Navigation Center
United States Coast Guard
U.S. Department of Homeland Security

Vessel Traffic Services

The purpose of a Vessel Traffic Service (VTS) is to provide active monitoring and navigational advice for vessels in particularly confined and busy waterways. There are two main types of VTS, surveilled and non-surveilled. Surveilled systems consist of one or more land-based sensors (i.e. radar, AIS and closed circuit television sites), which output their signals to a central location where operators monitor and manage vessel traffic movement. Non-surveilled systems consist of one or more reporting points at which ships are required to report their identity, course, speed, and other data to the monitoring authority. They encompass a wide range of techniques and capabilities aimed at preventing vessel collisions, rammings, and groundings in the harbor, harbor approach, and inland waterway phase of navigation. They are also designed to expedite ship movements, increase transportation system efficiency, and improve all-weather operating capability. 

VHF-FM communications network forms the basis of most major services. Transiting vessels make position reports to a vessel traffic center by radiotelephone and are in turn provided with accurate, complete, and timely navigational safety information. The addition of a network of radars, AIS, and close circuit television cameras for surveillance and computer-assisted tracking, similar to that used in air traffic control, allows the VTS to play a more significant role in marine traffic management, thereby decreasing vessel congestion, critical encounter situations, and the probability of a marine casualty resulting in environmental damage. 

The Coast Guard operates 12 Vessel Traffic Centers (VTC): Prince William Sound, Puget Sound, Valdez, Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles/Long Beach, Houston-Galveston, Berwick Bay, Louisville, Saint Mary's River, Port Arthur, Tampa, and New York.

CLICK HERE to visit the VTS Locations page with a clickable map that will display each VTS operating area description and links to user manuals & homepages (if available). If you're looking for a quick reference guide, please see our 'VTS Radio Procedures'.

Vessel Traffic System Map


Note: VTS Louisville is only operational during high water.