Today, we’re gonna talk about websites that track ships for free. But first, let us understand what vessel tracking is and the technology behind it.
Vessel tracking is the process of monitoring the movement of ships- her last port, destination, speed, ETA, course, position, and any other relevant details.
It is a form of surveillance or a type of vessel monitoring system that is primarily aimed at promoting safety at sea.
Automatic Identification System (AIS)
Ship tracking technology is made possible with the development of an Automatic Identification System (AIS).
An AIS is similar to an airplane’s ADB-S or Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast. They both transmit vital information to nearby receivers.
An AIS is a transceiver device installed on ships. It automatically sends data such as vessel name, position, speed, ETA, etc. to other vessels, coastal stations, or satellites.
SOLAS Convention requires vessels of 300GT or more with international voyage and passenger vessels of all sizes to be fitted with AIS.
With today’s ship finders, anyone can look at a vessel’s actions with a bird’s-eye view. What makes it so cool is that you can see them on a global scale.
Why Track a Ship?
There are many reasons why people track ships. One reason is to improve maritime security.
From hobbyists to traffic controllers to investigative journalists, vessel tracking is always a big help.
It could be that you are a ship spotter monitoring the movement of the largest cruise ship today. Until now, perhaps, you are waiting to take an actual photo of that vessel when it passes your area.
Maybe you are an analyst who watches the shipping industry to spot a profitable trend.
Perhaps, it’s possible that you are part of a certain shipping company that wants to know the whereabouts of your fleet.
Or probably you want to take a look at the replay of a collision that happened a few days ago. I always check the replays of these disasters before they unfold.
Most possibly, you are a seafarer monitoring the movement of your next ship assignment to prepare for embarkation.
Whatever the reason, marine tracking websites are there to help you out.
Common Features Among Vessel Tracking Websites
Actually, there are quite a number of ship trackers providing similar services for everyone. It’s quite hard to understand how they differ from one another since they have lots of commonalities.
For that reason, I’m here to show you their special features.
In most cases, vessel tracking by name is the most convenient for everyone. But some vessels share the same name which can be quite confusing.
Therefore, knowing its callsign, IMO Number, or MMSI adds accuracy to your search.
Usually, vessels show details like destinations, ETA, voyage history, speed, and vessel particulars once highlighted.
Aside from that, users can add ships to their fleet for easy monitoring. Density maps, which are like a “route heatmap”, are available too.
Finally, some of them have an online community for their members where they share photographs of vessels in their platform.
Top 8 Ship Trackers Today
If not all, most of these platforms claim to offer real-time movement of vessels. However, there are delays in AIS transmission and reception.
The vessel’s dynamic information- speed, course, navigational status, etc. could be updated in minutes, sometimes hours.
This is one reason why they are not primarily used for collision avoidance. But before diving in, I want to show a disclaimer.
This article is not a paid advertisement from any of these website owners. The reviews and rankings are based on my research and experience with their platforms.
So now, here are the best ship tracking websites starting from good to best.
8. Ship Finder: The Live Marine Traffic Tracking App
Like most ship-tracking websites, Ship Finder uses Google Maps or Google Earth and AIS integration.
The ship’s AIS automatically sends position and other info via radio signals. This data is picked up by receivers close by.
Next, the receivers send the same data to their servers. Finally, the map you are using now gets its data from these servers with the help of the Internet.
I put Ship Finder on this rank for a few reasons.
First, unlike other vessel tracking websites, this one is very simple to navigate. There is no paid version so everything is basically free.
Users don’t need to log in in order to access extra features or find additional ships. You can locate vessels by their name, MMSI, callsign, and destination.
Another great feature is that you can search for places too.
However, the system loads very slowly. Zooming in and out of the map is also lagging which can be very time-consuming.
You can view the traffic in a certain area but it’s not as accurate with other vessel trackers. Normally, hovering the cursor on a point of interest gives you a snippet of info.
It even shows the past track of the vessel. But sometimes, the data takes too long to show.
Ship Finder has a lot of room to grow. I think the website owners didn’t focus much on its development. You can see this on their news platform which has its last entry in June 2014.
However, this finder still has something interesting to offer. You can share a link to the ship with its map on Facebook.
Their complementary website, https://my.pinkfroot.com/, is a thriving ship-spotting community. It’s basically a home for ship spotters and plane finders.
But the best thing about Pinkfroot is their Photo competition wherein everyone can join. The prize for today’s contest is an x2 Apple Watch SE
You might wanna check it out because the competition ends at 22:00 GMT on the 31st of December 2023.
7. Equasis.org– Electronic Quality Shipping Information System
Unlike the usual vessel finders, Equasis has its own way of tracking ships. You won’t find maps and positions. There are no charts, weather updates, playbacks, route heat maps, and current AIS data.
The primary aim of Equasis is to reduce substandard shipping. Thus, their website offers safety-related information on ships.
If you are not sure about the vessel you’re signing on, Equasis may help you uncover the historical events of that ship.
The website has no commercial purpose. Actually, you can use it for free after creating an account.
