If you are still pondering the purchase of a VHF radio, there’s a new program that the US Coast Guard has been working on that will add another good reason to carry a VHF while you’re kayaking.
The Rescue 21 system being put in place around the US will upgrade much of the equipment the Coast Guard (CG) has been using to receive distress calls. Under the previously existing system, distress calls relied upon callers to identify themselves and their positions. Boaters who were panicking, unaware of their position or unfamiliar with the names for local landmarks might be unable to give the CG vital information. Here in the Puget Sound region, the CG enlisted the help of a citizen action network to help locate boaters in distress. The network involved homeowners with a view of the waterways who could serve as the eyes of the CG and confirm information that may have been garbled or lost in a VHF Mayday transmission.
With the older radio system, in a worst case-scenario you might be able to get out a “Mayday, Mayday” on a radio with failing batteries, but the Coast Guard’s Search and Rescue (SAR) wouldn’t know where to begin looking for you. Not long ago the CG here picked up a weak transmission from a boater. All that came across was a fragment of the call, something about taking on water. The CG could only put out a call to the entire region asking if anyone else had heard that transmission.
Rescue 21 will give the SAR crews much sharper eyesight. Radio direction-finding equipment installed on new and existing USCG communication towers will provide SAR with the position coordinates of a VHF radio making a call. The towers can pick up a transmission as weak as one watt and lasting just two seconds. The Rescue 21 system is designed to pinpoint the location for SAR teams and cut response time to a minimum. The new system will also be able to identify obvious hoaxes—distress calls made from land. That will keep resources available for real emergencies and assist land-based authorities in tracking down the source of the fake calls.
Submersible handheld VHF radios are available for under $200 and many PFDs are designed with pockets to hold them. There are now even more good reasons to carry one and fewer excuses not to.
For more information about Rescue 21 and where it has been implemented, log on to www.uscg.mil/rescue21/
From the USCG
• Incorporates direction-finding equipment to improve locating mariners in distress
• Improves interoperability among federal, state, and local agencies
• Enhances clarity of distress calls
• Allows simultaneous channel monitoring
• Upgrades playback and recording feature of distress calls
• Reduces coverage gaps for coastal communications and along navigable rivers and waterways
• Supports Digital Selective Calling for registered users
• Provides portable towers for restoration of communications during emergencies or natural disasters