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Julia Guthrie
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December 04, 2019

How Mobile Apps are Helping Protect Florida's Waterways

shutterstock_197152439 (1) "As trained experts with detailed knowledge of Florida’s waterways, shorelines and deep-water ports, Florida’s harbor pilots protect our state’s ports from harm and ensure the safe passage of ship traffic– 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. We work diligently to maximize the efficiency of Florida’s seaports that serve as hubs for economic growth and stimulus, making their safety and well-being our top priority."

-Capt. Stuart Lilly, President, Florida Harbor Pilots Association (http://www.pepilots.com)


Following the paper trail

Carl Mahler is a state pilot and partner with Port Everglades Pilots Association. His job is to navigate large ships around Florida’s waterways.

With close to 4,000 ships arriving into and departing from Port Everglades each year, harbor pilots play a vital role in the field. Their services help prevent sea captains from running aground and causing damage to their ships, cargo, or the surrounding ecosystems. Port Everglades is a $28 billion-per-year economic driver for South Florida, and it only takes one mistake to shut it all down. Ships need expert pilots to help them avoid these potential disasters.

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As one would imagine, the information and assets required to conduct this process are myriad. Pilots need to be aware of the navigational equipment on each vessel as well as its maneuvering characteristics. If there are deficiencies in a vessel, these details can be noted so other pilots can operate with an enhanced level of safety and efficiency. Careful management of this data means the difference between smooth operations and possible catastrophe.

Since 1931, the business was using a paper logbook to track jobs and a notebook to report information about each vessel. This method presented logistical challenges at every step. First, the notebooks were kept in an on-land office, which didn’t allow the pilots to record information in real-time, and meant that sometimes the information simply wasn’t being logged at all. Second, when pilots logged their data, they had to do so by hand after finishing their arduous jobs navigating ships in and out of the port. This led to inconsistencies in how data was recorded, but also accessibility problems.

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A digital revolution

Carl had the idea to use Google Sheets to store the data from the field reporting, and from there he created an operations app with AppSheet’s Google Sheets app builder add-on. One app allows pilots to send vessel information to the database straight through their mobile devices in real-time. This helped automate their workflow and allowed them to complete tasks as they happened instead of from memory. 

Carl has customized his app to require that certain information is always recorded, so pilots are not able to move on to the next portion of the data capture form. If a ship doesn’t yet exist in the database, the user must enter that data so that the new ship can be accounted for going forward. The app also allows for image capture, so pilots can provide photo documentation of any additional details.

CarlMahler_App_1.png  CarlMahler_App_2.png


And with the standardized data entry methods Carl assigned to the app, the team is able to access data easily anytime, anywhere.

CarlMahler_App_3.png  CarlMahler_App_4.png


“AppSheet has given us the chance to know the capabilities of a ship before we step foot on the bridge. This information is integral in enabling our pilots to work efficiently and reliably, equipping them to maintain our safety record and protect the port as well as the surrounding ecosystem— both of these efforts are immensely important to us,” says Carl. 

This blog post was updated on December 4th, 2019.

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