Un­sure who to call

Yachting Monthly - - NEWSIF -

A year af­ter nine Coast­guard sta­tions were closed in a move to cen­tralise and net­work the UK’s mar­itime safety or­gan­i­sa­tion, con­fu­sion re­mains among sailors about how the sys­tem works.

The tran­si­tion to a new na­tional net­work started in 2014 and was com­pleted in De­cem­ber 2015. The na­tional net­work com­prises the Na­tional Mar­itime Op­er­a­tions Cen­tre (NMOC) and 10 other op­er­a­tions cen­tres around the UK.

The re­main­ing op­er­a­tions cen­tres are Fare­ham NMOC, Dover, Fal­mouth, Holy­head, Mil­ford Haven, Belfast, Stornoway, Aberdeen, Shet­land, Hum­ber and Lon­don. These cen­tres are all net­worked to­gether, al­low­ing re­sources to be shared and work­load man­aged dur­ing busy pe­ri­ods and ma­jor in­ci­dents. There have been con­cerns among the sailing com­mu­nity, how­ever, that cruis­ers ei­ther do not know, or are con­fused about, how to con­tact the Coast­guard, and that they may not re­ceive the same level of ser­vice.

East Coast Pi­lot au­thor Dick Hol­ness said: ‘It is ev­i­dent that there is wide­spread con­fu­sion and lack of un­der­stand­ing in the boat­ing com­mu­nity about who to call, es­pe­cially where a long-stand­ing Coast­guard cen­tre has been shut down, such as Thames Coast­guard.’

The Mar­itime Coast­guard Agency (MCA) ad­vises that sailors should use Coast­guard call signs based on their ge­o­graph­i­cal area, such as ‘Fal­mouth Coast­guard’, but where there is any doubt, ‘UK Coast­guard’ can also be used.

There are also re­ports of con­fu­sion within the Coast­guard net­work. One East Coast sailor said: ‘Since Thames Coast­guard closed, get­ting a re­sponse has be­come a lot­tery. On the three oc­ca­sions I’ve tried to call Dover on DSC, they’ve not re­sponded once. They re­spond to non-DSC calls to “Dover Coast­guard” and “UK Coast­guard” most of the time, but not al­ways. They ap­pear to have ceased re­spond­ing to “Thames Coast­guard.”’ Ra­dio checks, where nec­es­sary, can be con­ducted on the lo­cal chan­nel with the Coast­guard, but never on VHF Ch16. When you make an emer­gency call to the Coast­guard by VHF ra­dio you also tell ev­ery­one within range. There might be some­one nearby who can help you more quickly. Make sure that

A spokesman for the MCA said that there had not been many re­ports of is­sues: ‘There have been a lim­ited num­ber of re­ports about yachts not get­ting a re­sponse. All re­ports will be ex­am­ined to see if there is a tech­ni­cal or per­son­nel is­sue. Any tech­ni­cal is­sues will be in­ves­ti­gated by our ra­dio in­fra­struc­ture depart­ment and re­paired, if needed. It should be hand­held VHF ra­dios and fixed mi­cro­phones are not in­ad­ver­tently transmitting. Open mi­cro­phone car­ri­ers can ren­der im­pos­si­ble all com­mu­ni­ca­tions on VHF Ch16.

Yachts should carry a fixed DSC VHF, a charged mo­bile phone, flares, a pow­er­ful torch and Per­sonal Lo­ca­tor Bea­con.

Ves­sels should be fit­ted with a DSC VHF ra­dio linked to GPS so an ac­cu­rate po­si­tion can be sent with a touch of a but­ton. noted that the VHF ra­dio sig­nal is line-of-sight. There­fore, some lo­ca­tions can have ‘blind spots’, due to the ge­o­graph­i­cal area.’

There have also been con­cerns that some lo­cal knowl­edge has been lost in the cen­tralised sys­tem, but Dick Hol­ness didn’t feel this was a ma­jor is­sue: ‘Ob­vi­ously there is a mix of old hands and newer staff in the Coast­guard op­er­a­tions room, and where some­one less ex­pe­ri­enced is han­dling an in­ci­dent there will be an old hand keep­ing an eye and giv­ing ad­vice if nec­es­sary.’

The RYA agreed that the new sys­tem is gen­er­ally work­ing well. RYA cruis­ing man­ager Stu­art Car­ruthers said: ‘It’s been a ma­jor, and nec­es­sary, change. There have been a few nig­gles, but on the whole the Coast­guard has man­aged it very well.’

The MCA con­firmed that lo­cal knowl­edge re­mains a key part of its train­ing for staff. ‘The new struc­ture kept one sta­tion in each of the pre­ced­ing pairs as a 24/7 Coast­guard Op­er­a­tions Cen­tre,’ a spokesman ex­plained. ‘This has en­abled the pre­vi­ous lev­els of lo­cal knowl­edge to be main­tained. An im­por­tant part of the fu­ture for HM Coast­guard is the on­go­ing im­prove­ment of our cur­rent train­ing pro­gramme for ex­ist­ing and new staff.’

‘ Since Thames Coast­guard closed, it’s be­come a lot­tery whether I get a re­sponse or not’

Some hand­held VHF ra­dios now in­clude DSC and GPS, which the Coast­guard rec­om­mends

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