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A History of the Marine Exchange

A man speaking through a megaphone circa 1923

When the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach were established in the early 1900’s, W.H. Wickersham, an enterprising steamship agent and customs house broker, formed the Marine Exchange and Sailing Club of the Port of Los Angeles. He hired professional “lookouts” to monitor vessel movement throughout the ports from the newly built Warehouse 1 in the Outer Harbor. That information was sold to the maritime industry and replaced the old system of “runners” which were employed by each individual ship. By 1923, Wickersham’s venture was popular but losing money and he was ready to shut it down. The Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce recognized the value of the professional lookout service and took over Wickersham’s operation as the Marine Exchange of Los Angeles.

In 1946, the Marine Exchange was incorporated as a nonprofit trade organization. Also that year, a surge in inquiries for information on vessel activity led the Marine Exchange to launch the daily 3-Day Advance Arrival Report. During succeeding decades, the Marine Exchange’s Maritime Information Services Department added a number of services and reports related to vessel movements and harbor activities, all of which remain in demand to this day.

In 1981, due to an increase in ship traffic, the Marine Exchange inaugurated a Vessel Traffic Advisory Service (VTAS), which was the predecessor to today’s Vessel Traffic Service (VTS). The VTAS was a voluntary and informal means to monitor vessel movement throughout the LA/LB harbor, which provided considerable enhancements to navigation and safety through the large number of vessels that used this program.

Driven by the need to enlarge and modernize the VTAS, in 1989, the Marine Exchange moved to its present site in Angel’s Gate Park atop the World War I-era Battery Leary/Merriam ( The land is owned by the USCG and provided free of charge to the Marine Exchange through a License Agreement.

On 1 March 1994, in response to the grounding and catastrophic oil spill from the tanker Exxon Valdez grounding in March 1989 in Prince William Sound, Alaska, and to meet new federal and State of California safety regulations in a cost effective manner, the informal and voluntary VTAS transformed into a formal and mandatory VTS in a new and unique way. VTS LA/LB is operated jointly by the U.S. Coast Guard and the Marine Exchange in a unique public/private partnership. VTS LA/LB is America’s only joint-venture, government/private sector vessel traffic service, operated without taxpayer money and funded via VTS user fees paid by ships that use the service. Each VTS watch section has two Marine Exchange employees, funded by the VTS user fee, and one Active Duty Coast Guard member. The U.S. Coast Guard’s participation provides “Captain-of-the-Port Authority” for the VTS to enforce federal navigation and safety regulations. VTS LA/LB monitors and facilitates the safe passage of all vessels within its area of responsibility, which is 25 miles from Point Fermin, and provides safe, secure, efficient, reliable, and environmentally sound maritime transportation through the prevention of collisions between vessels, allisions (ship striking a fixed object such as a bridge), and grounding, thereby protecting California’s people, property, and resources. Today, the VTS monitors and directs more than 27,000 vessel movements per year.

In 1996, a desire to serve its marine industry customer base more effectively and efficiently led the Marine Exchange Board of Directors to end its affiliation with the Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce and establish the Marine Exchange as an independent, self-supporting, 501c(6) non-profit organization.

On 17 January 2003 the Marine Exchange of Los Angeles/Long Beach Harbor, Inc. became the “Marine Exchange of Southern California” to better reflect its area of operations since it not only provides services to the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, but also the ports of San Diego and Port Hueneme, and the Chevron Offshore Terminal in El Segundo.

Since 1923 the Marine Exchange has stayed abreast of changes in the maritime industry, such as shifting from chalk-boards, 3”x5” cards, telescopes, and megaphones to radios, radars, and computers. For example, in 2004, a major safety enhancement was added when the Automatic Identification System (AIS) went online. AIS is a vessel and shore-based transponder system originally invented to aid ocean-going vessels in collision avoidance. A vessel outfitted with AIS automatically and continuously transmits and receives critical static and dynamic data such as vessel name, call sign, position, course, and speed via two VHF-FM frequencies. AIS allows ship-board and shore-based users to receive real- time information about the other vessels around them. VTS LA/LB has a network of land-based AIS receivers from Port San Luis to the North and San Diego to the South that enables the monitoring and tracking of vessels along that stretch of coastline and 100 miles out to sea. This gives great “big-picture” maritime domain awareness of ship movements, and very detailed displays of vessels as they move in the tight confines of the harbors. AIS enables VTS LA/LB to identify and track AIS-equipped vessels in all weather, day and night, much further away than radar alone.

Meanwhile, the Maritime Information Department has kept pace with industry requirements. It now produces Advance Arrivals Report; Daily Logs for Actual Arrivals, Departures, & Shifts; Active Vessels in Port; Sailing and Shifting Sheet; Monthly Composites, and specialized "ad hoc reports" produced on demand according to customers’ needs and requirements. Routine reports are transmitted at 7AM and 12PM daily and are available 7x24 on the Marine Exchange Web Site to subscribers. The accuracy and reliability of these reports has earned the Marine Exchange the reputation for being the "Honest Broker" in collecting, compiling and disseminating maritime information. Iit is now highly regarded as the "Trusted Maritime Information Clearinghouse" for providing services and reports to the waterfront business community throughout Southern California, elsewhere in the U.S.A., and world-wide.

The Marine Exchange of Southern California welcomes feedback and suggestions as to how, when, where, and at what level it can assist businesses, public and private organizations, and the public on the waterfront to function more effectively and efficiently as it provides timely, accurate, and reliable information needed each day and the next 100 years!