Marine lantern design approaches

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NOVA 65 HI marine lantern in main/backup configuration, overlooking the North Sea

 

I recently had an interesting discussion with an operator in the North Sea, about marking platforms and the costs of a complete Aids to Navigation system. We were talking ATEX, so that means that the costs double compared to safe area (or GMU as we call it, general marine use), so marking an entire platform with lanterns, a fog signal and a visibility sensor, and adding a control panel to – ehh, well – control  the equipment, easily becomes a significant expenditure.

What is rather interesting, is that the items with  the lowest price per unit, actually have a massive impact on total price of the system. It is the marine lanterns that really make the difference.

Although there are also differences between fog signals and visibility sensors of the various suppliers, they are relatively easy to compare and price differences are limited. You can save a few thousand EUR maybe, but in the larger scheme of things, this is not really a game changer.

The marine lanterns, and to be more precise, the design approach behind the lanterns, make the difference, however.

Allow me to clarify:

First of all: most, if not all, major and reknowned players in this market, manufacture high quality products, which comply to the regulations. So in terms of performance, you’ll be fine.

A number of our colleagues have adopted the philosophy that the control panel needs to be the heart and brains of the system, let’s call it the centralised AtoN system. The central point here (pun intended), is that the control panel tells all equipment what to do, and when to do it. So synchronising is handled via the control panel. So is using the sunswitch to switch the lanterns on when it becomes dark and switch them off at sunrise. And often also the flash character is determined by the control panel.

Consequently, the lanterns are not very bright… in terms of intelligence I mean. They just follow the orders given by the control panel. Typically a large, complicated and very expensive control panel, I must add. To be a bit rude, it is a bit like flashing a flashlight by pushing the button for evey flash.

Let’s assume you have an issue, your platform went dark, the authorities are putting pressure on you to solve the issue and you want to mark a platform temporarily with lanterns, keeping it as simple as possible, by leaving the lanterns on 24/7, so you do not need to worry about a central sunswitch or a visibility detector.

If you would use a centralised AtoN system, you would not only need to purchase lanterns, but also a control panel. Making the emergency solution very costly, but also with a lead time of several weeks. Not exactly what you had in mind.

Tideland Signal is one of the few, and maybe the only, manufacturer of marine lanterns used on platforms (or anywhere else) that has adopted the de-centralised AtoN design approach. And did so decades ago. And, as it turns out, this provides large benefits.

Tideland Signal lanterns are smart. The flash character can be programmed into the lantern, so you do not need a control panel for that. They have their own sunswitch, so you do not necessarily need a central sunswitch (and a control panel). And the really nice part: they can communicate with each other, so synchronisation is handled by the lanterns themselves, not via a control panel. Furthermore, they are clever enough to tell you they are ill: they have a fail output. Making remote monitoring as easy as making a cup of coffee. To go back to the example of the flashlight: just turn it on and the light will flash automatically. Leaving you the time and opportunity to enjoy that cup of coffee. The “fire and forget” approach the US Airforce likes so much.

So, returning to the emergency example: when using Tideland lanterns, a battery pack (if need be, regular car batteries will do the job) and a couple of 3-core cables, you can build a working system. Trust me, I’ve done this 🙂

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3 wires per lantern: positive, negative, sync. And the lanterns flash Morse U in sync, without control panel. They have actually been installed on a platform like this, as the control panel had not yet been completed. The 4 lanterns are fed from a single car battery.

One loop for positive, one loop for negative and one loop for synchronisation, is all you need.

When scaling up the system to a complete AtoN package, with central sunswitch, visibility detector, fog signal and remote monitoring, these advantages remain: you only need a very small and very simple control panel. And there lies you financial advantage as well, the difference in price between a control panel for a centralised system and one for a de-centralised system is huge.

Why is the control panel that simple? You do not need to control that much, really. Basically the control panel is used to distibute power to the various users, collecting and distributing the signals from sunswitch and visibility detector to lanterns and fog signal and collect the fail signals from the equipment. And feed them into the monitoring system. All the other stuff is handled by the lanterns themselves. So no need for expensive and complicated components such as PLC’s, but primarily off the shelf circuit breakers, relais and maybe a few diodes. If a component breaks, order it on RS-online and send a chopper to pick it up from the nearest post office. Job done. Or, if you want to do it fancy, call me, and I’ll replace it against our standard rates 😉

We use some own components as well, and keep them in stock (the UM-1A/F and MBIO-12 units in the picture below).

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ATEX control panel for lanterns and fog signal, with remote control and monitoring. Simple and small. And relatively cheap. Picture was taken during FAT in my workshop.

In particular for temporary marking, the Tideland lanterns offer other benefits as well. First of all the size of the lanterns. Tideland has always been a leader in lens technology. We all have seen the ML-300 fresnel lenses, probably the most copied lens type in the marine industry. Introduced by Tideland Signal.

But also with modern LED lanterns, the lenses of Tideland allow lanterns to be very small and light-weight.

But more importantly: power consumption. The Tideland lanterns are among the most power efficient lanterns in the market, making them the ideal choice for any system running on batteries and PV modules.

EAZE

The very first skid I build, using primary cells, with NOVA 65 marine lantern, AB-560 fog signal, Informer V-20 AIS AtoN and a passive radar reflecter. The best marked monopile ever. Been out offshore for 4 months.

About robinjansen

MD of PC Jansen Marine Agencies BV, agents for several international manufacturers of equipment to the offshore and marine industry.
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