In 1787, Alexander Hamilton envisioned that “a few armed vessels, judiciously stationed at the entrances of our ports, might at a small expense be made useful sentinels of our laws.”  Fast forward to today and we can be sure that Alexander Hamilton would be astonished at the breadth, depth and intensity of duties carried out by the United States Coast Guard.  A major expansion in our ability to conduct the missions and duties established by the Commandant of the United States Coast Guard is through “Rescue 21.”  This column is the update on what it is and where it is working.

Rescue 21 – What Is It?

Rescue 21 is the first major overhaul of the USCG communications system since the 1970s.  Rescue 21 is replacing a wide range of aging, obsolete VHF-FM radio communications equipment:

  • Workstations/consoles at about 270 Coast Guard facilities
  • All remote transceiver sites, as well as the network connecting them to the facilities above
  • Approximately 3,000 portable radios
  • Direction finding capability greatly improved to +/- 2 degrees
  • Communications coverage gaps in existing system greatly reduced  

Further, it entails several, integrated capabilities:

  • Direction-finding capability.
  • Reduction of coverage gaps along the coast.
  • Enhanced playback capability improving clarity of calls.
  • Digital archiving of calls.
  • Increased (and simultaneous) channel monitoring capacity, ensuring all calls get through. 

Rescue 21 is “standing the watch.”

Rescue 21 – How Does It Work?

Well, to start with, here is a list of all the equipment you need to be part of it:

            1. a standard VHF radio

            2. nothing else.

If it is a “DSC” radio, which will certainly help, but, bottom line, all you need to be able to call for help and have it responded to in 21st century fashion is a standard VHF radio…

Here’s what happens:

You send your distress/May-day call.  It is automatically recorded and digitized by the station receiving it.
Direction finding (DF) equipment from one or more high sites computes the direction from which the signal originated, or line of bearing (LOB).  Recall reading about 400’ radio towers being installed at USCG stations in the area?  This is why.
Your distress audio and the LOB are sent to the closest Ground Center(s).
Appropriate resources (planes, helicopters, boats) are dispatched to respond immediately — even across regional boundaries.  No turf wars in our surf.  You’re in danger.  We’re coming.

You might say, “Well, direction finding technology has been around for decades.  What’s the big deal?”  While true, this new digital technology is accurate to within +/- 2 degrees.  Like a trusty pointer, USCG resources will fly down that Line Of Bearing – and find you.

Who knows, with Rescue 21 in place, what the future holds – but greater safety of life at sea is part of it.

 And one other thing that Rescue-21 does well… it quickly triangulates on false may-days too…  From the Jacksonville, NC, Daily News:

JACKSONVILLE -- A Holly Ridge man has agreed to pay nearly a quarter of a million dollars in restitution for false distress calls he made to the Coast Guard.  Jeremy C. Fisher, 25, pleaded guilty in federal court to conspiring to make false distress messages. As part of his plea agreement, Fisher agreed to pay $234,111 restitution to the Coast Guard for all search and rescue costs associated with the hoax calls.  William H. Yates, 22, of Sneads Ferry and Steven G. Medina, 21, of Onslow County, each pleaded guilty to one count of aiding and abetting false distress messages. Medina agreed to pay $233.48, and Yates agreed to pay $506.80 in restitution, according to a press release from U.S. Attorney George E.B. Holding.  Fisher faces up to five years in prison followed by up to three years of supervised release. Yates and Medina each face up to six years in prison followed by up to two years' supervised release.


courtesy: USCG & General Dynamics