Races, Alliances, and Clubs

Emergency Response Towing Vessel

I write these blog posts by opening my calendar and looking at what I’ve been doing since the last time I wrote. This is so great for me in that I get an opportunity to reflect on how cool this job really is. I spend my time with amazing people who are doing unbelievable things that most people never get to see, so I share the ultimate behind-the-scenes look at maritime in Puget Sound.

Here’s what I’ve been up to:

  1. Race to Alaska. The R2AK planning starts as the race finishes up from last year. We’ve been a sponsor the past 2 years in an attempt to open the aperture into a completely different application of our shared waterway, and it’s been a beautiful relationship between the Marine Exchange and the NW Maritime Center’s Race to Alaska. I don’t know how we’d do it exactly, but my secret hope is to be the official race tracker someday.
  2. Cetacean Desk. Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock (sounds cool), you’ve likely heard that the Coast Guard has formally launched its Cetacean Desk within Sector Puget Sound. What you may not recognize amidst the applause and high fiving is that this remains an unfunded mandate for the Coast Guard which makes their accomplishments even more impressive to me. If you ever need blood drawn from a stone, don a lifejacket then call the Coast Guard.
  3. Harbor Safety, Chicago style. I’ve been on this year’s National Harbor Safety Committee Conference for several months, and this one is going to be good. I’m on a lot of committees these days, and I hesitated to join another. But, I am very glad that I did. The planning and participation level is so impressive that I’ve been considering volunteering to host the next national convention here in Seattle. Thoughts? Volunteers?
  4. Beam Reach, Acartia Data Cooperative. Scott Veirs from Beam Reach is brilliant. He shared his time with us at the Marine Exchange educating us about his work, the organizations he serves, and his ideas for the future. Every time I schedule an hour with Scott, it turns into 2 and a half. We’re grateful to all the data contributors at acartia.io and continue to develop software to contribute to the cooperative.
  5. Northwest Seaport Alliance (NWSA); Pacific Merchant Shipping Association (PMSA): I had two great meetings in one day with two strong organizations locally, but both were centered around the same topic but completely different angles. The short version is that everyone is aligned with making Puget Sound ports more competitive and attractive for port visits. We spent time looking at data sets and how we count arrivals, departures, and shifts. At the NWSA, I got an opportunity to tour their operations and the terminals. Wow, what a dance. These are impressive people who are constantly resolving issues that swirl around any port visit. Incredible day.
  6. Seattle Propeller Club: SPC hosted their first “deep dive,” and although I couldn’t attend, I heard it was a big success. This event’s deep dive was centered around the issue of alternative fuels…. and cocktails.
  7. Marine Exchange of San Francisco: My good friend, Scott Humphrey, from the Marine Exchange of San Francisco met with me while he was visiting Panama. We got an hour to catch up, and I got to hear about the bidding system to get ships through the Panama Canal. Unbelievable! We also talked about whale tracking, Harbor Safety Committees, and NOAA’s Physical Oceanographic Real-Time System (PORTS). Did you know there are two PORTS sensors in Puget Sound? Both are in Tacoma.
  8. Merchant’s Exchange: My new friend and southern neighbor in Portland, Curtis Cannizzaro, graciously shared an hour with me to talk about Marine Firefighting and specifically the future of the Puget Sound Marine Firefighting Commission. In Portland they have the Fire Protection Agencies Advisory Council within the Maritime Fire & Safety Association which have similar missions but are structured very differently. Curtis shared a lot of information with me including the news that the Merchant’s Exchange just signed a Continuity of Operations Memorandum of Understanding with the Coast Guard. Very cool.

Okay, that’s enough. It’s been a tremendous couple of weeks and judging by my calendar, the next 2 are going to blow my mind. Thanks for reading!


