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Weird Distress Call - Doesn't the CG have DF gear?


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Short version of the story:

Sailing near Rock Hall we heard one side of a distress call. The CG was trying to get the exact location of a disabled boat. Even with no squelch and an antenna about 60 feet up I could only hear the CG side of the conversation.

When there a gap in the conversation I called them and suggested they double-check the position of the boat before sending someone to Rock Hall, if they were actually in or near Rock Hall I would be able to hear them too. Another boat jumped in that was closer to Rock Hall and they also could not hear them nor see them.

The CG then sent an "E-911" request to the distressed boat's cell phone and figured out they were near Turkey Point, which is about *50 miles north of Rock Hall*!!!!!!!!!  Don't they have DF gear that would have made that obvious :unsure:

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I am not familiar with the area, please be kind.  Here is a chart with pins where I think Turkey Point and Rock Hall are.

image.thumb.png.4f0438299d616b784eb4df02c860a134.png

 

Here is a map of USCG VHF facilities in the area, and their coverage.

 

https://navcen.uscg.gov/images/marcomms/cgcomms/Rescue21/SecNCR-Balt.jpg

 

It would appear to me that the only VHF coverage in the area is from Greenbury Point and North East.  These stations are both on an extended line drawn between Rock Hall and Turkey Point.  Since RDF can determine azimuth but not distance, with available facilities it would not be possible for the USCG to ascertain the difference between a transmission originating at Rock Hall and a transmission originating at Turkey Point.

 

image.png

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5 hours ago, kent_island_sailor said:

It looks like they essentially have no DF ability with the baseline running right up the Bay :rolleyes:

They equip all the stations with DF capability at considerable expense.  Much of the justification is not based on safety but rather so they can identify false mayday calls where the location of the boat making the false call does not correspond with the location in the false report.  I guess this is a common thing.

I don't believe that the tower siting was chosen with DF in mind.  To do so would involve tradeoffs e.g. more towers or a placement that provides good DF but less coverage.

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9 hours ago, kent_island_sailor said:

The CG then sent an "E-911" request to the distressed boat's cell phone and figured out they were near Turkey Point, which is about *50 miles north of Rock Hall*!!!!!!!!!  Don't they have DF gear that would have made that obvious :unsure:

Most people are not very smart.  Most cell phones have a "compass" app, and that compass app has your gps lat/long right in the middle of it.  You don't need cell service or WiFi to get lat/long either.  So all you need to do is open the compass app, and read the Coasties the lat long you see.  There, problem solved.

There was a hiker out here is silly socal, who got lost.  Used the last of his phones power to take a selfie of himself sitting on a cliff, and posted to social media.  Fortunately for him, some guy recognized the cliff, and directed rescuer to him.  Would have been way more useful to the rescuers had he taken a screen shot of the compass app with the lat long, and sent/posted that.  

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'Most people are not very smart....' and 'Would have been way more useful.....' I'm thinking Darwin Award candidates?

'I am not familiar with the area, please be kind'  Me, too ( without the # )

What was the nature of the distress call? Was it justified? Didn't the distressed boaters know of the internationally-agreed format for a Distress Message?

What was the outcome?

 

 

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50 minutes ago, bilbobaggins said:

'Most people are not very smart....' and 'Would have been way more useful.....' I'm thinking Darwin Award candidates?

'I am not familiar with the area, please be kind'  Me, too ( without the # )

What was the nature of the distress call? Was it justified? Didn't the distressed boaters know of the internationally-agreed format for a Distress Message?

What was the outcome?

 

 

I could not hear him, but it sounded like he was dead in the water from the other end of the conversation. Last radio comms sounded like SeaTow was going to get him.

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My understanding is that the entire US is now equipped with a USCG chain of DR-capable radio stations and remote substations... something like "Rescue 21" or some hi-tech-sounding name.

OTOH they are having problems everywhere with personnel, training, and equipment availability. I would thing that the Chesapeake would be a priority area for them to have trained personnel, as well as it being fairly decent duty station(s). No idea WTF was going on, glad they seemed to resolve it.

FB- Doug

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I would have to guess that from a budget constrained requirements standpoint, the DF capabilities are oriented offshore and on the great lakes, where there are no landmarks once your over the horizon.  For most inland waterways, including most of the Chesapeake Bay, mariners "should" be able to give a pretty accurate description of where they are, most of the time...

