THE entrance to Eastland Port lights up like an airport runway with the latest additions to the Port’s navigational safety programme.

Last month two mid-channel buoys were put into place – a complex logistical exercise requiring cranes, divers and tugs – bringing the number of new or updated navigational aids around the channel to seven.

“Buoys, beacons and lights are the signposts of the seas and the recent replacements and upgrades brings Eastland Port up to a very high standard of maritime navigation,” says Eastland Port Marine Manager Capt Chris Kaye.

“Superior navigational markers are a crucial part of international port operations. The system uses a variety of colours, shapes, and lights arranged in simple ways to show the side to pass a buoy on when heading into and out of port”.

In the past 18 months Eastland Port has updated its technology by replacing the old Poverty Bay approach lead lights on Midway Beach with a single sectored port entry light; replaced four buoys and their lights; and added new lights to Butlers Wall and the breakwater.

As well as being practical the new red and green lights look stunningly beautiful at night when viewed from Kaiti Hill or the shore. “The synchronised green and red lights now give that runway effect which you can see from the beach. You can see your way home,” says Capt Kaye.

Synchronised lights on the new buoys flash in a 3-second sequence giving mariners a safer and stronger illuminated passage at night. Capt Kaye says the lights were chosen for their low power consumption. “The extremely efficient port entry light typically uses 30 watts to achieve intensities that previously required 250 watts.”

The two buoys dropped into place late last month took a beating from Mother Nature before even making it into the ocean. While still on port the 3.8 metre high and 830kg heavy buoys had to be tied down during ex-tropical cyclone Cook so they wouldn’t get damaged.

February saw the replacement of the 45-year-old, three-tonne, mussel covered steel channel marker Tokomaru buoy, with a new 2.6 metre diameter, 970kg polythene buoy. The robust environmentally friendly buoy attracts very little marine growth unlike its predecessor.

Capt Kaye, who pilots around three large vessels into and out of the Port every week, says it’s important the port offer the latest aids to navigation particularly as it readies itself for the huge amounts of wood due to be exported over the next few years.

“We need to provide a safe environment for maritime customers some of whom will be bringing vessels up to 30,000 tonnes and 200 metres long into port.”

Capt Kaye says over the next 12 months Eastland Port will replace two channel leading lights: one near the boat ramp and one on the river training wall.

“Maritime navigational safety aids are the cornerstone of keeping a ship afloat while it is manoeuvred in and out of a harbour. When you are working in a narrow channel your comfort level is defined by your perceived proximity to the buoys. Our updated navigational aids deliver the complete port safety solution for everyone using the port.”

Image: Kevin Weatherley

Senior tug master Poul Larsen battens down the hatches ahead of the arrival of ex-tropical cyclone Cook in Gisborne last month. These 3.8 metre high and 830kg heavy buoys have now been dropped into position mid-way along the channel.