What Ship Is That?

What Ship Is That?

Have you ever sat on a lighthouse, or a wharf, or a high hill and seen a ship in the distance? No radio, too far for binoculars, bad eyesight – “What ship is that?” you wonder.

Wonder no more! The Internet is full of ship tracking programs. Select one to suit your needs. You can find any ship that is required to report, anywhere in the world. I doubt you will find drug smugglers, or such like that. Let me know if you do!

The programs are listed in the order I found them – not in best to worst, etc. You take your pick. Try them all. Let the readers know in the comments section which program you found the best.

For information on how this works and was developed, see this ESRI website.

1. sailwx.info This online program is very interesting. It has information on:

Ship Tracking – All ships, Oceanographic research vessels, Tall shipsCruising yachts
Marine data – Tides, Wind, Water Temperature, Barometer, Hurricanes 

Today - November 20, 2011 - 09:00 CET

 Go to the website to see up-to-date information. The above is just a photo. When you are on the website, click and hold the left mouse button and move it around –  this will move the location of the map. Move the mouse north to move the map south – this is a bit backwards compared to Google Earth or Google Maps. Zoom in (buttons at top left) to see more detail.

For those of you interested in Coast Guard (CG) vessels, there is a list of vessels onscreen below the map (it also includes marine buoys).

To find CG vessels, type CTRL-F and in the box at upper right type CG. This will then list all the vessel IDs starting with CG and hopefully you can find the ship for which you are searching. Any other vessels, search for a name on the map or Google search for the name.


2. shipfinder.co This program presents a world map first, with all the ships listed. Zooming into an area shows the ships as small boats in different colours, and a pointed bow showing direction of travel. Buoys are marked as sticks with stripes.

From the Help file:

The Ship Finder map displays real time information on ships across the globe using a Google Map.
The map has two display modes; grid view and ship view:

  • At low zoom levels when the map is displaying a large amount of the earth’s surface, the map displays grid tiles.
    Each grid tile displaying the total number of vessels within that part of the world.
  • As the map is zoomed in and it displays a smaller amount of the earth’s surface, the map displays ship tiles.
    The ship tiles are the tiles that enable you to interact with the map.

Use your mouse to drag the screen, the scroll wheel to zoom in (more like Google Earth).

A screenshot taken November 20, 2011 at 10:15 CET


Hover your mouse over the vessels displayed on a ship tile and a balloon appears listing the MMSI and name of each vessel that the mouse is hovering over.
Click the map and that balloon will remain visible, give the map another click and the balloon will close as you move your mouse away from the vessels.
The MMSI in that balloon is a clickable link, so click the map so that the balloon remains open and then click an MMSI link and the map will display detailed information for that vessel.
The amount of detailed information displayed varies from vessel to vessel, some or all of the following data will be displayed:

  • Name
  • MMSI
  • Location
  • Speed
  • Course
  • Draft
  • Width
  • Length
  • Callsign
  • Destination



3. marinetraffic.com This website allows you to select what type of ships you want to see from a list on the left. Items such as Passenger Vessels, Cargo Vessels, Tankers, High Speed Craft, Tug, Pilot, etc., Yachts & Others, Navigation Aids, Unspecified Ships, Ships Underway, and Anchored/Moored. That is very convenient.

There is also a box to check for My Fleet. You can mark your favourites and follow them around the coast, or the world if you wish.

Screenshot from November 20, 2011 at 11:00

Again, clicking on a ship brings up the name of the ship and lots of information about the vessel. Ships are shown with a pointed bow and are also placed on shipping routes.

A nice program that even allows you to search for a ship by name, but be warned, you have to know the general location of the ship, otherwise you will get an Out of Range reply to the request.

One other thing that it does not do is list ships sitting in marinas or harbours. I was informed that the Thomas Crosby V was sitting in Ventura Harbour, Ventura, California, USA, but no ships are shown in the harbours. 

This program has a few more lists to help you out: Ports, Vessels and a very nice Gallery of ships. There is a large database of photos there. A very good program indeed. See a screenshot of some of the photos below:


There are also some specialized websites listing only company vessels. One of these is BC Ferries (British Columbia Ferries) in Canada which has a link to their ships here, and a link to weather conditions here. Another is Danaos Corporation Shiiping Lines which has a map here.

This website lists Marine Charts of the world – check out GeoGarage.


 I have only listed programs that show worldwide statistics. There are many other programs available that show just local areas, like this ShipAIS which is specific to the UK.

I said in the beginning I would not rate the programs, but in my opinion the last two programs are better because they use Google Maps to show the data. This is great because it shows harbours, buoys, and lighthouses.

Be aware, these programs are not navigational aids, but they are educational, and the more information shown the better I think. Opinions? Other websites?

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Retired (2001) British Columbia lighthouse keeper after 32 years on the lights.

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