Tag Archives: Coast Guard

Rescue services

With the VHF on Channel 16, I can hear the Coast Guard but not (usually) the boats talking to them. As a result, I get one side of the conversation and have to piece the story together from that.

One day, the Coast Guard acknowledged a message from a private boat which had reported a cruiser aground at a named part of Lough Ree. The Coast Guard didn’t have a map of the lake and didn’t know where that was [why not?] but it seemed that the private boat was able to explain matters. It was also able to say, in response to questions, that three people were visible on board and that one was wearing a lifejacket or buoyancy aid.

The Coast Guard, after a while, reported that it had asked the Lough Ree RNLI lifeboat to go to the rescue, gave an estimate of when it would get there and asked the private boat to remain on station. The private boat evidently agreed to do so.

Some time later the Coast Guard reported that the lifeboat was on its way.

And some time later again the Coast Guard called the lifeboat and told them they were being stood down and could return to base, as the hire firm was arranging for a boat to be sent to the rescue. The private boat was told that it could leave the scene.

If I were the skipper of the private boat, I would be very pissed off and, next time I saw a boat aground, I’d be inclined to ignore it. That would not be good.

The problem here is that there are two competing rescue services. The official service [PDF] is the one that was called into operation by the private boat, which did the right thing in reporting the grounding. And the system worked perfectly after that.

It should be noted that a private boat cannot know what, if anything, is happening through the unofficial rescue service operated by hire companies on the Shannon: “unofficial” in that its boats are not Declared SRUs (Search and Rescue units), the hire firms (and IBRA) are not listed as Irish Search and Rescue Organisations and their operations are not coordinated by the Coast Guard.

According to the Carrick Craft Captain’s Handbook [PDF/Flipbook]

You will be given breakdown and emergency telephone numbers when you check in.

It also says

Running aground

In all cases immediately contact your hire boat base for advice using the number provided. In the interests of safety do not accept an offer of help from a passing boat. If needed, assistance will be quickly available either from your hire boat company or one of the associate hire boat companies who may be located closer to you. Your hire boat company will alert the necessary authorities to deal with any incident that may arise.

The bit about not accepting help from passing boats is OK, I suppose, until the water reaches your ankles.

But I suspect that the advice to hirers is based on experience: groundings are probably the most common form of accident, it is unlikely that the boat will sink, it is likewise unlikely that anyone will have been injured and it is probable that a dory or other workboat will be able to make any necessary checks and repairs, haul the boat off and admonish the crew.

However, there may be an element of self-interest in this too: if the hire firms look after these incidents themselves, they won’t find them covered in press releases from voluntary rescue bodies, with videos shot by boat-mounted cameras. I have heard it said that some folk — including private boaters — feel that rescuers’ press releases give the wrong impression of the inland waterways, suggesting that they are more dangerous than they really are, especially given that few rescues involve any threat to life. [That’s something I’ve heard, not my own view.]

It is entirely possible that I misunderstood, and have thus misrepresented, what was happening. But if I haven’t, it seems to me that there is a problem in the relationship between the official and unofficial rescus systems for hire boats. If hire company staff, who are paid for the job, can rescue afflicted boats, without having to impose on the volunteer rescue services, then that’s a good thing. But it would not be good to have private boaters ignore all hire boats in trouble because, some day, the trouble might be serious.

I do not know whether the hire firms and the Coast Guard have discussed these matters and reached some understanding or produced some protocol about when the firms will call in the official services. If they haven’t, it might be nice if they did.

And, in individual instances, the firms might tell the Coast Guard, and ask them to broadcast the fact, that there is a boat aground and that they’re on their way, perhaps asking private boats to keep an eye out just in case. Everyone with VHF will hear the news, but that’s still more private than having press releases and videos on websites.

 

Weather

I had not realised that the times of the Met Éireann inland lakes weather forecasts, broadcast by the Coast Guard on VHF, had been changed. The times are now

06:15
10:15 repetition
13:15
16:15 repetition

MRCC Dublin, to whom I am grateful for confirming the new times, says

Standby on VHF Channel 16 for your local working channel.

In bygone days the Lough Derg and Lough Ree forecasts were five minutes apart, but now the initial call on Channel 16 is at the same time everywhere.

I found the new 10:15 broadcast to be particularly convenient.

Forecast format

However, one aspect in which I thought the Met Éireann forecasts (also available here) less useful than those from other sources (eg Windguru) is the absence of a forecast for wind gusts. On several occasions this year, the gusts were (a) almost continuous and (b) much stronger than the forecast wind speed. They thus had more influence on our trip planning than did the base wind speed. It would be nice if Met Éireann, and thus the Coast Guard, could include a forecast for gusts.

Hire boats

The hirers’ training materials I mentioned here give good advice about rough weather on lakes but, after seeing several hire boats cross Lough Ree in weather that kept us in harbour, I wondered whether the lakes forecasts are readily available to hirers. If they’re not, perhaps they could be transmitted daily by text message?

