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Julia Guthrie
June 06, 2016

How Mobile Apps are Helping Protect Florida's Waterways

"As trained experts with detailed knowledge of Florida’s waterways, shorelines and deepwater 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

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, without the services of harbor pilots, there is a very real chance of ships running aground and damaging the ship, the cargo, or even the port and surrounding ecosystem. 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.


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.


Carl had the idea to use Google Sheets to store this information, 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. They don’t have to spend extra time doing so from memory after each job-- when potential for human error is high.

Carl has customized his app to require that certain information is mandatorily recorded; otherwise 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 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 and 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. 

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