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Another weird one the week before:

The DSC alarm was going nuts beeping away and a distress call showed up on my plotter. My plotter helpfully told me there were dangers between me and the boat, which was true because a straight line passed through dry land.

Turns out the guy was having medical issues, he said he couldn't feel his legs and thought he might pass out. In what turned out to be a repeat of other medical distress calls I have heard, the CG went through the entire cookie-cutter list of info they wanted, is everyone wearing a PFD, how many onboard, etc. etc. :rolleyes: I was screaming to myself "This guy might pass out any second, confirm his position, get help on the way, THEN do the fill out the 35 question form routine you shithead" :angry: As I was thinking about saying that another boat broke in, said they were in the same cove and were headed over to help. Eventually the guy was taken off  to the hospital, so it all ended well, but come on, a guy about to fall over need help NOW.

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In Vancouver I get to see the contrast between Canadian CG and USCG and it's pretty sad how scripted USCG is.

Canadian Coast Guard's #1 question is always location before worrying about identification, nature of emergency, number on board, etc. Always calm and collected.

USCG... "THIS IS UNITED STATES COAST GUARD CENTRE PUGET SOUND. BREAK! (insert cookie cutter list of 20 questions, location being number 7-8)". Fucking yelling and rushed like the world is going to end because a 14ft runabout ran out of gas 100ft from the fuel dock.

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1 hour ago, climenuts said:

In Vancouver I get to see the contrast between Canadian CG and USCG and it's pretty sad how scripted USCG is.

Canadian Coast Guard's #1 question is always location before worrying about identification, nature of emergency, number on board, etc. Always calm and collected.

USCG... "THIS IS UNITED STATES COAST GUARD CENTRE PUGET SOUND. BREAK! (insert cookie cutter list of 20 questions, location being number 7-8)". Fucking yelling and rushed like the world is going to end because a 14ft runabout ran out of gas 100ft from the fuel dock.

It was interesting that the only radio we got in some coves on the west coast of the island was USCG Columbia River. Some coves we got nada.

And you're right, there is a lot of babble going on when someone calls in.

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On 9/28/2021 at 12:38 PM, 2airishuman said:

They equip all the stations with DF capability at considerable expense.  Much of the justification is not based on safety but rather so they can identify false mayday calls where the location of the boat making the false call does not correspond with the location in the false report.  I guess this is a common thing.

I don't believe that the tower siting was chosen with DF in mind.  To do so would involve tradeoffs e.g. more towers or a placement that provides good DF but less coverage.

This is not at all the case. CG DF capabilities were greatly improved with the addition of the Rescue 21 system as a direct result of the S/V Morning Dew case off Charleston in the 90s. This was a direct response to loss of life, not the prosecution of false distress calls (even though it does aid in those greatly).

 

That said, many geographic regions make reception, much less DF capabilities, rather difficult. 

For the sake or transparency, Im a former Senior Chief in the USCG with far too many years experience with R21. Fire away with your questions.

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3 hours ago, Crash said:

I would have to guess that from a budget constrained requirements standpoint, the DF capabilities are oriented offshore and on the great lakes, where there are no landmarks once your over the horizon.  For most inland waterways, including most of the Chesapeake Bay, mariners "should" be able to give a pretty accurate description of where they are, most of the time...

In the pre-R21 day, this was often the case. Currently R21 has fairly global DF capabilities. There are constraints however, such as location of the receivers on each perspective tower. The space on these towers are leased, and occasionally less than optimal. If the receiver is located in a position that has partial blockage of the tower, you will have a partial shadow in df capabilities. The affect of this is strategically minimized by the location and spacing of R21 to create overlap as much as possible. As someone mentioned, they provide bearing (the word used was azimuth, which in this case is not entirely appropriate) and its that bearing overlap that provides an incredibly reliable location of vessels broadcasting.

 

-Jay

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2 hours ago, kent_island_sailor said:

Another weird one the week before:

The DSC alarm was going nuts beeping away and a distress call showed up on my plotter. My plotter helpfully told me there were dangers between me and the boat, which was true because a straight line passed through dry land.

Turns out the guy was having medical issues, he said he couldn't feel his legs and thought he might pass out. In what turned out to be a repeat of other medical distress calls I have heard, the CG went through the entire cookie-cutter list of info they wanted, is everyone wearing a PFD, how many onboard, etc. etc. :rolleyes: I was screaming to myself "This guy might pass out any second, confirm his position, get help on the way, THEN do the fill out the 35 question form routine you shithead" :angry: As I was thinking about saying that another boat broke in, said they were in the same cove and were headed over to help. Eventually the guy was taken off  to the hospital, so it all ended well, but come on, a guy about to fall over need help NOW.

