EMA's BlueTraker Vessel Monitoring System

Ema's BlueTraker solution is our winner. This is currently the most cost effective, reliable and forgery safe VMS/eLogbook system on the market, as it offers an all integrated VMS, plus eLogbook satellite terminal for efficient capturing of reporting data communication. This solution is designed with cost efficiency and limited budgets in mind. The system effectively helps in preventing overfishing in the Mediterranean by cross-checking the positions of the fishing vessels detected by VDS (space-based radar imagery) with position reports from VMS. While IUU fishing destroys marine habitat and puts a lot of regional local fishers in a difficult position, battling for survival, these latest technology advancements enormously limit IUU activities.

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Cost Effective VMS

As the switching from GPRS over to satellite channel and vice versa is seamless, fishing vessels that mostly navigate in coastal waters incur much less communication cost than they would if the communication was done via satellite channel only.

Safety Enabled VMS

 By installing the Distress Selective Call button (a sort of SOS button) as a standard, the fisherman is in a position to alert the FMC operator about a distress situation onboard (extreme weather, water ingress, fire onboard, pirate attack etc.)

Secure & Environment Friendly

BlueTraker  terminals do not need antennas and antenna cables to be connected to secure the system against the geo-position forgery. An integrated back-up battery enables up to 72 hours of operation even when the vessel’s battery is switched off or the ship’s electrical power is down. Any attempt to cut the cable to the terminal or opening an enclosure is immediately detected and reported to the Fisheries Monitoring Centre.

Vesel Monitoring System - VMS

In the last ten years it has become more and more widespread to monitor fishings fleets around the world via satellite. Different continents have different specific rules but always the same target in common – to track and monitor fishing vessels.

What is a Vessel Monitoring System (VMS)?

A VMS uses electronic transmitters, placed on fishing vessels, that transmit information about the vessel’s position to enforcement agencies via satellite. This allows regulating agencies on land, monitoring such transmissions, to determine if a vessel is in a closed area.


Vessel Monitoring System

Vessel monitoring systems (VMS) are used in commercial fishing to allow environmental and fisheries regulatory organizations to monitor, at minimum, the position, time at a position, course and speed of fishing vessels. They are a key part of monitoring control and surveillance (MCS) programs at the national and international levels. VMS may be used to monitor vessels in the territorial waters of a country or a subdivision of a country, or in the Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZ) that extend 200 nautical miles (370.4 km) from the coasts of many countries.
Detail of VMS approved equipment and operational use will vary with the requirements of the nation of the vessel’s registry, and the regional or national water in which the vessel is operating.

There are several factors related to the implementation of VMS, including the variety of equipment types and associated costs, vessels’ ability to carry VMS, VMS operating requirements, vessel coverage, and collaboration with traditional enforcement techniques.

Fisheries Management Center

Software at the fisheries management organization looks for several pieces of information:

  • location vis-a-vis restricted area
  • time at sea
  • time in restricted area, possibly separating fishing and transit time by speed

Vessel Monitoring System (VMS)

A restricted area may be closed for all purposes, open to transit, open to fishing for a specific period, or open to designated vessels only. Vessel speed is often the way its status is determined in lieu of direct observation. Some VMS directly report speed, or speed can be calculated by FMS software based on the time stamps of different position reports. A rule of thumb in scallop fisheries, for example, is that the vessel cannot be dredging for scallops if its speed is greater than 5 knots (9 km/h).

FMC software can note the time a vessel leaves and returns to port, and the time it is inside or outside designated areas. There may be restrictions on trip length, time in an area, etc., which can be calculated directly from VMS data. Other observations may require correlation of catch reports with the vessel’s presence in given areas. Presence in other areas may require an onboard observer.

Individual regional, national, and international FMCs have different levels of software intelligence, which can detect patterns of interest to SAR, fisheries management, or law enforcement.

