A tech-savvy team

At the Port of Montreal, new technologies are handled by a full team deployed across several facility management sectors.

Jean-Luc Bédard

Navigation électronique
Project steered by Jean-Luc Bédard
Harbour master of the Port of Montreal

Every vessel that navigates up the St. Lawrence River is guided, from Les Escoumins on, by a seasoned pilot who knows every bend and shoal of the blue highway inside out. These pilots’ advanced knowledge and the high-performance tools they’ve mastered ensure safe, efficient navigation for visiting vessels.

As of a few years ago, St. Lawrence pilots bring their own sophisticated navigation and communication equipment with them when they board vessels. They simply connect their laptop to the pilot outlet for instant access to the information needed for safe, well-informed navigation, such as navigation notices and information on water levels, buoys and ice. This is added to the database of information on the ship’s position on the river, her speed and her course as well as any other vessels’ course. In short, the pilots have real-time access to the traffic on the river.

In the past, pilots used the vessel’s radio communication equipment, which varied widely from one ship to another. Also, voice communications seriously limited the format and volume of information that could be transmitted. “You have to admit it was hard to send a map out loud,” laughed Jean-Luc Bédard.
Nowadays, before boarding, St. Lawrence pilots connect to Fisheries and Oceans Canada’s electronic network, and download the latest navigation notices: a certain buoy’s light is not working, a shoal has been detected, etc.

Certain other vital information, e.g., water levels, is sent in real time. Bédard and his team are proud of their results and keep pushing the envelope; soon pilots won’t even need to download this information, as it will be streamed to them the instant it is updated.
The electronic navigation project is still underway and a lot of new features are coming in the near future. To be continued …

Frédéric Pelletier
3D dock inspection
Project steered by Frédéric Pelletier
Geomatics specialist and project manager in the IT department

At the Port of Montreal, the personnel who carry out dock inspections are revelling in a 3D representation of underwater docks. It lets them stay nice and dry in their tugboat cabin, make an initial diagnosis of the structure’s overall condition, and in turn better plan the work to be performed and optimize divers’ tasks in problem areas.

“As part of a pilot project, we combined three technologies: a multibeam echosounder (MBES), a terrestrial laser scanner (LiDAR, for Light Detection and Ranging) and a high precision GPS positioning system,” explained Frédéric Pelletier, project manager in the Port of Montreal’s IT department.

Traditionally, divers inspect the submerged part of a dock. This often exposes them to tough conditions, including high current flow, poor visibility due to the water’s turbidity, etc.  Over the past year, this situation led the Port of Montreal to look into the combined use of sonar and terrestrial laser scanners.

The challenges in using these technologies mainly involve the accuracy of the positioning of the points collated. Also, the software to be used must be analyzed for its processing and comparative analysis in both time and space of the results that emerge from the inspection data.

The result of the test carried out with these new tools takes the form of a 3D representation of the infrastructure, accompanied by a series of 2D representations that are familiar to specialists in infrastructure projects. This report provides improved accuracy. “For the first time, the engineers responsible for planning maintenance work have complete perception of the dock façade, from the riverbed to the above the dockwall,” said Pelletier.

Au Port de Montréal, les intervenants des inspections des installations de quais disposent d’une représentation 3D des quais submergés, tout en restant bien au sec dans la cabine de leur remorqueur. Ils peuvent ainsi établir un premier diagnostic global de l’état de l‘ouvrage, ce qui leur permet de mieux planifier les travaux à effectuer et d’optimiser les interventions des plongeurs dans les zones problématiques.

François Valiquette

Robotic surveying Instrument
Project steered by François Valiquette
Technical officer, department of information resources at the Port of Montreal

Last summer, François Valiquette, technical officer in the department of information resources, had to survey the top of Berth M6 in preparation for its resurfacing.  For planning purposes, the exact size and elevation of the surface to be repaved were needed.