Lots of backround im providing here. 

I wasnt in the room as a full beard has replaced my uniform, but I can assure you a response was dispatched as soon as a location and nature of distress was ascertained. The "list of 35 questions" is an unfortunate part of red tape that has been created over the years, and short of a loss of communications, "must" be gathered. Again, by no means do these questions lengthen response times. The guy/gal on the other end of the radio is one piece of a large team coordinating the response.

 

-Jay

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2 hours ago, climenuts said:

In Vancouver I get to see the contrast between Canadian CG and USCG and it's pretty sad how scripted USCG is.

Canadian Coast Guard's #1 question is always location before worrying about identification, nature of emergency, number on board, etc. Always calm and collected.

USCG... "THIS IS UNITED STATES COAST GUARD CENTRE PUGET SOUND. BREAK! (insert cookie cutter list of 20 questions, location being number 7-8)". Fucking yelling and rushed like the world is going to end because a 14ft runabout ran out of gas 100ft from the fuel dock.

If that is the case, its a local training issue. Position and nature of distress have always been taught as the 2 most important bits of information. Description of vsl and POB being the only other 2 I would care about if I could get nothing else. I would have some serious discussions in my command center if it was done any other way.

 

-Jay

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2 hours ago, Driftwood47 said:

In the pre-R21 day, this was often the case. Currently R21 has fairly global DF capabilities. There are constraints however, such as location of the receivers on each perspective tower. The space on these towers are leased, and occasionally less than optimal. If the receiver is located in a position that has partial blockage of the tower, you will have a partial shadow in df capabilities. The affect of this is strategically minimized by the location and spacing of R21 to create overlap as much as possible. As someone mentioned, they provide bearing (the word used was azimuth, which in this case is not entirely appropriate) and its that bearing overlap that provides an incredibly reliable location of vessels broadcasting.

 

-Jay

If you look at the map upthread, unless there are more DF antennas than what is shown, anyplace in the Northern Bay is on a straight line between the stations. The bearings won't change for 30-40 miles north or south.

I didn't get the idea anyone would have looked anywhere but Rock Hall absent me mentioning they weren't there.

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Youll have to forgive me, as my experience in that area is fairly limited with the exception of sailing a few big white boats with orange stripes up to Baltimore a few times. All my landlubber gigs were in FL, NE, and the NW. 

 

The situation you describe is more or less correct though. Many near shore locations fall prey to such scenarios where the majority of DF towers are coastal, and any near-shore call will cast LOBs essentially parallel to the shore, not providing a ton of benefit. 

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On 9/28/2021 at 5:04 PM, bilbobaggins said:

'Most people are not very smart....' and 'Would have been way more useful.....' I'm thinking Darwin Award candidates?

'I am not familiar with the area, please be kind'  Me, too ( without the # )

What was the nature of the distress call? Was it justified? Didn't the distressed boaters know of the internationally-agreed format for a Distress Message?

What was the outcome?

I can speak with certainty that the majority of boaters do not fully understand the meaning of distress, much less how to broadcast it. 

In this case, as mentioned later, it sounds as if they were DIW, which is not (on its own) a distress situation. There are certainly other contributing factors that can elevate a DIW situation from "alert" to "distress", but without knowing any further detail, I wouldn't call it distress either, and SeaTow/TBUS would be the appropriate response. This is predicated (dare I say "dictated"?) by the Maritime SAR Assistance Policy laid out by congress in '82. If you find yourself so inclined, you can read about it more in detail in the CG SAR Addendum, Chapter 4.1 located here: https://www.dco.uscg.mil/Portals/9/CG-5R/manuals/COMDTINST M16130.2F.pdf

 

On 9/28/2021 at 5:04 PM, bilbobaggins said:

 

 

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3 hours ago, Driftwood47 said:

For what it's worth, I'm not at all trying to make excuses for the CG in any way. I figured that with this being one area I had extensive experience in, I would give you a peek behind the curtain for whatever that is worth.

 

-Jay

I appreciate it!