Fisheries monitoring center of the waters being fished

Countries with registered fishing vessels that employ VMS generally agree to set up a Fisheries Monitoring Center (FMC), which has a data network connection to the FMCs of other states. This flag state principle requires all vessels, registered in a given state to transmit their positions automatically to that state’s FMC. When the vessel enters the waters of a different state, the home FMC must forward the report of the vessel’s entry into those waters to the foreign state FMC. Until the vessel leaves the foreign state’s coastal area, the home FMC must forward to the foreign state FMC the position, speed, and course reports at least every two hours. Exchange of data between VMS servers within the EU is regulated by the European Commission to be formatted according to the NAF FORMAT, originally devised by NAFO and subsequently adopted in a slightly different format by NEAFC. VMS servers outside of the EU may optionally also use the NAF format due to its widespread use within the EU. Data is usually transmitted using HTTPS protocol either by an HTTP Post or an HTTP Get request. Other protocols such as X.25 have historically been used but are in decline.
If position reports unexpectedly cease from a vessel, the FMC for the ocean area from which the last signal was received must attempt to contact the vessel or the flag state FMC without delay. Since VMS reports are sent automatically, it is possible that there is nothing wrong with the vessel itself, only the VMS. A full search and rescue (SAR) operation should not be launched simply because a VMS report does not arrive, although it is reasonable to alert sea surveillance assets, such as radars, that might be able to find the vessel. Fishing vessel crews should check the VMS at reasonable intervals, and confirm it is working.
While the procedure will vary with the jurisdiction, if an at-sea vessel finds their VMS is not working and they cannot fix it, they may be able to contact the FMC and get permission to continue the voyage. If they do get such authorization, they may get an inspection when they return to port. The FMC may also order them back to port. It is unlikely they will be allowed to leave port again without the VMS being repaired, so that they may need 24/7 VMS technical services at their home port.
Position reports received by the FMC should be forwarded automatically to the FMC of the vessel’s registry. FMCs and other organizations, such as SAR and research, which receive VMS data must comply with confidentiality agreements. All recipients of data are also in accordance with agreements obliged to handle the data they receive in a responsible manner.

Safety Benefits of VMS

VMS can also aid in search and rescue operations. VMS itself can help in search and rescue (SAR), especially when the SAR organization participates in the Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS).

vms fishing vessel going down

VMS fishing vessel going down

Some VMS have built-in Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRB), although a dedicated VMS unit may not be able to have an emergency beacon that automatically floats to the surface and starts transmitting when it detects it is in salt water. At the very least, the SAR agency can get a last reported location of the vessel, and perhaps its course, from the FMC.

In November of 2008, F/V Costa & Corvo capsized approximately 115 miles east of Cape Cod Massachusetts.

“Fortunately for the crewmen, we were able to locate the boat using VMS and the Mary K was nearby and able to assist,” said Petty Officer 1st Class Scott Leazott, a search and rescue controller from Sector Southeastern New England.

The EU system for fisheries controls

The Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) is a satellite-based monitoring system which at regular intervals provides data to the fisheries authorities on the location, course and speed of vessels.

VMS is nowadays a standard tool of fisheries monitoring and control worldwide, but it was the EU which led the way, becoming the first part of the world to introduce compulsory VMS tracking for all the larger boats in its fleet.


VMS Fishing Vessel

EU VMS network already includes over 21,000 fishing vessels over 15m in length.

The EU legislation requires that all coastal EU countries should set up systems that are compatible with each other, so that countries can share data and the Commission can monitor that the rules are respected. EU funding is available for Member States to acquire state-of-the-art equipment and to train their people to use it.

Under the European Union legislation, VMS is a legal requirement for vessels in excess of 15 metres. By 1999, Europe had 7000 vessels, in excess of 15 meters, under VMS. Since 2005, all Community vessels automatically transmit vessel identification, date, time, position, course and speed either hourly or every 2 hours (if the responsible Fisheries Monitoring Centre can request positions). The only exception is for vessels that operate only inside home waters, and are used exclusively for aquaculture.
One of the challenges for European MCS is that the idea of a 200-nautical-mile (370 km) EEZ is meaningless for nations with coasts in small seas such as the Mediterranean or Baltic. In such circumstances, appropriate international agreements need to be developed to govern fishing beyond the territorial limit and thus on the high seas, but high seas that would have overlapping jurisdiction in an EEZ-based model.
There are precedents where maritime pollution already is handled on a basin basis, which might provide a framework for fisheries enforcement in international waters of a small sea:

  • Mediterranean (Barcelona Convention)
  • Baltic (Helsinki Convention)
  • North Sea (Bonn Agreement)

