Baltic Marine Environment
Protection Commission

AIS and e-navigation


The Automatic Identification System (AIS) is a tracking system used on-board ships and by vessel traffic services (VTS) which was adapted to maritime use from aviation industry during the late 1990s. For vessels AIS provides information on surrounding traffic situation and supplements marine radar as a collision avoidance device.

Since 2002 amendments the International Maritime Organization’s International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) has included a requirements to fit AIS aboard ships meeting specific criteria (larger vessels and passenger vessels). The requirement was enforced with a phased-in implementation period which ended in 2008.

An AIS device integrates a VHF transceiver (sender-receiver) with a positioning systems such as a GPS and is capable to exchange standardized messages containing position, course, speed, identity (MMSI, IMO number) and other details automatically with other AIS devices within the range of the device antenna. Information provided by AIS equipment can be displayed on a stand-alone screen or an ECDIS.

In addition to vessel-to-vessel communication AIS transceivers can be tracked by AIS base stations located along coast lines enabling a real-time tracking of all AIS equipped vessels and object within range of the antenna network. This information can be stored i.a. for statistics on ship movements and identification of polluters (slick observations combined with drift modeling run in reverse).


In 2001 the Ministers of Transport of the Baltic Sea region agreed to develop a network for sharing AIS information on ship movements among all the nine coastal countries as part of the Declaration on the safety of navigation and emergency capacity in the Baltic Sea area (HELCOM Copenhagen Declaration).

In July 2005, after preparatory work the Baltic Sea coastal countries launched the, still operational, regional HELCOM AIS network which provides all the countries with the same, jointly shared, real-time view of maritime traffic in the entire Baltic Sea area. The commitment to establish regional AIS, and to elaborate statistics based on the information collected via it, is also included in the 1992 Helsinki Convention (Annex IV, Reg. 9).

Since 2005 the AIS data collected by system is stored by the Danish Maritime Administration (DMA) and also several other coastal countries have established their own copies of this regional AIS database. Regional exchange of AIS and use of the resulting historic database is specified in HELCOM Recommendation 33/1-Rev. 2 and discussed within a dedicated HELCOM expert group, the HELCOM EG AIS.


According to the official IMO definition e-navigation is “the harmonized collection, integration, exchange, presentation and analysis of marine information on board and ashore by electronic means to enhance berth to berth navigation and related services for safety and security at sea and protection of the marine environment”. E-navigation uses technologies such as AIS and ECDIS to provide a standardised global environment for various maritime services.

HELCOM has adopted the dedicated Recommendation 34/E2 to support work by coastal countries to implement e-navigation in the Baltic Sea.