I should stress that I did not hear of any accidents caused by stress of weather, but some folk may have had uncomfortable trips.

 

 

Partially female?

In this news report from Inside Ireland we read:

On Friday the 9th August, the Shannon based Search and Rescue (SAR) Helicopter (R115) flew its first missions with the first all-female pilot and co-pilot Capt. Dara Fitzpatrick and Capt. Carmel Kirby.

That suggests that there had been previous missions with partially-female pilots or co-pilots.

Or that Inside Ireland needs someone to rewrite its less felicitous phrases.

Ardnacrusha drowning

Killaloe Coast Guard report.

Searching Lough Derg

Last Friday evening, 21 June 2013, was not a good time to be out on Lough Derg. We were heading north, with the waves behind us, and had little difficulty until entering port, but we could hear on the VHF what must have been one of the biggest search and rescue operations on the Shannon in recent years.

We had switched on at what seemed like a fairly early point in the proceedings, and kept listening until the Coast Guard were assured that everybody was accounted for. We weren’t able to attend to the whole thing, as manoeuvres during and after berthing occupied our attention for some time, but we got a pretty clear picture. The Irish Times report (which will probably disappear behind a paywall at some stage) is here; I think it has some minor details wrong but the gist of it is correct; its later report is here. The Clare Herald has a very detailed account here, the Clare Champion account is here and the Limerick Post adds some information here.

The event was said by the Irish Times to be “hosted for FISA in Ireland by St Michael’s Rowing Club of Limerick” but I can’t see anything about it on either organisation’s website. I presume that the boats were something like this one.

Quad at Clonlara in 2011

It’s a quad, with each rower using two oars; it carries a cox and it’s used for touring rowing, so it’s not as slim as a standard racing shell.

By the way, just to be clear, none of the photos on this page were taken during last Friday’s operation.

RNLI Lough Derg lifeboat

From what we could hear, the operation involved volunteers from Killaloe Coast Guard, the RNLI at Dromineer, the Community Rescue Boats from Mountshannon and Limerick and at least one yacht, which (I think) took one of the rowing boats in tow; that yacht’s participation and careful provision of information to the Coast Guard was admirable.

Killaloe Coast Guard RIB

Killaloe Coast Guard RIB

We heard discussion of proposals to ask the Civil Defence to participate as well, and the Clare Herald confirms they did turn out. It seems that the University of Limerick Activity Centre boat was out too, as was Peter Hooker of RNLI in his own boat.

Limerick Marine SAR Land Rover

Limerick Marine SAR Land Rover

That’s just the volunteers, and if I’ve left anybody out I’m sorry; let me know and I’ll amend this.

Then there were the professionals: the Coast Guard staff on VHF, the Gardaí on shore, the helicopter crew. And, again, the Clare Herald makes it clear that lots of other people were involved too: fire brigade and ambulance units, paramedics and a hospital consultant.

All in all, this was a major operation and a lot of people put in a lot of effort that night, in bloody awful weather.

Communications

I formed the impression that communication amongst the members of the rowing fleet, and between them and the rescue services, was poor. It was difficult to establish what rowers were where and how many were unaccounted for. The Clare Herald story seems to support that conclusion: it says that Gardaí had to travel to the rowers’ hotel to make sure that everybody had turned up and that the search was not formally stood down until 11.30pm.

I don’t know what communications equipment and what sort of organisation and safety procedures the rowing group had, so I’m not going to comment on them. Instead, I want to go off at a tangent. It struck me that life would have been easier for everybody if each boat had had a handheld VHF and someone able to operate it. Such sets can be bought for as little as £50 in the UK or €75 in Ireland.

So the technology is now very cheap and, for short range work as on Lough Derg, a handheld VHF should be adequate. But if you want to be legally entitled to use a VHF set, matters are much more complicated. I’ll discuss that in another post.

Rescue boats on Irish inland waterways

I’ve moved my photos of rescue boats to a new page and added photos of some more services. Still a lot missing, though.

Boating off piste

Coast Guard rescue between O’Briensbridge and Clonlara.

The O’Briensbridge [non-]emergency

The Irish Times today reports that

The Irish Coast Guard has issued an appeal to sailors and people who might fly aircraft about the safe handling of modern emergency locator equipment.

This follows an incident in which a badly stored aircraft emergency beacon sparked a massive search operation involving two helicopters and ground crews amid fears that a small aircraft had crashed.

Killaloe Coast Guard had covered the search in postings on 17 and 18 October 2012 here. It reported that

Killaloe Coast Guard Unit after over eight hours searching located three active emergency beacons, ELT’s in the O’Brien’s Bridge area.

 

Ardnacrusha

Killaloe Coast Guard report here.

Morons on jetskis

Killaloe Coast Guard is rather more polite about them here. Well done the member of the public who made the call as well as the Gardaí and the Coast Guard for taking action.

Yes, I know there are sensible and sane folk who use jetskis; I am friendly with several of them and I’m not talking about them or other sane users.