What is VTS or Vessel Traffic Services ?

VTS (Vessel Traffic Services): –

Mandatory under VRS – SOLAS chapter 5 regulation 8.1

Information about VTMS available in ALRS 7

Functions: –

  • Provide “weather & navigational warnings” of local importance.
  • Provide “advice” to ships regarding dangerous circumstances along their intended route.
  • “Guide” the ships so as to keep safe distance from other ships.
  • Provide “information” to ships e.g. pilot possibility, berthing instructions etc.
  • “Pass information” on to relative services like pilots, agents, customs, port berth etc.

Constitution of VTS: –

  • Dedicated “Control room”.
  • “Remote sensors” like radars, A/S transponders etc.
  • “Communication links” like VHF, Telephone, Telex, E-mail etc.
  • “Operator Work station”: Display unit, computers, ECDIS, databank etc.


  • Radar information available to VTS can have some errors as for shipboard radar.
  • Ships labels can switch echoes.
  • VTS operator may not be trained properly.

Master shall listen/acknowledge/VTS but compliance is upto him – Legal Aspect.

Indian Scenario: –

  • Operational sand heads to Haldia.
  • Operational for Mumbai port.
You may also know :

Vessel traffic services – VTS – are shore-side systems which range from the provision of simple information messages to ships, such as position of other traffic or meterological hazard warnings, to extensive management of traffic within a port or waterway.

Generally, ships entering a VTS area report to the authorities, usually by radio, and may be tracked by the VTS control centre.

Ships must keep watch on a specific frequency for navigational or other warnings, while they may be contacted directly by the VTS operator if there is risk of an incident or, in areas where traffic flow is regulated, to be given advice on when to proceed.

SOLAS Chapter V (Safety of Navigation) states that governments may establish VTS when, in their opinion, the volume of traffic or the degree of risk justifies such services.

The development of VTS

Traditionally, the master of a ship has been responsible for a ship’s course and speed, assisted by a pilot where necessary. Ships approaching a port would announce their arrival using flag signals.

With the development of radio in the late 19th century, radio contact became more important. But the development of radar during World War Two made it possible to accurately monitor and track shipping traffic.

The world’s first harbour surveillance radar was inaugurated in Liverpool, England, in July 1948 and in March 1950, a radar surveillance system was established at Long Beach, California – the first such system in the United States. The ability of the coastal authority to keep track of shipping traffic by radar, combined with the facility to transmit messages concerning navigation to those ships by radio, therefore constituted the first formal VTS systems.

The value of VTS in navigation safety was first recognized by IMO in resolution A.158 (ES.IV) Recommendation on Port Advisory Systems adopted in 1968, but as technology advanced and the equipment to track and monitor shipping traffic became more sophisticated, it was clear guidelines were needed on standardising procedures in setting up VTS. In particular, it became apparent that there was a need to clarify when a VTS might be established and to allay fears in some quarters that a VTS might impinge on the ship’s master’s responsibility for navigating the vessel.

As a result, in 1985, IMO adopted resolution A.578 (14) Guidelines for Vessel Traffic Services, which said that VTS was particularly appropriate in the approaches and access channels of a port and in areas having high traffic density, movements of noxious or dangerous cargoes, navigational difficulties, narrow channels, or environmental sensitivity. The Guidelines also made clear that decisions concerning effective navigation and manoeuvring of the vessel remained with the ship’s master. The Guidelines also highlighted the importance of pilotage in a VTS and reporting procedures for ships passing through an area where a VTS operates.


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