For several years after we would look the horizon for boat or use bluff parks or road ends above the beach to spot ships. I later found webcams in locations north of us to help track ships. Another piece to the puzzle was figuring out which tides were best for these waves. I can’t remember when we noticed it, but one of us came across MarineTraffic.com which solved all our problems of hanging over steep bluffs looking through trees to spot ships coming in. Marine Traffic is a Greek run app that uses ships AIS systems to track their whereabouts and ID.
The Automatic Idenification System is required be be on all boats above 299 gross and lists the boat’s name, dimensions, home port, voyage details, photos and it’s route. It runs in real time, allowing us to track ships from the Pacific into the Strait of Juan de Fuca, then into Puget Sound. Boats appear in several different colors depending on the type of boat it is – ferry, recreational, tanker vs container ship or military. Many military ships and subs don’t appear, so we rely on friends to spot those, as the waves are often good. You can turn on or off any selection of boats to only see what you’re interested in. So we only like the green boats which are the biggest container ships and ferries which put off nice waves in specific spots in our area.
This app is also great for planning paddling trips where you may need to cross a channel or section of water and don’t want to run into a 300′ long ship on your route. A paddler in Sweden asked how we tracked ships. I sent him the link and he realized he had nearly 50 ships passing his home waters daily, thus got a great source of surfing in miles from the Atlantic.
Coming to the Pacific Northwest? Give me a holler if you want to join us freighter and tug wave surfing. We even have a class to show you how and where to catch the waves. More Info