My experiences with the CG have been .......say............variable.
If I was sinking, I know the best rescue teams on the planet would be coming to get me if it was at all possible. After a hurricane we were stuck with a ripped main and no engine due to dirt stirred up in the fuel. The CG came out and got our sail, took it to a sail loft, and then returned it two days later so we could sail home B)

OTOH  - Once on a dark and stormy night rail down with just a storm jib and 20+ breaking seas on the beam, a cutter showed up, asked a bunch of questions about how many radar sets we had - which was none, and wanted to board for an inspection.  I told them to go away, there was no way in hell I could come along side them and no way they were going to be launching a dinghy either. The CG insisted they could come over and I kept telling them they were going to sink me or their dinghy depending, and finally a new guy got on the radio that recognized us from a bar in Bermuda and told us to keep going and have a good trip :rolleyes:

Then there was the crew with a guy on the .50 cal that came right at me at night full speed, turned at the last second to do a 360 around me, and then pulled up and asked if I had seen anyone in distress. WTF! I almost told them I had, some drunks had stolen a patrol boat.

 

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5 hours ago, Driftwood47 said:

For what it's worth, I'm not at all trying to make excuses for the CG in any way. I figured that with this being one area I had extensive experience in, I would give you a peek behind the curtain for whatever that is worth.

 

-Jay

Mucho obrigado, Chief

The twenty obligatory question is kind of annoying but recreational boaters are a very mixed bag and annoying the skilled is a very low price to pay for saving the asses of the dumbasses whose families are looking for an excuse to sue. I try to be patient with it myself. Have always had good interaction with the USCG

FB- Doug

 

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5 hours ago, Driftwood47 said:

As professional as the CG is as an organization, they are not exempt from idiots and asshats. Sadly those exist in all walks of life.

OTOH if you had to put up with some of what they do.....

Mayday Mayday I hit the Bay Bridge

It is a clear sunny day Captain, how did you manage that?

I was arguing with my girlfriend

(random third person interjects) Well we had a different word for it, you call it arguing now? :lol:

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17 hours ago, Driftwood47 said:

For what it's worth, I'm not at all trying to make excuses for the CG in any way. I figured that with this being one area I had extensive experience in, I would give you a peek behind the curtain for whatever that is worth.

 

-Jay

It's interesting, Delta47, to 'have a peek behind the curtain'. I'm peeking from several thousand nm to the east of The Chesapeake region and am aware that we are 'two nations divided by a common language' ( W S Churchill ) and practices. We here are an island nation, but not insular, given that many other diverse nations use our crowded seaways for fishing and transit, often struggling with the ITU-mandated 'English' for emergency messages/comms.

There are Irish, Dutch, Belgian and French Rescue Coordination Centres dotted about in addition to our own, each with its style and individuality..... its share of local knowledge - and its share of local eedjits.

I'm well aware that those who transmit or respond to a Distress or Urgency Message around here ( and also around your coasts ) may not have English of any flavour as their first language. That's why it's so very important to use the mandated prowords in the mandated sequences.

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3 hours ago, bilbobaggins said:

It's interesting, Delta47, to 'have a peek behind the curtain'. I'm peeking from several thousand nm to the east of The Chesapeake region and am aware that we are 'two nations divided by a common language' ( W S Churchill ) and practices. We here are an island nation, but not insular, given that many other diverse nations use our crowded seaways for fishing and transit, often struggling with the ITU-mandated 'English' for emergency messages/comms.

There are Irish, Dutch, Belgian and French Rescue Coordination Centres dotted about in addition to our own, each with its style and individuality..... its share of local knowledge - and its share of local eedjits.

I'm well aware that those who transmit or respond to a Distress or Urgency Message around here ( and also around your coasts ) may not have English of any flavour as their first language. That's why it's so very important to use the mandated prowords in the mandated sequences.

We have a thing where the CG takes the call at first, but the Marine Police (state patrols different from CG), various fire departments with rescue boats, TowBoatUS, SeaTow, the State Police helicopters, the CG Auxiliary (civilian volunteers), and any random nearby boat may jump in.

A few years ago a distress call in early March on a freaking COLD morning started with a northbound tanker pilot calling me. He wasn't sure, but he though he saw someone on a capsized boat inshore of Thomas Point light. It is far too shallow for a loaded tanker to get back there, but he thought maybe I could. I could, but I was 4 miles away with a speed of 6 knots, so I called the CG. Then the local fire department heard the traffic and sent their boat out and the CG sent their boat out and they found a kid who was drunk the night before, stole a Hobie Cat, capsized it somehow, and spent the night floating around when it was cold enough to leave frost on the deck! The kid was lucky that tanker pilot had sharp eyes, that all happened behind me and I wasn't looking that way.

