to position themselves more accurately than the surveys that were conducted before the advent of GPS. With the need for highly accurate, high definition, real-time data, CHS is improving the products and services we supply. The use of new technology and evolving product lines will well position CHS to meet the future needs of mariners. By providing products and services which aid safe and efficient navigation, CHS is enabling Canada’s economy.