Coast Guard uses new technology to quickly locate flooding vessel

9th Coast Guard District NewsCLEVELAND – U.S. Coast Guard personnel in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., used Rescue 21, new technology currently being installed in the sector’s comand center, to locate a sailboat taking on water with one person aboard near Drummond Island, Mich., Thursday, ending in a safe trip home for the man.

Search and Rescue controllers in the command center at Coast Guard Sector Sault Ste. Marie heard a man hail the Coast Guard on a VHF-FM marine radio at 11:48 a.m., stating his boat, the sailing vessel Tringa, was sinking, but due to other radio transmissions immediately following his call, the SAR controllers were never able to establish communication with him to ask his location.

Two radio towers picked up the distress transmission, one in Goetzville, Mich., and the other in Norwood, Mich., providing the SAR controllers with an overlapping area to direct search assets.

An aircrew in an MH-65 Dolphin rescue helicopter from Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City, Mich., and a boatcrew in a 25-foot Response Boat-Small from Coast Guard Station St. Ignace, Mich., began searching the area, continuing through the afternoon.

Rescue 21, the Coast Guard’s advanced command, control and communications system, is currently being installed in the Sector Sault Ste. Marie command center, but the project is not yet complete. But as the marine version of 9-1-1, Rescue 21 facilitates better communication and interoperability in emergency situations, and provides communications coverage out to a minimum of 20 nautical miles off the coastal zone. With its advanced direction-finding capabilities and increased range, Rescue 21 helps the Coast Guard better “hear the call,” pinpoint the location and quickly direct rescue assets to boaters in distress.

The oncoming watch of SAR controllers came in Thursday afternoon to relieve the SAR controllers who had been orchestrating the search for the sailboat since it began. Among the oncoming controllers was Chief Petty Officer John Brinkman, who completed the first class of Rescue 21 training offered to Sector Sault Ste. Marie SAR controllers just prior to coming on duty in the command center Thursday afternoon. Brinkman suggested trying to use the system to obtain a better location, despite it not yet being fully implemented.

Within five minutes of powering up Rescue 21, SAR controllers were able to obtain a precise location to redirect the helicopter and boatcrew. Roughly 15 minutes later, at 5:05 p.m., the helicpoter pilots radioed in to report they found the sailboat about 10 miles south of Drummond Island, Mich. It was 43 miles east of the center of the original search area, which was determined by traditional methods of triangulating position based on the positions of the radio towers that captured the call.

“Everyone in the command center got really excited when we realized how well Rescue 21 worked,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Christopher Babcock, a SAR controller in the command center during the response. “Some of us were wondering how effective it would be, but it definitely proved it’s worth during this search.”

By communicating with the sailboat operator over the radio, the pilots learned the Madison Heights, Mich., man’s vessel stuck a submerged object, puncturing the hull. His vessel was taking on water at about five gallons per minute. The 66-year-old man said he had two dewatering pumps on board but one had stopped working. He reported the other was keeping up with the flooding. He was the only person aboard the vessel.

Once the boatcrew arrived on scene, a Coast Guardsman went aboard the Tringa to ensure the man’s safety and stayed aboard while the RB-S crew escorted the sailboat to Walstrom’s Marine on the Cheboygan River.

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