Currently, traffic flow is relatively placid in New York Harbor. There aren’t any major dredging or construction projects going on in the harbor that can affect the already-complicated traffic situation that is the norm here. Compared to other ports in North America, New York is 3-D and high-definition in nature. This requires some adjusting.

Back in the pre-AIS days, there was often a non-stop game of Liar’s Poker that everyone took part in. VHF channel 13 was where the poker hands were played. You never knew for sure, unless you had direct visual contact, who was telling the truth and who wasn’t when it came to vessel location and speed. We essentially policed ourselves to manage the order of passage into, out of, and through the various interconnecting waterways and docks that make up New York Harbor.

While this might sound nefarious, and it sometimes was, in many ways it was just mariners who were trying to avoid getting caught in a predicament. With many docks requiring slack water, or nearly so, to safely approach and moor or depart from them can be really complicated, especially when traffic density is high. Traffic bound for Long Island Sound tries to time a slack-water passage of Hell Gate, a narrow tidal strait located in the East River. Add in the no-meeting/no-passing requirements that usually go with maintenance dredging or channel deepening projects, then the difficulty and tensions can ratchet up significantly. Anyone who has been around long enough to have experienced the reconstruction of Manhattan’s FDR Drive along the East River a decade ago understands what I’m referring to.

Pushing a big load of alternating traffic through Hell Gate today involves AIS information displayed on an ECDIS or ECS plotter. It took away the ability to fib a little (or flat-out lie) about your exact location and speed when angling for an advantage in the necessary turn taking, which is how we manage ourselves. But is the information that you see so convincingly displayed on the plotter really what is happening out there? Or are you being lied to again? Ah, that Techno-Rapture.