To carry out his job, Valiquette was joined by his faithful companion, his Robotic Total Station surveying device made by Topcon Positioning Systems (TPS).  Among other things, this robotic device is equipped with a lens mounted on a tripod, giving it all the appeal of an old-school camera even though it is manufactured by the famous German firm Leica.  Valiquette installs his properly centred and levelled device on a specific fixed point of the surface to be measured. He then moves away from it to sweep the surface step by step, holding in his hand a computer that acts as a notebook and communicates with the device through a wireless communication protocol. 

As Valiquette moves, carrying the handheld computer attached to a telescopic crane equipped with a 360° prism, the device’s lens follows him, continually measuring the angle, distance and elevation separating them. The prism reflects the TPS Robotic Total Station’s light beam and returns it, like a screeching bat, to record the sound waves from its echo.

All Valiquette has to do is record the spatial coordinates on the handheld computer each time he stops at specific points on the surface. Criss-crossing the surface this way enables him to track the surface level contours.

“It’s very resistant and tolerates low temperatures. I’ve seen it work in winter with an inch of ice on the surface,” said Valiquette in praise of his measuring device. “This robotic instrument also provides highly accurate information,” added the technical officer, who admits to being a stickler for accuracy. They were definitely made for each other.

Gaétan Vigneault
Wi-Fi for sailors
Project steered by Gaétan Vigneault
Director, information technology

Sailors of the world are spreading the word: there’s free Internet aboard ship at the Port of Montreal!

Since stopovers in port are getting shorter and there are fewer crewmembers than in the past, sailors don’t always have time to set foot on land. Stuck on board, they sometimes go for weeks without contact with their families. That is why, since December 2011, the Port of Montreal has been earning a reputation as a great port of call for sailors to reconnect with their children, spouse and friends on Skype, or send out news by email. The service is available 24/7 year-round.

Every week, the Port of Montreal sends a new username and password to the marine carriers, who pass it on to their vessels arriving in Montreal; this keeps the wireless network exclusively reserved for the sailors, so there is never a slowdown caused by too much traffic on the bandwidth.

The Port of Montreal already had a network of antennas covering its 40 km territory, from Cité du Havre to Contrecoeur, to provide electronic navigation and communications among the port’s working groups, such as security services. On average, the crews visiting Montreal log on 24 times a day, with several sailors using each connection.


Luc Dumontier

Automated shoal mapping
Project steered by Luc Dumontier
Supervisor, information resources

Twice a year, the Port of Montreal’s fleet team takes soundings and combs the depths of port waters to ensure that nothing gets in the way of visiting vessels, such as rocks carried by the current or silting.
To carry out the inspection, a 12.2 meter-wide sounding rod attached to a towing platform is lowered to the riverbed floor, and systematically combs around the docks. When it comes to a mass, it is raised over it, notifying the presence of a shoal through a pulley system and indicators connected to a ruler on the craft. Until recently, shoal readings were done visually: a person watched the indicator’s movements on the ruler and shouted the results to a colleague, who recorded the gradients measured.

Since 2012, shoal readings have been done automatically and much more accurately. Readings were automated by means of sensors installed at each end of the pulley system and indicators. The measurements are then localized with a highly accurate GPS compass.

The available water depth is calculated, recorded and instantly displayed on a colour screen. Intake software then makes it possible to post and print the survey maps. “It’s like I’m combing the riverbed with my ship!” said Michel Dufour, supervisor, marine works and floating equipment, and captain of the Denis M, the port’s tug. “In a single day, we head out on the water, we take soundings, and we record, process and post the final shoal detection results.”

Areas in gray on the screen show where the water depth provided by the Port of Montreal is actually there; the red zones indicate shoals.

The multibeam echosounders and the sounding rod are both used at the same time. The latter can’t be fooled by the tall grasses that sometimes rise from the riverbed and that echosounders often mistake for a solid floor. The sounding rod also validates the assured water depth quite close to the docks, where multibeam echosounders are subject to inaccuracy du to the noise of the sound signal.

On the other hand, the rod can’t detect the real water depth, i.e., the volume of water beneath it, a task that multibeam echosounders easily carry out during an annual bathymetric sounding operation. Clearly, the two tools complement each other.