Since their aim is collecting and disseminating high-quality, safety-related information on the world’s merchant fleet, Equasis is like a logbook of ships’ events.
To access the full feature of Equasis, you must first create an account. You can then use it free of charge.
Firstly, you can find PSC Annual Reports from different MoUs including the USCG.
A search box is available where you can look up vessels using the name, IMO number, or company. But the most interesting feature of this website is the “vessel company” feature.
You can search for a vessel and know the company behind them. Or you can also search for a company and know the ships within their fleet!
For each ship, you can find historical records of PSC inspections and detention (if any). Furthermore, you can check for their P&I Club, class society, and former owners or managers.
With 20 years of existence, Equasis is perfect for charterers, ship buyers, researchers, ship spotters, investigative journalists, and seafarers.
They can get a historical overview of the vessel’s performance. This is very important in decision-making.
Seafarers too can benefit from this. There are many ships out there and we only know about their names.
Finding out the company of a vessel that we fancy can be great. Moreover, we get to know more about the vessel and her track records.
6. VesselTracker: Terrestrial and Satellite AIS Tracking Service in Real Time
Founded in 2006, VesselTracker treasures a database of 1,000,000 vessels and port images.
It was built by an IT Specialist and Port Operations Manager with the goal of bringing higher levels of transparency and clarity into the market.
Tracking over 170,000 vessels on any given day from anywhere in the world, here is what makes VesselTracker one of the best.
Basically, you must register first before using their live map feature. A free registration is available but with very limited access. In this account, you can only track passenger vessels in range with terrestrial AIS.
Map views and layers include Google™ Satellite and Google Earth™.
More advanced elements are available on premium accounts like nautical charts, global and local piracy, and weather information.
However, if you upload 500 photos, you can get extra features for free.
VesselTracker processes half a billion messages every day. They use patented SDP technology with a detection rate of more than 5 times the number of vessels compared to non-SDP Satellites. This makes their map representation more accurate.
Furthermore, they deliver expert reports on crude oil movements, refined products, biodiesel, and ethanol.
Their tracking system is actually designed for traders, brokers, analysts, and ship managers.
VesselTracker is one of the fastest ship-finding websites that I tried. However, the mandatory login feature deters a few searchers even if they find it on the first page of Google.
Then comes the limitation of the free account. You can only locate passenger ships in range with terrestrial AIS.
But one thing I definitely like about VesselTracker is the news updates or history about a certain ship.
Every ship has its story, right? By looking at a particular vessel, you can see her latest news, incidents, or accidents.
For example, she may have been involved in a piracy attack last 2016. Or she got aground in some port.
The news could also be positive like striking a deal to be fitted with a scrubber system.
5. MyShipTracking: Free Real Time AIS Vessel Tracking Vessels Finder Map
MyShipTracking is a very simple, easy-to-use, user-friendly website for tracking ships. Their minimalist platform shows only the things that you need to find and monitor a vessel.
Let’s discuss some of the features this tracker has to offer.
Like most ship-finding websites and applications, MST uses AIS technology. However, only ships covered in terrestrial AIS can be detected.
You can find recent ports of calls with a free account. This feature is available in premium memberships only in other ship finders.
You can check ship particulars and last ports of call for the previous 20 days. Like most vessel trackers, you can create your own fleet list and set areas and layers on the map.
Additionally, you can apply filters when searching vessels and create playbacks of ship movements.
MyShipTracking app is available for Apple iOS users which you can get for free.
However, MST has no satellite coverage for ships not in range with T-AIS. They also have no photo-sharing community for their users. They get their vessels’ photos from MarineTraffic.
When it comes to speed and responsiveness, MyShipTracking is your choice.
Their platform is very easy to use. Only the basic features are available which is actually the most essential when locating a vessel.
Their minimalistic approach to website design helps clarify what is truly needed in your search. We don’t like slow websites, right? Then, you can go just fine with MST.
4. Marine Vessel Traffic: Live Ships Tracker, Cruise Offers, and Bookings
Marine Vessel Traffic is a unique tracking website that offers a wide variety of services on its platform. They have 112,000 ships in their database and contain over 1,000 shipyards.
Though they don’t reveal any history of its conception, they do pack a punch when it comes to delivering the extra mile for their users. It’s like a one-stop shop for everything!
Here, I’ll show you the ultra-wide features they offer that make them number 4 on the list. You won’t even expect some of them.
Foremost, Marine Vessel Traffic doesn’t have its own tracking technology. Instead, it integrates VesselFinder and MarineTraffic on its platform.
I think it’s a good idea since it makes their website lightweight which in turn loads much faster.
Additionally, they show the fleet list of cruise shipping companies including fare discounts and special offers. You can also book your tickets there for a cruise ship or ferry experience.
Since the spike in coronavirus cases, MVT shows a list of ships infected with COVID-19.
You can also see a piracy heat map which is of course very helpful to us mariners.
Tools like plane trackers, bunker prices, distance calculators, IMPA Codes search, air cargo tracker, weather, Baltic Dry Index, Incoterms, and nautical charts can be accessed on their website.