A recent IMO regulation requires AIS transponders aboard vessels, which transmit identifier, name and position of vessels not limited to fishing. Another approach might involve either AIS, or the more finely grained VTS, agreements that use coastal radar to monitor ships in and beyond coastal waters. This allows a transport vessel, for example, to be tracked in the small sea.
Another cross-check could involve current EU RADARSAT ScanSAR imagery, correlated with transponder information, such that only radar images of ships without active transponders display to enforcement personnel. At present, however, inspectors on aircraft or surface patrol vessels may not have real-time access to satellite imagery. Currently, the fusion of VMS, radar (satellite, aircraft, or coastal) has to be done at an operations center ashore. Another complication is that enforcement organizations for such things as spill monitoring are not concerned with issues such as illegal fishing.
In order to coordinate the policy making and enforcement efforts the CFCA – Community Fisheries Control Agency in Vigo, Spain has been established. The operational cooperation between Member States is organized with Joint Deployment Plans (JDPs). In order to support the JDPs, CFCA is operating a Vessel Monitoring System that in its first two years of operation (2009–2011) has exchanged 8 million VMS messages from 4520 vessels of 49 Flag States. The VMS software used by CFCA is vTrack.

VMS technology allows commercial fishing boats to communicate with shore while allowing regulators to track the vessel’s movements from port to the open ocean and back.

VMS use electronic transmitters to transmit information about the vessel’s position via satellite.

VMS obviously is part of fisheries enforcement, but, along with other systems, it can be part of overall sea surveillance. When a radar or other sensor detects a given vessel, VMS can tell the center that monitors the radar whether the radar target is a known fishing vessel. There may be correlation between AIS/VTS and VMS.

Technologies and components

VMS involves technology on the vessel itself, ashore, and communications between them. In addition, there may be additional communications from the Fisheries Management Center (FMC) of the vessel’s country of registry, and regional or national FMCs of the waters in which the vessel is fishing.

Functions aboard the vessel

The most basic function of a VMS is to determine the vessel’s location at a given time, and periodically send this information, usually by satellite, to a monitoring station ashore.[1]
VMS components on the vessel sometimes are called VMS, or sometimes Automatic Location Communicators (ALC). These minimally include a GPS antenna and receiver, a computer (which may be embedded or user-supplied), and a transmitter and antenna appropriate for the communications that links the vessel to the flag center.
In practice, many of the VMS components also have applicability, along with non-VMS marine electronics, to a wide range of functions aboard a fishing vessel. These include navigation, finding fish, collision avoidance, routine voice and email communications, etc.
Selecting a VMS system is most dependent on what vendors and models have been approved by the fishing vessel’s state of registry. If there is a choice, then consider that the greatest flexibility to add components is with a system that does not have an embedded computer. If there is not an embedded computer, however, the vessel’s owners will have to take more responsibility, perhaps through a contractor or installer, for keeping the software updated and integrating new software components without interfering with VMS functionality.
Especially when the user supplies the computer (i.e., the VMS consists of the radio gear and software only), VMS often have, in addition to the pure location transmission function, some level of fusing the various data sources with electronic charts.

Various brands of VMS software and devices for the fishing vessel we can find on the market:

  • Absolute Software
  • AMS
  • Argos CLS
  • AST Ltd
  • BlueTraker
  • Bluefinger/Thales
  • Boatracs
  • Free Port – Eye from a skyFaria
  • Skymate
  • Thrane & Thrane
  • vTrack VMS
  • Satamatics


VMS units principally rely on GPS for position and time information. LORAN may be a backup or complementary technology. They report data to monitoring systems generally using satellite systems from Inmarsat, Iridium, Argos, ORBCOMM or Qualcomm. Some nations, such as Iceland, are experimenting with coastal VHF repeaters for VMS communications.
Operated by Inmarsat plc, originally founded by governments but now commercial, Inmarsat has a constellation of geosynchronous communications satellites.
Iridium uses a constellation of 66 Low Earth Orbit satellites to provide complete global coverage (including all ocean regions and both poles) with real time coverage.
Argos uses Low Earth Orbit European and US satellites in polar orbit, which is an especially appropriate orbit for vessels operating in high latitudes.
Skymate uses Orbcomm LEO satellites, which is optimized for machine-to-machine communications, potentially at lower cost than voice-capable satellite systems. They operate in the VHF and UHF bands, and have demonstrated an AIS capability.
Qualcomm provides access to the Iridium satellite systems.
BlueTraker uses both GPRS and Iridium constellation to provide the biggest flexibility and the lowest communication costs. The BlueTraker is a stand alone device fully integrated including the antennas, the communication modules and a back-up battery. It is also e-logbook ready.




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  • The Best Vessel Monitoring System
    EMA Ltd. Slovenia has been selected by us as a provider of the best integrated Vessel Monitoring System (VMS) for fisheries management on the market. EMA
    Posted on March 6, 2012