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The ‘Fairway Dredge’ completed the Lyttelton harbour shipping channel project late last year, and 22 new navigation aids have been implemented as part of a state-of-the-art system

New state-of-the-art navigation system for
Lyttelton Port

The project to deepen, widen and lengthen the harbour’s shipping channel is complete and ready for use, along with a new world-leading navigation system, ensuring Lyttelton is prepared for the future of larger vessels calling at the port.


The specialised vessel ‘Fairway Dredge’ completed the project late last year, and now 22 new navigation aids see Lyttelton become one of the country’s leading ports with this state-of-the-art system. 

Lyttelton Port Company (LPC) chief executive Peter Davie says the new system will improve the safety of all commercial shipping movements within the harbour, and allow larger and deeper-draught container ships to call at Lyttelton.

“Container ships have doubled in size over the last 10 years and the trend towards bigger ships continues. We have enlarged the existing shipping channel to provide access to larger ships and support Lyttelton’s future as the South Island’s major international trade gateway.”

The container terminal’s maximum draught is now 13.3 m at Cashin Quay 2 and 3 East. 

Virtual navigation

Mr Davie says one of the biggest improvements from the new navigation aids is that visibility will increase. “The old main channel leading light was in the hills above Governors Bay. The new sector light is now 6 km closer to the end of the channel and will be much more visible during misty and drizzly conditions,” he explains.

“In addition to all the physical structures, computer-generated virtual marks will appear on the screens of vessels using electronic charts or chart plotters equipped with an AIS (automatic identification system) receiver. These marks show the position of the pilot boarding area off Godley Head, the edge of the channel and the limits of the dredged swinging basin off Cashin Quay,” Mr Davie adds.

“Using virtual marks reduces the number of buoys required to be placed in the harbour and also reduces the risk of recreational boaties running into them, as there is nothing there.”

Under-keel clearance technology

OMC International, world leaders in under-keel clearance technology for ports and harbours, helped LPC significantly reduce the volume of dredging required to upgrade the port’s entrance channel through use of DUKC® (dynamic under-keel clearance) technology. DUKC is an intelligent software tool that harbour pilots use to determine whether or not it is safe to transit large vessels in or out of the port.

OMC’s work in Lyttelton earned them Support Service Provider of the Year at the 2018 Dredging and Port Construction Awards in Amsterdam in November.

The DUKC program links to the PPU (portable pilot unit) to calculate and continuously monitor the under-keel clearance of large-draught vessels as they move through the channel.

Cutting-edge navigation

A weather buoy and further sensors in the harbour will analyse swell and wind information to give a unique tidal window for each vessel.

All the Lyttelton pilots and other key members of LPC’s marine team have done additional training, including using the ship simulator in Auckland so they can become familiar with the new systems.

“We are thrilled to be at the cutting edge of modern navigation, and although it has been a steep learning curve for our team, their ability to adapt and embrace this new technology has been fantastic,” says Mr Davie.

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