Marine Vessel Traffic combines ship tracking with many other useful services that are helpful to mariners and searchers.
They serve as the middleman that bridges users to find the necessary information in a single platform. Exploring their website is fun and surprising.
But what I really like about MVT is its speed and user-friendliness.
3. FleetMon: Tracking the Seven Seas
When it comes to extensive features, FleetMon delivers a diverse surprise to those who want to take ship tracking to a different level.
The company was established in 2007 as the world’s first public vessel data collection. Headquartered in Rostock, Germany, their goal is to help organizations deliver better logistic reports.
FleetMon’s customers include Tesla, Total, DHL, Honeywell, Jotun, Skuld, Scandlines, BP, BMW, and many prominent companies.
They boast customers across 164 countries with around half a million users and counting.
With 500,000 vessels in their database, their technology detects about 40,000 vessels every single moment. Moreover, they have extraordinary features which extend more than tracking.
FleetMon community enjoys various competitions like photo of the week, photo of the month, top photo uploaders, and many others.
A “Follow Selected Vessel” feature keeps the selected ship in the center of your screen. Their traffic density heatmap is available for up to 14 days.
Additionally, an Agricultural Commodities Trading Database is available for traders, analysts, and managers who want to expand their ship-tracking capabilities.
Safety is one of the things we all want in our work. FleetMon introduces Vessel Risk Rating which identifies potential risk of your ship.
This helps shipowners prevent PSC detention, fire, and mechanical failure on commercial ships.
Lastly, they are currently working on running a closed beta program for CO2 Emission calculation.
FleetMon is perfect for high professionals who want more than just vessel tracking. Analysts, ship managers, brokers, traders, and whatnot can benefit a lot from their service.
It’s also good for ship spotters since they have an engaging and growing community.
But for seafarers who only need to take a quick look at vessels, they might find this a hassle. Logging in before you can track or monitor a ship is quite a bother.
But all in all, this is a great vessel-tracking website.
2. VesselFinder: Free AIS Ship Tracking of Marine Traffic
Founded in 2011, VesselFinder has evolved over time to become a premier source of vessel tracking solutions. They also offer the latest news covering the world maritime industry.
Their pool of knowledge is composed of maritime professionals, engineers, programmers, designers, writers, and strategists.
Their website looks very clean. But you will be surprised that they rank among the 7,000 websites in global engagement!
I put VesselFinder on number two because they are very simple to use. You can track the ships easily without creating an account.
However, their free features are limited. But that limitation makes their website faster than the rest.
One of the features I like about VesselFinder is its “lighweightness”.
Navigating in their map interface is easy because they only include the features that are basic and absolutely necessary.
Like many others, they provide terrestrial AIS free of charge. Satellite AIS though is available via premium membership.
In addition, they track 100,000 vessels every day. You can view a massive 500,000 photos of ships and port galleries.
You can also measure distances for free without the need to sign up. Their website also offers detailed port information including weather forecasts.
You can also see the number of vessels in port, their expected ETA, and departure without registering or logging in.
VesselFinder is perfect for ship spotters and seafarers. If you want to quickly check or monitor a vessel, this is your best choice.
The only drawback I see is that many free features from MarineTraffic and FleetMon can be accessed here only by premium members.
1. MarineTraffic: Global Ship Tracking Intelligence Provider
Currently ranked among the 2,000 most important websites around the world, MarineTraffic is the number 1 leader in marine tracking.
Having the world’s largest AIS monitoring network, they receive more than half a billion positions daily! This data is huge but with varying degrees of quality- errors, incomplete information, and contradictions.
However, the raw data is filtered down to 30 million positions daily which equates to one position per ship per minute.
MarineTraffic is the brainchild of Dimitris Lekkas, a ship spotter, radio enthusiast, and computer geek.
From his humble beginning in 2006, the site grew and took pride in its 18 million monthly visitors per month with 80 million page views.
Vessel Tracking Features
I personally use MarineTraffic when searching for ships. Just like you, I’m a seafarer who likes to watch over my friends sailing on other vessels.
Lately, I discovered that they too offer different map features such as Standard, Simple, Satellite, Dark Map, and nautical charts. The latter is available for premium membership.
Like other ship trackers, they also have a density map feature. But I like them better since the interface looks more detailed with pleasing colors.
Playback to a specific area is possible. I used this when checking how the bulk carrier Julietta D drifted and collided with a tanker.
You see, this is useful for collision investigation. If you want to create a voyage plan, registering an account for free offers you just that!
For ship spotters and enthusiasts, you can join a community of like-minded people. Currently, they share around 2.5 million images of vessels, ports, lighthouses, and everything related to shipping.
There are still many great features MarineTraffic has for its users. Whether free or paid, you can explore a variety of them on their website.
You can download an app that is available on iOS and Android devices.
With more than a million registered account holders, it’s a good bet that they have the most comprehensive services for Global Ship Tracking and Intelligence.
Personally, I use MarineTraffic for my ship searches. But now I’m turning it over to you. Which vessel tracking websites have you used so far?
So which of these vessel trackers have you been using lately? Let me know what you like about them.
May the winds be in your favor.