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INFUTURE: Smooth Inland Navigation with Advanced Fairway Technology

INFUTURE is a 3-year project funded by the CBC 2014-2020 program for Southeast Finland and Russia, which aims to discuss and explore new opportunities for cooperation and development in inland waterway transport between Finland and Russia, especially on the Saimaa inland fairway (770 km), the Saimaa Canal (42.9 km and 9 locks) and Volgo-Balt inland fairway (850 km and 10 locks). Freight traffic on the Volgo-Balt route is about 15 million tons per year and on Saimaa the total is about 2 million tons.

30 km of Smart Fairway on Saimaa

Smart fairway means marking the fairway with smart Aids to Navigation (AtoNs) with the aim of improving the safety of navigation, especially at the critical points of the fairway. Within the framework of the INFUTURE project, a suitable test area for testing smart buoys was mapped at the Saimaa region. On the Saimaa deep waterway between Savonlinna and Joensuu, in the Heinsalmi area on the Finnish side, five smart AtoNs were installed: one sector light, two leading lights and two light buoys. This Heinsalmi location for testing was chosen because it is kind of a fairway junction, fairways are narrow, and a 90 degree turn between them. These installed AtoNs are remote controlled.

In addition, within the framework of the EMMA Extension project, 34 smart buoys have been installed on the Haponlahti-Savonranta fairway section, west of Heinsalmi. On this fairway the intensity of the lanterns is remotely adjustable according to weather conditions. Now Saimaa has more than 30 km of fairways equipped with smart AtoNs, which will be studied within INFUTURE project.

As part of the INFUTURE project, AtoNs were installed on Saimaa in the end of October -> VIDEO.

SeaHow Ice Buoy Testing in the Russian Inland Waterways

It is necessary to ensure a sufficient level of navigation safety for ships in the context of the extension of the navigation period on the inland waterways of the Russian Federation. This is an extremely important task, solution of which will increase the commercial efficiency of enterprises involved in this sector, and which in turn increases the attractiveness of investments of foreign and Russian companies in the Russian water transport and enterprises. An increase in the navigation period will have a positive effect on the development of water tourism as well.

On the Russian side, two ice buoys by SeaHow (Arctia-Meritaito) were deployed for testing of the performance during the winter conditions in November. One is installed on the Neva River (Koshkinsky fairway) and the other on Ladoga (Eastern part) . These sections for the installation of the buoys were selected together with the Volgo-Balt Administration and SeaHow. The intention is to monitor the buoys throughout the winter period. Usually in Russia, buoys on the river Neva are recovered when the fall comes and deployed in the spring. In Neva, the water level can vary significantly due to many reasons. In addition, the current is strong in some places. The use of advanced technical solutions and all-year-round buoys can improve the safety of inland navigation. The Volgo-Balt Administration has on important role in developing the inland waterway system of Northwest Russia.

The aim of this pilot project is to gather information on the possibility of using buoys all year round on the Volgo-Balt waterway, thus improving safety and yet prolonging the navigation period.

Utilization of Smart AtoNs

Several hundreds of smart AtoNs have already been installed on the coast of Finland. Experiences from the past five years have been excellent. Smart AtoNs are monitored online, and the information is available for the designated persons through the Seadatics system. The system provides information, e.g. that the device is in the installed location and working. Pilots have access to the system via iPads, for example.

The light of the Saimaa smart fairway buoys can be adjusted remotely to improve navigation safety during harsh weather conditions, such as heavy rain or fog. The VTS Center (Vessel Traffic Service) and the pilots can mainly do the adjusting of intensity of certain smart buoys when necessary.

Almost any kind of sensors can be installed in the most sophisticated versions of SeaHow smart buoys. The purpose and need must be identified at the stage when manufacturing the buoys. With smart buoys it is for example possible to measure water levels, wave heights and current speed and directions. Environmental parameters can also be monitored, for example, salinity, turbidity, algae and oil spils.

Safe Navigation

There are already smart fairways in the west coast of Finland, like Rauma and Färjsundet. Smart fairway provides information for the pilots that AtoNs are available. Thanks to the use of smart AtoNs navigation is safer and more reliable. In Finland the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency decides where the AtoNs will be installed, and to whom to permit the rights to remotely control devices.

The INFUTURE project aims to study the online remote control. Saimaa VTS controls the Saimaa smart fairway. As part of the INFUTURE pilot, 39 remotely operated AtoNs installed on Saimaa area will be monitored throughout the navigation period.

A working group of experts in navigation, AtoN technology and fairway design and infrastructure has been formed at the South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences (XAMK) to simulate the same fairway area where the smart buoys are installed at Saimaa. The simulation can be used to illustrate different conditions and to collect information on the use of AtoNs and the remote control.

The Saimaa fairway is the longest piloted fairway in Finland. The Saimaa inland waterway has several critical locations, so smart buoys are highly needed from the point of view of the industry and the shipping companies. It is essential to carry out the mapping of navigationally critical locations using simulation, because in the future it will be possible to operate with 10 meters longer vessels at Saimaa.

User Experiences Are Collected

Experiences are gathered from the users in order to develop a user-friendly system. User experiences are gathered from pilots, the representatives of VTS Centers and the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency, to whom the AtoNs have been introduced and they have been concretely using them. The aim is to get support for further research and the development of smart fairways in a wider perspective.

This kind of experiment has not been implemented anywhere else before and the results of the project are expected with great interest. The testing of smart AtoNs is expected to provide information on predictability and reliability of navigation, as well as the management of the AtoN maintenance.

Finnpilot and the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency are well aware about piloting. All Saimaa pilots are potential participants in the pilot, and shipping companies are also welcomed to join. A simulation exercise will also be organised for them in XAMK, Kotka.

The SeaHow buoys have been essential on Saimaa fairways for 40 years. The modern smart buoys by SeaHow are equipped with additional features in order to improve navigation safety.

There are clear prospects for developing of modern digital technologies aimed at increasing the efficiency of transporting and improving safety navigation on inland waterways.

INFUTURE has provided a unique platform that has allowed specialists and scientists from Russia and Finland to exchange experiences and discuss about the improvements of inland water transport and safety between our countries.

Speakers of the Round Table discussions

  • Vladimir Karetnikov, Head of the Department of Navigation on Inland Waterways, Admiral Makarov State University of Maritime and Inland Shipping

  • Anatoly Burkov, Associate Professor of the Department of Water Transport Management, Project Manager INFUTURE, Admiral Makarov State University of Maritime and Inland Shipping

  • Aleksey Zaitsev, General Director, LLC NPP "Marinerus".

  • Evgeny Brodsky, Head of the Basin Communication Center, the Volgo-Balt Administration.

  • ​Seppo Virtanen, Sales Manager, Expertise in Buoying Solutions, SeaHow by Arctia (Meritaito) Oy

  • Kari Pohjola, Sales Manager, Expertise in Fairway Design, SeaHow by Arctia (Meritaito) Oy

Summary of the INFUTURE Round Tables WP2.

The Russian partners had their RT discussion 29.10.2020 and the Finnish partners 3.11.2020.

Summary of the Round Tables by Heli Koukkula-Teixeira, Executive Director of the Association of Finnish Waterways.

Photos: AFW photo bank and SeaHow by Arctia (Meritaito)


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