Patrick Gallagher, Executive Director
Marine Exchange of Puget Sound

Death of the World’s Shortcuts

*This photo has been generated using artificial intelligence. While it may appear realistic, it is important to note that it was not captured by a human photographer.*

Global maritime trade is changing. The Panama Canal is breaking down due to drought, and the Houthis are forcing the world’s largest ships to add days to their transit to avoid the Red Sea chokepoint. While it’s possible to control the drone and missile strikes in the Red Sea, there’s not a lot we can do about the Canal. It just needs to rain. What does this all mean for the maritime industry in the Puget Sound and Gray’s Harbor? It means that if we want things to stay the same, then things are going to have to change. Here’s what I’ve been working on:

Whale detection and monitoring update

We are finally able to see whale sightings within our ship tracking software! This is something we’ve been interested in doing for a long time, and it’s amazing to see on a screen together. We got the data from acartia.io then figured out how to push this into our WebVTS software. Awesome. Obviously, with this, we could simply make callouts directly to ships passing through these sightings. However, a far better solution is to get a machine to automatically detect and monitor then send a message to the vessel directly via AIS transmission (we’re working on it). Right now, most of these sightings are from humans and so subject to human error and estimation. It’s still amazing and powerful, but we’re eyeing the next generation of technology for whale detection and monitoring. If you have a SiiTech login from us, you should be able to see for yourself.
The black dots are gray whale sightings. The triangles are vessels.

National Harbor Safety Committee

This year’s National Harbor Safety Committee meeting is being held in Chicago on March 20-21. I’ve been part of the planning team to bring it together, and it’s looking fantastic. This year the format is nearly all panel discussions, and there are some very experienced and well-respected leaders on these panels. The Commandant of the Coast Guard will be the keynote speaker. You should go.

NWSA dredging to 57′

This must’ve slipped by me when it was announced in December, but I saw the NW Seaport Alliance has signed an agreement to dredge to 57 feet in the Blair Waterway. This is good news in that the largest (over 1600 TEU) ships almost never come here because of lack of US port infrastructure that accommodates the monster container ships. This is good news, but what we really need is a national strategy and investment. These ships are not likely to just come to Tacoma, offload, then return to origination. No, they’ll want to offload in multiple US ports. Without subsequent commitment to port infrastructure along the entire west coast, then most economically impactful ships will continue to bypass.    

Build vs Buy, Decarbonization, and Maritime Day 2024

WA state ferry being towed

*This photo has been generated using artificial intelligence. While it may appear realistic, it is important to note that it was not captured by a human photographer.*

Buying Ships

Washington State Ferries should follow the Coast Guard’s lead and just buy a ferry (or 5). I’m referring to the Coast Guard’s plea to buy a commercially available icebreaker for $150 million. If it were up to the Coast Guard, this would’ve happened years ago as we’ve watched the heavy icebreaking capability erode slowly over time down at Pier 36. 

The level of urgency surrounding our lack of presence in the receding ice of the Arctic is now surpassing our level of commitment to lobbying for ship design and manufacturing dollars. Still, where there’s billions at stake, there’s a fight

But, alas — Politics. It’s not until we’re out of options that we loosen protectionist legislation. Looking at you, Jones Act.

  • PMSA West Coast Trade Report is out. Read the section on the export of recycled material. This is a “must read” for me and I always plan on at least an hour to absorb it. The short version for us is that the containerized cargo trade for the NW Seaport Alliance is down from 3.1 million TEUs a year ago to 2.7 million TEUs in November. This is below COVID numbers.
  • Port decarbonization buzz is everywhere. I attended 3 different discussions in the past week where this was a primary talking point.
  • Tug Escort Rulemaking workshop wrapped another session last week. I missed the last workshop but reviewed their timeline and finally read their public comments which closed last April. This isn’t over, but the major rub seems to be whether the increased tug traffic (emissions, noise, congestion) is worth the risk being bought down by the increased tug presence. Stay tuned.
  • Maritime Day is today! Members of the WA Maritime Federation will be engaging state legislators on a full spectrum of maritime-related policy and funding issues.
This is my first blog post, but it’s really just a way for me to keep track of top issues and what I’ve been paying attention to over the past two weeks. I realize some of my opinions or thoughts may not completely align with yours or your organization, but my goal is to simply provide some fact-based commentary and awareness that you may not get anywhere else.