Sailors! keep an eye on the arch

A couple of young  entrepreneurs from Barcelona have designed a new model of lighthouse to solve the current problem with seaport signaling.

Landfall lights are no longer the primary source of navigation due to the increase in reliable radio and satellite navigation systems (GPS).

However, sailors still need traditional light beacons in the last miles before entering a port. This final maneuver has become more and more difficult due to the fast urbanization of the coast, as lighthouses become harder to distinguish against an increasing luminous background. (They can be confused with light from buildings, logistic warehouses or even traffic lights).

view of ABO1 in Barcelona port. c)Carolina Sainz

In order to solve this problem, two Barcelona entrepreneurs and sailing lovers, Álvaro Ortiz and Leandro Martinez-Zurita, came up with the idea of an arch-shaped beacon. The design of the AB01, patented and commercialized by the founders of Archbeacon, was thought to help sailors to identify clearly the position of the docks when entering the port.

The first model of AB01 was installed at the port of Barcelona in 2007 and since then it has been highly welcomed by members of the sea community , including the port authorities, mariners and fishermen.

One month ago,  Zurita and Ortiz signed an agreement with U.S Tideland Signal Corporation – the world’s leading manufacturer of marine aids-to-navigation- to expand its AB01 internationally. Tideland is considering to install ABo1 in main ports of the world, like Panama and Singapore.

We are convinced AB01 is a solution to increasing problem with background lighting”, commented Paul Burford, executive vice-president of Tideland, during a recent visit to the factory. AB01 is assembled by Lamicat, a fiberglass manufacturer based in Tortosa, a small sea town 200 km south of Barcelona.

“Mariners find it harder to locate the port entry , especially in those experiencing a lot of growth, like container ports or old harbors that become busier and were not designed with most efficiency” , added Burford.

In its June guidelines, the International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities (IALA) recommended the archbeacon as an efficient tool to improve safety in ports. IALA recognizes that “with the proliferation of built up shorelines and consequent increase in light pollution, the mariner often has difficulty in detecting and identifying AtoN lights against background scene of general lighting and individual bright light sources”.

Leisure ports can also benefit from Archbeacon. In ports like Dubai, ” lots of large luxury vessels entering the harbor are not familiar with the area”, reminds Burford. Leisure ports also deal with an increasing number of inexperienced sailors. “The risk of a ship crashing should be minimized because its environmental impact is too big”, says Burford.

Proliferation of ports and light background pollution affects all kind of navigation, from small sailing boats to container vessels. Alessandro Fabbri, owner of Alma sailing tours, remembers the first time he approached the port of Premià de Mar, one of the leisure ports that mushroomed in the Northeastern coast of Spain in the last decade, he mistook the lighthouse for a traffic light. “We only understood it was a traffic light when the light turned orange”, explains Fabbri.

Zurita, 33, explains that a luminous arch-shaped beacon helps mariners to understand where they are located and where they shouldn’t be, because if the ship is diverted, the vision of the AB01 turns elliptical.

“We were surprised by the positive reception given to the AB01 by the sea community in BArcelona”, says Zurita. Despite initial technical and financial problems, AB01 has also gained the informal support from the Port Authority of Spain. Last September, the company installed its AB01 in the docks of the port of Algeciras, one of the three busiest ports in Spain, and connection point from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic ocean.

The first version of AB01 was made of steel, but the high cost led them to change for fiberglass. “Fiberglass is the most resistant material outdoors”, explains Carles Gil, technical supervisor at Lamicat. The AB01 is composed by two ho modulated pieces of fiberglass connected by a juncture on the top, and then hooked to the dock floor. Nowadays, Tideland technicians are working together with Archbeacon to improve the design of AB01 and make its process of installation easier, so it can be assembled by ordinary port workers around the world, with no need to send an engineer from Spain.

The design of the AB01 includes methacrylate plaques to cover the LED semiconductors that provide the intermittent lighting, red or green. It has a capacity up to 400 watts but it can also use energy from the solar panels installed on the dock floor. New models will probably include the solar panels installed in the arch. “In some places like Panama or North Africa, reliable power cannot be guaranteed”, says Martínez- Zurita.

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