In the latter part of the seventeenth century, the Port of Baltimore was a bustling cluster of piers and wharves covering much of the area we now know as Fells Point and the Inner Harbor. The need for timely information relating to a vessels arrival in port was as important then as it is today.
During the 1790’s some enterprising businessmen devised an advanced arrival notification system called the “Baltimore Telegraph”. A lookout platform was constructed atop Federal Hill and, using the technology of the day, a powerful telescope was mounted there. Spotters working for “the Telegraph” would keep watch for vessels as they made their way up the Patapsco River. When a positive identification of the owner’s colors or vessel name could be made, signal flags would be displayed from the tower providing several hours advanced notice to the businessmen working along the waterfront. From 1954 until 1960, the BME used a lookout and a surplus Navy telescope at North Point to provide its uptown office with the vessel name and time of arrival via telephone. Dispatchers would then make the necessary calls to agents, tugs, linemen and others on their notification list.
The end of an era came in 1960, when the State of Maryland, the Association of Maryland Pilots, and the BME worked together to build a ship to shore communications system. In their press release, the Port Authority coined the phrase “the Voice of the Chesapeake Bay” to describe the new system. The pilots would carry portable VHF radios to improve bridge to bridge communications and also provide reliable communications with the powerful base station operated by BME dispatchers.
Accurate and timely advanced arrival information is the starting point from which all shore side activities associated with a vessel call begin.
Agents, pilots, federal agencies, tug companies, line handlers, terminal operators, customs brokers, freight forwarders, chandlers, and trucking companies all rely on this information in order to provide efficient service to a vessel during its voyage to and from the Port of Baltimore.
Today, the BME uses available technology to provide similar tracking and communications services; however, our ability to gather advanced arrival information now extends from hours out to many days. With the implementation of web based technology, we are poised to make another leap of progress in information exchange.
We remain “the Voice of the Chesapeake Bay” and we stand ready to become the hub of a port communications cooperative working for the well being and advancement of the Port of Baltimore.