E-Navigation technology helps move more cargo

Laurence Benn, Senior Engineer for OMC International

Delegates attending the ACPA Annual Conference learned about an innovative aid to navigation that allows for the transportation of more cargo, more safely, more often in ports and on waterways.

In a session entitled What the Future Holds for Canadian Ports, Laurence Benn, Senior Engineer for OMC International, discussed his company’s Dynamic Under Keel Clearance System. DUKC is a dynamic electronic-navigation system that can predict in real time the critical vertical component of navigation – what you cannot see under the water, or under-keel clearance – during an actual transit. Over the past 22 years, OMC has specialized in the implementation of DUKC systems around the world.

To be more precise, under-keel clearance is the vertical distance between the lowest part of a ship’s hull and the seabed. A common rule in many ports calls for an under-keel clearance that is 10 percent of a ship’s draft.

“That rule has to allow for a lot of unknowns,” Mr. Benn said. In any particular port or waterway, those unknowns can include wave motions, vessel squat (the hydrodynamic effect of lower pressure pulling a ship down as it moves), vessel heel (the tilting of a vessel from side to side), the effects of water levels and tides, channel depths, currents, manoeuvrability requirements, vessel speeds and vessel drafts.

Safety, throughput and efficiency

DUKC is a science-based, data-driven, risk-mitigation tool used in “the decision-making process to help ports, waterways and pilots better manage safety, throughput and efficiency,” Mr. Benn said.

DUKC integrates real-time:

  • hydro/meteo data (information on the state of the sea and weather conditions),
  • high-density bathymetric data (information on the depths and shapes of underwater terrain),
  • real-time AIS (Automatic Identification System for identifying and locating vessels)
  • and advanced hydrodynamic modelling (a tool that is able to describe or represent the motion of water) and ship motion modelling directly into under-keel clearance decision-making.


In practice, the DUKC computational engine collects as much information as possible about a particular vessel, its route and its passage plan, and information on waves, tides, currents, water density, wind, barometric pressure, AIS and depth surveys.

It feeds all of that information in real time into a series of models and scientific methods of analysis, combining data and analytics to produce intelligence. This provides useful information for a port or waterway to mitigate risk, increase sailing windows and maximize drafts. By optimizing the use of the water column, ports or waterways increase cargo throughput.

“Using the dynamic system has seen major increases in drafts,” Mr. Benn said. “The Port of Lisbon, in Portugal, for example, gets a metre of extra draft not through dredging but by making use of the information available.”

Mr. Benn said that the Port of Dampier, in Australia, gets about 60 cm of extra draft by using the DUKC system, which translates into an extra $300 million per year in cargo throughput (each additional centimetre of draft represents an extra 150 tonnes of cargo aboard a vessel). In Port Hedland, Australia, an additional 65 cm of draft gained by using the DUKC system means an extra $340 million per year in throughput.

In Montreal, too

“Here in Montreal, we are going through the process implementing a dynamic system on the St. Lawrence River,” Mr. Benn said. “It is expected that we are looking at about an extra 12 cm of draft just by making better use of information that we have.”

The DUKC system also can be used to help better plan dredging. By using the dynamic approach, the Port of Taranaki, in New Zealand, was able to achieve $15 million worth of dredging with $1.5 million of actual dredging and using the DUKC system. Port Hedland, Australia, used the DUKC system for high-spot dredging that increased drafts by 71 cm.