FLIR thermal imaging cameras are being employed by Harbour City Ferries on its entire fleet to further improve safety on the waters of Sydney.

Sydney’s ferries have been servicing Sydney Harbour for more than 135 years with Harbour City Ferries operating approximately 175,000 services and transporting nearly 15 million people 1.3 million kilometres across the busy and scenically beautiful Sydney Harbour and the Parramatta River each year. 

Having prioritised safety in its operations, Harbour City Ferries decided to install thermal imaging cameras on board its entire fleet of 28 vessels, six of which are double-enders. Thirty-four FLIR M320L cameras were purchased and installed in 2009 for the entire fleet to assist in night and low visibility navigation.

Crowded waterways such as the Sydney Harbour open up several opportunities for accidents. However, with the installation of FLIR thermal imaging cameras on its fleet, Harbour City Ferries has made the harbour a safer place than in days gone by when only radar systems were fitted.

Radar systems are limited in their utility in the area as the Sydney Harbour Bridge casts a radar shadow underneath. Radar can also be ineffective if the target vessel is small and not constructed of radar-reflective materials or does not have a radar reflector installed. Down-lighting from the Harbour Bridge, and background lighting and reflections off the water can also make spotting some vessels difficult. 

FLIR’s relationship with Harbour City Ferries commenced with The Office of Transport Safety Investigations contacting FLIR Australia to take part in a re-enactment simulating a collision. FLIR contacted its distributor, Coursemaster Autopilots based in Sydney who provided a FLIR Navigator and personnel for the re-enactment. Paul Garske, General Manager of Coursemaster Autopilots said that Sydney Ferries subsequently purchased a Navigator for the purpose of trialling it. Though satisfied with its performance, they chose the FLIR M320L camera, which the masters preferred as it comprised of both low light and thermal imagers. 

According to Glenn Young, Harbour City Ferries General Manager Operations and Asset Management, although thermal imaging cameras produced clear images in total darkness, the ferry company also operated during the twilight hours of the day, when some sunlight, moonlight or light from the marina was present, for which they needed a lowlight camera as well. 
Having understood that Sydney Ferries wanted to have a combination of a thermal imaging camera and a lowlight camera, Paul Garske decided to demonstrate the FLIR M320L. 

Installation of the FLIR M320L commenced in 2009 along with other Navaids equipment, supplied, installed and supported by Electrotech Australia. Stephen Penny, Project Manager of Electrotech explains the FLIR thermal imaging cameras are navigational aids for the masters and crew of the ferries to assist during times of poor visibility, such as fog, rain, glare, low light and at night. The systems are also used for incident recording in conjunction with GPS, time stamp and speed overlay, all of which were installed by Electrotech. 

FLIR’s Maritime Distribution Manager, Peter De Ieso describes the M320L as a small, ultra-compact gimbal, able to rotate 360° continuously and tilt plus or minus 90° vertically, allowing the ferry master to look wherever needed. Cameras are installed in positions on the ferries to give best view forward and to port and starboard. The compactness of the M-Series thermal imaging cameras allowed them to be accommodated within real estate constraints of what was already fitted to each vessel, such as radars. 

Mr De Ieso says that the M-Series can be easily mounted ball-up or ball-down, with a menu setting allowing the user to turn the direction of the image on the screen. The M-Series is extremely easy to integrate on board any vessel, and the images from the camera can be displayed on virtually any existing multifunction display that accepts composite video.

The M-Series camera provides two video outputs: one output is for the video signal from the thermal camera only; the other output is for video from either the thermal camera or the lowlight camera and is switchable from the Joystick Control Unit. The video from the M-Series camera can therefore be displayed on one or two video displays. Extra JCUs to operate the M-Series cameras from different locations on the vessels can be optionally installed.

Harbour City Ferries decided to connect the M320L to one dedicated 15” Hatteland LCD screen, with the master able to easily switch from the image of the lowlight camera to the thermal image, and back, whenever he wanted at the touch of a button. Feedback from the masters on the FLIR M320L has been excellent with all reporting that the M320L helps them get a better understanding of what is happening around their vessel. They find it extremely easy to use and the joystick allows the master to operate all the features of the M320L such as pan/tilt or switching from daylight to thermal image. 

Thanks to the crisp images produced by the M320L thermal imaging cameras, the masters’ situational awareness has improved drastically and they have more time to anticipate and react to any potential incident. The lowlight camera is used during twilight hours, or when some light is present, switching over to the thermal imaging camera once it gets dark. 

Prior to the thermal camera installs, ferry masters were regularly radioing warnings of unlit kayakers and other vessels, fearing the possibility of a fatal collision as they are difficult to spot using radar. Now armed with the FLIR M-Series thermal imaging cameras the masters have a clear view of the water, even in total darkness.