COASTAL SECURITYNew Geo-Tracking Buoys Make a Splash During Live Test Events

Published 6 April 2024

New rugged buoy technologies equipped with Automatic Identification Systems aim to help the U.S. Coast Guard mark and track objects in the water.

Recent years have seen an uptick in the use of geo-tracking technology, which has become so widespread and affordable that we are able to attach small trackers to car keys or luggage to find them with our smartphones. The Science and Technology Directorate(S&T) is working with the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) to develop buoys with improved geo-tracking technology for mission specific field use.

Instead of looking for car keys, USCG crews can use this technology to find and mark critical locations or objects in the water using buoys deployed from air or surface vessels. These could include stranded boats, contraband, or hazardous waste that are required to be reidentified after initial search and rescue or interdiction efforts are complete. The two new buoy systems, created by S&T industry partners, are moving into the final round of testing this year after successfully completing functional tests in 2023.

Building a Better Buoy
The USCG handles thousands of cases each year, each potentially involving the deployment of numerous supporting assets necessary to complete those missions. After the initial response efforts, ocean currents and associated weather conditions can carry away watercraft or other manmade materials from the original incident site. This presents a challenge for USCG crews since those materials left behind can become navigation hazards in busy shipping lanes or involve illegal goods. During a drug interdiction, for example, suspects will often throw contraband overboard while fleeing. Determining where these illegal materials are located is an essential part of gathering evidence and protecting the nation’s coasts; therefore, finding them quickly is key.

“The availability of accurate, real-time geo-position data is critical in verifying the drift and motion of items of interest and assisting in the planning of a search and rescue or other response mission,” said Edwin Thiedeman of the USCG Office of C4 & Sensors Capabilities.

“S&T is working closely with the vendors, USCG subject matter experts, and operators to deliver more capable buoys to support multiple USCG missions. These new improved buoys will provide the USCG with much improved accuracy and reliability to execute their important maritime missions,” stated Ron McNeal, S&T Silicon Valley Innovation Program (SVIP) transition director.