The primary purpose of Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) San Francisco
is to facilitate the safe and efficient transit of vessel traffic in
the waterways of San Francisco Bay, its seaward approaches and
tributaries in an effort to prevent collisions, rammings, groundings
and the associated loss of life and damage to property and the
The secondary purpose of VTS San Francisco is to provide
assistance to other Coast Guard units in the accomplishment of their
missions, such as search and rescue, maritime law enforcement, and aids
VTS San Francisco is responsible for the safe movement of
approximately 133 miles of waterway from offshore to the ports of
Stockton and Sacramento. VTS San Francisco averages 250 vessel
movements a day.
BACKGROUND AND HISTORY
Jan 1968 - HARP Formulated: The Harbor Advisory Radar
Project (HARP) was formulated in January 1968. The purpose of HARP was
to evaluate land based radar in maritime traffic control. San Francisco
was selected as the site of the first project, in early 1969, due to
the well developed Coast Guard communications system in the Bay Area,
the port traffic density was not high enough to require complex data
collection and the high occurrence of fog allowed a complete evaluation
of system benefits during low visibility. It was believed at that time
that the experience gained at San Francisco Bay would be applicable at
Jan 1970 - HARP Operational: In January 1970, HARP became
operational. Located at Pier 45 Fishermans wharf in the Marine Exchange
lookout station, HARP worked on channel 18A VHF-FM. HARP was a
voluntary system of vessel movement reports. No Captain of the Port
authority was granted to direct vessel movements.
Jan 1971 - Collision: On 18 January 1971 at 0141 in low
visibility, as the HARP watchstanders looked helplessly on, the Tankers
ARIZONA STANDARD and OREGON STANDARD collide near the Golden Gate
Bridge spilling 800,000 gallons of oil into San Francisco Bay causing
extreme environmental damage and raising national publicity. This
collision resulted in the complete shutdown of port operations. The
cause of the accident, according to the NTSB was: (1) the failure of
the vessels to establish and maintain communications; (2) navigating a
narrow channel in dense fog; (3) failure of the OREGON STANDARD to make
timely radar contact; (4) Loss of radar contact by the ARIZONA STANDARD
and (5) negligence on the part of both masters. The NTSB recommended
that HARP be continued and that legislation be passed by congress
requiring the use of Bridge-to-Bridge radiotelephone.
Aug 1971 - Bridge to Bridge Radiotelephone Act: In 1971
the Bridge to Bridge Radiotelephone Act was passed by Congress. This
act requires vessels to carry a radiotelephone on the navigation bridge
to be used to communicate movement intentions to the bridge of other
vessels. Implementing regulations by the Coast Guard and Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) designated VHF FM Channel 13 as the
Sep 1971 - VTS Advisory Committee Established: In
September 1971 an advisory committee was established for the
establishment of VTS San Francisco. The purpose of this committee was
to establish traffic lanes in San Francisco Bay (the Traffic Separation
Scheme was adopted for use in March 1973), and to develop draft
regulations for the use of the traffic lanes. The committee consisted
of 10 members (tug/ferry operators and pilots/masters).
Jul 1972 - Ports and Waterways Safety Act: In July 1972
the Ports and Waterways Safety Act was passed by Congress. This act
authorizes the Coast Guard to establish, operate and maintain vessel
traffic services for ports, harbors, and other waters subject to
congested vessel traffic.
Aug 1972 - VTS San Francisco Established: In August 1972
VTS San Francisco was established and in May 1973 VTS San Francisco was
relocated atop Yerba Buena Island in the middle of San Francisco Bay.
The operating frequency of VTS was changed to VHF FM Channel 13.
1978 - Port and Tanker Safety Act: This act gave the
Coast Guard authority via the Secretary of Transportation to order any
vessel to operate or anchor in a manner to which the Coast Guard
directs if by reason of weather, visibility, sea conditions, port
congestion, or other hazardous circumstances such directive is
justified in the interest of safety.
Nov 1978: At 0845 on 5 November 1978, in low visibility
near the Golden Gate Bridge, the M/V ORIENTAL FINANCIER and F/V KAISER
collide in San Francisco Bay with no loss of life (4 persons rescued
even though the F/V was totally destroyed). VTS did not have the F/V on
radar and the skipper reported that he was not listening to channel 13.
It was determined that VTS procedures were adequate at the time of this
Nov 1980: On 2 November 1980, after VTS San Francisco took
navigational control of a charter F/V (lost in the fog), the F/V DORA
BELLA ran aground near Baker Beach vicinity Golden Gate Bridge, no loss
of life. However this incident established guidelines for navigational
control of vessels by VTS that are still in effect today (under no
circumstances does VTS take navigational control of a vessels
May 1986: On 26 May 1986, the Tanker GOLDEN GATE, while
proceeding northbound offshore (7 miles NNW of Point Reyes), collided
with the F/V JACK Jr. resulting in the loss of three lives. This
accident resulted in VTS establishing the Offshore Vessel Movement
Reporting System (OVMRS). The OVMRS was the first of its kind in the
United States. The OVMRS is used to receive vessel movement information
(course, speed and ETA's to various reporting points) from vessels
transiting through an area bounded by a 38.7 nautical mile radius
around Mount Tamalpais. The information received from vessels is
broadcast on VHF channel 12 by VTS twice an hour on the quarter hour.
1990 - Oil Pollution Act (OPA 90): This Act required that
the Coast Guard specify certain vessels must participate in a VTS. The
Coast Guard begins process to establish VTS National Regulations which
became effective October 1994.
Oct 1994 - VTS National Regulations: On 13 October 1994,
federal regulations made participation in the VTS mandatory for
power-driven vessels 40+ meters long while navigating, towing vessels
8+ meters long while towing, and vessels certificated to carry 50+
passengers for hire while engaged in trade.
May 1995 - San Francisco Bay Regulated Navigation Areas:
On 3 May 1995, federal regulations went into effect establishing
regulated navigation areas within the San Francisco Bay Region. These
regulations, developed with input from the Harbor Safety Committee of
the San Francisco Bay Region, will increase navigation safety by
organizing traffic flow patterns; reducing meeting, crossing, and
overtaking situations in constricted channels; and by limiting vessels'
23 May 1997 - Commenced operations with new VTS Upgrade
System: VTS Upgrade System includes the installation of
state-of-the-art computer digitized radar displays shown on electronic
charts. The capabilities of the new system will automate many of the
controller's duties allowing more time for monitoring traffic.
VTS YEARLY PARTICIPANTS
Type of Vessel
U. S. Navy
U. S. Coast Guard
Tugs without Tow
Tugs with Tow
* Deep Draft Statistics not recorded after 22 May 1997.
** 1997 Statistics as of 30 September 1997.
More statistics are forthcoming. Watch this space.