On-Time Means On-Mission: PortXchange’s PilotTracker Ensures Seafarer Access to Shore


“When I signed up as a cadet, I don’t think I knew quite what I was getting into”, muses Captain Abhishek Nair, “the life of a seafarer can be very exciting, but can also be quite difficult, both in terms of the work and the lifestyle – I can definitely say that while I loved my time at sea, it may not be for everybody.”  Before coming ashore and jumping into his post as PortXchange’s Director of Business Development, Abhishek was well acquainted with the various trials and tribulations after a decade at sea.

With almost 1.9 million merchant sailors aboard 79.000 vessels worldwide, the international maritime community has a population on par with EU member states like Latvia and Slovenia and greater than a quarter of the globe’s nations. Since contracts range from several months to nearly a year on the water, seafarer’s centers are a vital lifeline to family, friends, and shoreside services.

In over 450 ports of all shapes and sizes, these institutions take shape from a broad range of governmental, sectarian, and private vectors with widely diverse structures and funding sources. However, as global budgets tighten and companies look for efficiencies, one common theme is the ever-present balance of support to services.

The UK Chamber of Shipping recently noted that “seafarer’s charities are increasingly using technology to supplement the support they offer”. No longer restricted to dockside pay-telephones and postal mail services, and with an ever-increasing range of complex regulations, seafarers’ centers are still able to assist sailors with internet access, cellular telephones, and money-transfer to keep the sailor connected with their loved ones and lives ashore.

As one of the most active seafarer’s centers in the world, the Houston International Seafarer’s Center and their two facilities provide services to the over-10,000 annual berth visits into the Port of Houston. Formed in 1968 after a group of local religious leaders recognized the need to assist visitors so that they had a peaceful place to socialize, the Center has grown over the years from a second-floor office donated by the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston to multiple stand-along buildings at opposite ends of the 50-mile long Houston Ship Channel. 

“As a young cadet, I was on a ship that would come into Houston quite regularly”, remembers Captain Nair.  “And every time the ship came in, there would be someone from the seafarer’s center who would come onboard and offer to take us ashore.

While most of the crew took the availability of this service for granted, it was only much later in my career could I fully appreciate the planning involved by the seafarer’s center in being able to extend their magnanimity to a multitude of ships and their crews in port. For every crew member coming into Houston, the seafarer’s center invariably plays a small but important role in keeping their morale high, well rested and refreshed; ready for the next voyage safely and happily!”

Dana Blume, Executive Director of the Center shares the mission statement driving the HISC’s operations: “we exist as the result of a deep desire and concern within the local maritime industry, followed by active support and involvement of the community and local churches, to provide a safe and welcoming recreational and spiritual environment on land for those who have chosen the sea as their livelihood.” To fulfill that mission, the Center’s facilities include chapels, group meeting rooms, a restaurant, and access to a fleet of vans to meet seafarers at the docks so as to provide transportation services both to the Center as well as local shopping venues.

In 2021, PortXchange linked up with the Greater Houston Port Bureau and Houston Pilots Association to offer the PilotTracker solution to the Houston market. The program, a refinement of years of independent work by both Houston partners and PortXchange has resulted in a game-changing information source for operators along the Houston Ship Channel, including the Seafarer’s Center.

“Our chaplains and volunteers meet every ship that comes into Houston.  Doing that requires careful coordination between our staff, our vehicles, and the vessels arriving in port”, notes Blume.  In addition to the seafarer’s center, users at government agencies ranging from Customs to the Port Authority, nautical service providers including line handlers and tug companies, as well as dozens of other channel operators use PilotTracker every day. The system combines PortXchange’s best-in-class approach to port call information display with the timeliness and accuracy of data directly from Pilot dispatch.

Allowing each user to see when an agent sets pilot, when the pilot boards, and when the vessel ties up at facility, maritime personnel are able to save time and money by avoiding costly delays or erroneously dispatched staff by meeting vessels as they arrive. “The concept may sound simple, but we’re proud to deliver an interface that brings immediate value to all sorts of operators”, explains Christopher Kyriacoudes, Product Owner at PortXchange. “By utilizing our filterable dashboard, users can keep track of the particular vessel, type of vessel, facility, or agency whom they provide – or would like to provide – service to, while email notification upon pilot boarding dispenses an actionable alert at any given time.”

In addition to the Pilot dispatch information, PortXchange uses a proprietary Vessel Master Database to source detailed information about each ship, from engine/propulsion details to stowage capacity. This information provides deeper insight into the potential behavior of a vessel while in port, especially in a diverse, geographically restricted channel like the one found in Houston.

Interested in a discussion about how PilotTracker may be implementable in your port? The system is designed to be short-term implementable off of a single point of local truth, so please contact support@port-xchange.com to arrange a demonstration. For users in Houston, marineexchange@txgulf.org  can be reached directly to start your 7-day free trial.

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About the author

Capt. Abhishek Nair
Director of Business Development at PortXchange

Abhishek is a sailor who aspires to drive meaningful change in the maritime industry. His love for the seas, ships, and ports brings him to PortXchange where he helps maritime communities globally to solve challenges of the future.

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