Tampa Bay Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System (TB-PORTS)

 The Tampa Bay Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System (TB-PORTS) is a public information acquisition and dissemination technology that was developed by the NOAA National Ocean Service (NOS) in cooperation with the Greater Tampa Bay Marine Advisory Council PORTS, Inc (GTBMAC).  The system was deployed and commissioned in 1992 and is managed and operated by GTBMAC under cooperative agreements with NOS and the University of South Florida.

 TB-PORTS includes monitoring equipment located throughout Tampa Bay that collects and integrates real-time observations of water levels, currents, wind speed, wave height, period, and direction, visibility, barometric pressure, and air and water temperatures.  This information is disseminated via a NOAA sponsored TB-PORTS web site (www.tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/ports/index.html?port=tb) and can be accessed through telephone voice service as well (1-866-TBPORTS or 1-866-827-6787). The system resides in the public domain and can be accessed and used by government agencies, industry, and the general public.

The benefits of TB-PORTS are varied and include both public and private interests as follows:

 Vessel Navigation Safety – The primary reason for the existence of TB-PORTS is the need to enhance safe navigation of commercial vessels transiting into and out of Tampa Bay.  Tampa Bay includes three separate ports with many miles of ship channels leading to the three ports and multiple public and private commercial berths. These ship channels vary in width and depth and present a significant challenge for Tampa Bay pilots and vessel masters given the increase in vessel sizes over the past decades. Pilots utilize TB-PORTS on a daily basis to safely navigate the channels of Tampa Bay, moving large commercial vessels and cruise ships inbound and outbound.  In utilizing TB-PORTS, pilots are able to confirm real-time tidal, wind and visibility information as well as analyze predicted conditions in an effort to make accurate decisions on vessel movements, or make decisions to not move vessels if the available information supports that position. TB-PORTS eliminates a significant amount of guess work for the pilots which has translated into many fewer vessel groundings and incidents within Tampa Bay since the system was established.

Emergency Planning & Response Support – Real-time oceanographic information is a vital component in responding to maritime accidents including oil spills, vessel casualties and search and rescue activities.  Actual and predicted tide, current and weather information can be utilized to facilitate a much more accurate response to an incident by directing resources to areas of need based on the information provided by TB-PORTS.  In addition to response support, TB-PORTS prediction capabilities provide a valuable tool in preparing for expected heavy weather events such as hurricanes, cold fronts and fog.  Modeling expected conditions ahead of weather events enables mariners, commercial facilities and the public to take actions to avoid damage and casualties as a result of those events.

Commercial Vessel Economic Efficiency – Maximum channel and berth drafts as well as channel transit guidelines are established for all ports within Tampa Bay by the Tampa Bay Pilots Association.  Many of the maximum channel drafts and guidelines have been determined based on the use and accuracy of the TB-PORTS information.  This information allows pilots to maximize acceptable vessel drafts, lengths, and movement windows based on tides to all berths within Tampa Bay.  The economic benefit is twofold:  extra cargo can be loaded to achieve a deeper vessel draft, and vessel transits can be completed in a more timely fashion with this accurate information. TB-PORTS has eliminated the guess work in pilotage that historically created commercial inefficiencies. Vessel movements throughout Tampa Bay can now be scheduled in advance based on both actual and predicted weather, tide, and water level data.

Recreational and Other Users – With access via the web, TB-PORTS information can be used by a variety of public recreational users including, but not limited to, commercial fishermen (including guides), recreational boaters, small entity maritime contractors, etc.  Public entities also utilize the system for data collection and modeling for various research projects.