Search & Rescue (SAR) is the most recognizable and time-honored task of any mariner, especially the United States Coast Guard. “You have to go out but you don’t have to come back” is a wizened catch-phrase long gone from the guidance offered by senior officers to eager-to-prove-themselves-worthy boat crews. Now, it is risk management, technology and technique. Having saved well over 1,000,000 lives since its founding in 1790, the US Coast Guard can safely claim that they know how to do it. But just what happens in the Command Centers and on the search vessels when a May-Day cry comes in? This column is about that.
USCG Forces know many things about risk management, especially these factors:
1. Every event has some degree of risk;
2. All risks will never be known until presented;
3. Every event requires balancing risk by applying adequate controls and resources, which may be in short supply for the task at hand and;
4. Time is not an ally…
So, the Command Center must get as much as or all of this basic information from the boater in distress and over to the SAR Mission Coordinator (SMC) asap:
1. Just what is the nature of the distress (out of fuel is one thing; sinking or afire is another);
2. What is their last known position;
3. Description of the vessel in distress or, possibly far worse, the person lost overboard;
4. Number of people on board/involved (no one gets left behind by accident);
5. What are the weather/sea conditions at the scene.
This will determine what the SMC specifically tasks the coxswain and crew of the rescue vessel with. The rescue crew will use the time from leaving the dock to arriving at the scene of the event/search area to prep for the task – especially working with the Rescue-21 radio/direction-finding system.
Rescue-21 – The Modern Day Salvor
#Rescue21, in addition to being an integral part of the USCG’s 21st century communications system, has a direction finding capability. So, even if the distressed vessel doesn’t have an EPIRB* or the crew isn’t wearing PLB*s, Rescue-21 can point directly at the source of the radio signal. Although there is a 4o error factor (2o on either side of the direct or rhumb line), multiple radio towers can reduce the search area even further. (see Diagram #1)