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Reminds me of the boat/jet-ski rentals out of False Creek here who specifically instruct renters to never call CG, 911, or hail other boats: just call the rental place for them to come get you.

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Two Sundays ago on SF Bay there was a (repeated) radio call where the CG was asking for help... there had apparently been a transmission earlier (11am, perhaps), where the only transmission was, "Help my boat is sinking."  The CG was asking every 15 minutes if anyone had heard it, and if anyone had was asking for their location, mast height, etc.  A few boats responded with locations and the requested information.

Like the OP, I was kind of surprised.  I assumed the CG had massive receivers, DF gear, and any other technological help, and assumed it was because of the reportedly short transmission that they didn't get a fix.  The Sector NCR Maryland map is insightful, though.   I was curious about what SF bay coverage looked like, and was kind of surprised that it was less comprehensive than I assumed, but given the number of receivers at Bush Bluff, Presidio, Pittsburg, Mount Umunhum, etc., I'm still a little surprised they didn't get a better bearing on it.

Of course, in this case it's likely that it was a false SOS, but still... if I was depending on it, as people commented above I'd make sure my location was the first thing out of my mouth, even before the CG asks how many life jackets I have and if my black waste valve is wired shut...

SecSanFran.jpg)

 

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13 hours ago, RedHerring said:

Two Sundays ago on SF Bay there was a (repeated) radio call where the CG was asking for help... there had apparently been a transmission earlier (11am, perhaps), where the only transmission was, "Help my boat is sinking."  The CG was asking every 15 minutes if anyone had heard it, and if anyone had was asking for their location, mast height, etc.  A few boats responded with locations and the requested information.

Like the OP, I was kind of surprised.  I assumed the CG had massive receivers, DF gear, and any other technological help, and assumed it was because of the reportedly short transmission that they didn't get a fix.  The Sector NCR Maryland map is insightful, though.   I was curious about what SF bay coverage looked like, and was kind of surprised that it was less comprehensive than I assumed, but given the number of receivers at Bush Bluff, Presidio, Pittsburg, Mount Umunhum, etc., I'm still a little surprised they didn't get a better bearing on it.

Of course, in this case it's likely that it was a false SOS, but still... if I was depending on it, as people commented above I'd make sure my location was the first thing out of my mouth, even before the CG asks how many life jackets I have and if my black waste valve is wired shut...

SecSanFran.jpg)

 

There are definitely nuances within radio and DF capabilities. As you mentioned, some calls are often too short to throw LOBs. Additionally, one can can throw multiple LOBs, and without further traffic, you cant narrow it down to which is the proper one.

 

Additionally, depending on which high site it the call was received on, even if there was one solid LOB (take the Post Ranch tower for example), that only gives you a single bearing. While you can certainly create a search vector off of a single LOB, its less than ideal and the broadcast you hear will still say something to the effect of "unknown position".

 

Lastly, I'm sure many of you have experienced this on the water, but weather greatly affects radio waves. For VHF, which is (more or less) line of sight, things like fog will carry the signal further, and that call could have been made well beyond the range of the DF equipment. HF/SSB has other factors such as day vs night where you have  higher frequencies piercing the ionosphere and not skipping properly (hence day and night frequencies on HF). (Any of you still use HF? )

 

Lots of variables here and without knowing the case details, its really hard to say why they do or do not have amplifying information.

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1 hour ago, Driftwood47 said:

There are definitely nuances within radio and DF capabilities. As you mentioned, some calls are often too short to throw LOBs. Additionally, one can can throw multiple LOBs, and without further traffic, you cant narrow it down to which is the proper one.

 

Additionally, depending on which high site it the call was received on, even if there was one solid LOB (take the Post Ranch tower for example), that only gives you a single bearing. While you can certainly create a search vector off of a single LOB, its less than ideal and the broadcast you hear will still say something to the effect of "unknown position".

 

Lastly, I'm sure many of you have experienced this on the water, but weather greatly affects radio waves. For VHF, which is (more or less) line of sight, things like fog will carry the signal further, and that call could have been made well beyond the range of the DF equipment. HF/SSB has other factors such as day vs night where you have  higher frequencies piercing the ionosphere and not skipping properly (hence day and night frequencies on HF). (Any of you still use HF? )

 

Lots of variables here and without knowing the case details, its really hard to say why they do or do not have amplifying information.

I still do use HF. As far as VHF range, my AIS station at my house usually has a range of about 10-20 miles or so, but every now and again I get something in the 100-200+ mile range.

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