Ra­dio waves

Coast­guard’s vol­un­teers –crews aid­ing your safety.

Boating NZ - - Contents - BY LIND­SAY WRIGHT

“Be­tween Jan­uary 1 and March 31 this year we B han­dled 47,733 ra­dio calls,” says Coast­guard com­mu­ni­ca­tions co­or­di­na­tor, Mike Bud­dle. “That in­cludes bar re­ports, trip re­ports and calls for as­sis­tance.” The busiest day was Feb­ru­ary 28 when 1,964 boat skip­pers called the op­er­a­tions cen­tre.

About 68% of the calls in­volved me­chan­i­cal, elec­tri­cal or fuel prob­lems. Med­i­cal mishaps, falls, strokes or car­diac ar­rests also ac­count for a fair bit of the work­load.

“But flat bat­ter­ies and run­ning out of fuel are two of our big­gies,” says duty of­fi­cer Hemi Manaena.

“We’re of­ten called on to do mede­vacs from Wai­heke Is­land – our boats are big and heavy enough to get out there and back quickly and com­fort­ably in bad weather. And we get many, many calls for miss­ing peo­ple.”

Boats us­ing many of the coun­try’s bar har­bours are mon­i­tored by the Coast­guard team. “Peo­ple can call us when they start their bar cross­ing,” Hemi ex­plains, “and if they don’t call and can­cel the re­port when they’re safely over the bar, an alarm goes off at the op­er­a­tions cen­tre and we start try­ing to get in touch with them, their nom­i­nated con­tacts – or our lo­cal peo­ple.”

The alarm is set to sound at dif­fer­ent times for the var­i­ous bar cross­ings. It al­lows 30 min­utes for tran­sit­ing Manukau

or 15 min­utes for Raglan. Other bar har­bours com­ply with ap­pro­pri­ate time pe­ri­ods for their lo­ca­tion.

“That’s why we en­cour­age peo­ple to ob­tain and use a call sign,” says Hemi. “Our com­puter soft­ware has their his­tory, lo­gin, de­scrip­tion of the ves­sel and con­tact de­tails filed un­der their call sign.” Op­er­a­tors also have ac­cess to soft­ware for mon­i­tor­ing the where­abouts of smart phones.

“Quite of­ten we find that they’re at home and just for­got to call us.

“But I get the im­pres­sion that more skip­pers are get­ting into boat­ing ed­u­ca­tion,” he says re­flec­tively, “skip­pers seem to be much more aware of the lim­i­ta­tions of their ves­sels and the weather, we’re log­ging more TRS (Trip Re­ports) and peo­ple are us­ing call signs. There’s been a change of at­ti­tude from the old-style ma­cho boat­ing bloke. More peo­ple are wear­ing life­jack­ets too.”

But if things do come un­stuck at sea, the Res­cue Co­or­di­na­tion Cen­tre can track most of Coast­guard’s 78 res­cue ves­sels na­tion­wide while they are in­volved in a call­out. The op­er­a­tors also use Flight Fol­low­ing Sys­tems to keep an eye on the West­pac Res­cue He­li­copter. Tabs are also kept on the Coast­guard’s two Cessna search planes, which are based at Kerik­eri and Ard­more.

For com­mer­cial ves­sels, the cen­tre has ac­cess to AIS (Au­to­matic Iden­ti­fi­ca­tion Sys­tem) tech­nol­ogy. “If some­one has an in­ci­dent some­where re­ally re­mote we can use the AIS to see what com­mer­cial ves­sels are in the vicin­ity and able to ren­der as­sis­tance.

“We’re the only estab­lish­ment in the coun­try that has all the SAR (Search and Res­cue) ops in one build­ing – a mul­ti­a­gency re­sponse cen­tre,” Hemi ex­plains. “We have po­lice, the har­bour­mas­ter’s of­fice, res­cue he­li­copters, surf life­savers, etc, on call – just by push­ing one alarm but­ton.

“I love the job.” He stretches his legs, rolling back his chair. But his eyes keep scan­ning the flick­er­ing com­puter mon­i­tors ar­rayed around his desk. “It’s re­ally var­ied – no two days are the same.

“I started vol­un­teer­ing in 2014 and started work full­time in 2016. I’ve been duty of­fi­cer for about six months.

“It’s a job with lots of dif­fer­ent out­comes. Some­times the peo­ple don’t sur­vive – you just have to deal with it. I hate the in­ci­dents where there are chil­dren aboard. But if there’s a suc­cess­ful out­come – you go home buzzing.

“One job was a guy spray­ing de­greaser around his en­gine room with the en­gine run­ning. He was badly burned in the re­sult­ing fire­ball, but we got him to hospi­tal quick enough to get the treat­ment he needed. That felt re­ally good.”

New vol­un­teer op­er­a­tors start out by com­plet­ing a two-day Mar­itime VHF Ra­dio Op­er­a­tors cer­tifi­cate.

A duty of­fi­cer and staff ra­dio op­er­a­tor are on duty at all times and the other seats are taken by vol­un­teers.

“At week­ends and pub­lic hol­i­days all seats are full,” Hemi ex­plains. The seven full-time op­er­a­tors work 12hour shifts (0600-1800 or 1800-0600) for two days and two nights then have four days off, so the cen­tre is staffed 24/7. The full-timers are sup­ple­mented by a team of 40-50 vol­un­teers.

In­doors the op­er­a­tors are all at work; mon­i­tor­ing calls from any one of the 63 units sta­tioned around the coast­line (and some lakes…) but out­side the tinted glass frontage, a flotilla of plea­sure boats power and sail over the green, wind and wake-wrin­kled har­bour to­wards the Hau­raki Gulf.

Many of them will have tuned-in to the Coast­guard Now­cast ser­vice. Met­ser­vice ma­rine weather up­dates for fore­cast ar­eas through­out the coun­try are recorded and broad­cast on nom­i­nated VHF channels to boat­ing folk through­out the coun­try.

Hemi is re­luc­tant to tell tales on any boat­ing folk who’ve had self-im­posed prob­lems at sea, but does dob in an­other op­er­a­tor. “It can be a laugh a minute. We had one new op­er­a­tor work­ing here who saw some­thing splash into the har­bour out of the cor­ner of her eye. ‘I just saw a big gan­net dive,’ she said. “It turned out to be a he­li­copter crash – luck­ily we got ‘em and no­body was hurt… we got a good laugh out of it.”

...we en­cour­age peo­ple to ob­tain and use a call sign...

Flat bat­ter­ies and empty fuel tanks are two of the most com­mon is­sues be­hind calls to Coast­guard, says Hemi Manaena.

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