Behind-the-Scenes at SF's Vessel Traffic Service

By Lisa Fernandez
|  Thursday, Feb 14, 2013  |  Updated 1:06 PM PDT
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The Coast Guard's Vessel Traffic Service command center gave NBC Bay Area a behind-the-scenes look at their operations of keeping the bay safe. Terry McSweeney reports.

The Coast Guard's Vessel Traffic Service command center gave NBC Bay Area a behind-the-scenes look at their operations of keeping the bay safe. Terry McSweeney reports.

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Photos and Videos

Raw Video: Tanker Nicks Bay Bridge

A tanker named the Overseas Reymar nicks the Bay Bridge on Jan. 7, 2013.
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It's not too often that one thinks of the Coast Guard crews vested with the responsibility of making sure that commercial vessels in the San Francisco Bay stay safe.

That is, of course, until there is an accident.

When the Overseas Reymar nicked the base of the Bay Bridge on Jan. 7, what the folks at the Coast Guard's Vessel Traffic Service do on Yerba Buena Island came back into focus.

Their job is to recommend the best and safest routes that bar pilots should take around the bay. On average, the crews oversee 250 vessels that cross their 133-mile jurisdiction.

The VTS crew is giving NBC Bay Area a rare behind-the-scenes glimpse into their work on Wednesday evening. (See video above.)

When it's too foggy, part of the  job at VTS is to warn the pilots. On the day in question, it was indeed foggy. Bar pilot Guy Kleess had been in contact with the VTS personnel that morning, according to U.S. Coast Chief Petty Officer Mike Lutz. But the exact conversation is still under investigation and has not yet been made public.

These recommendations, in part, are based on "critical maneuvering areas," which means that it's considered a "best practice" for vessels heavier than 1,600 tons to not travel when visibility is less than a half mile,

On Thursday, the San Francisco Safety Harbor Committee is set to discuss adding the Bay Bridge to a list of nine other "critical maneuvering areas."

Adding the Bay Bridge to the list would mean that the personnel at VTS would have the power to more strongly recommend that ships not travel when it is very foggy. The list is an advisory one, but it is considered a "best practice" in the commercial vessel industry.

VTS in San Francisco is the oldest in the country, and was created in 1972 after a tanker accident at the Golden Gate Bridge where 800,000 gallons of oil was dumped into the bay.

To watch a live marine traffic map, click here.

IF YOU ARE INTERESTED: Here is the full list of the critical maneuvering areas identified by the San Francisco Harbor Safety Committee. Following these guidelines are considered "best practices" for the maritime industry.

• Redwood Creek 
• San Mateo-Hayward Bridge
• Oakland Bar Channel*
• Islais Creek Channel
• Richmond Inner Harbor
• Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, East Span
• Union Pacific Bridge
• New York Slough, up-bound
• Rio Vista Lift Bridge

*The Oakland Bar Channel is identified due to cross currents and its proximity to the Bay Bridge and Yerba Buena Island.

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