After our fascinating visit to the Rescue Coordination Centre, we went next door to have a look at the Maritime Radio office and were once again welcomed by their super friendly team who were happy to answer all our questions in between taking calls over the radio.
Tony & Abraham were on duty today and they run a similar shift pattern to the people at the RCCNZ with 12 hour shifts for two days, then two nights, then four days off.
There are usually three people on duty but one had gone home sick. They each listen to either the Southern, Central or Northern Region.
The interesting thing was that there wasn’t a radio in sight!
The front wall was covered in screens, again showing the weather conditions, ships with AIS and their positions all around New Zealand, and the status of the radio stations around the country.
Maritime Radio listen in on Channel 16 all around the country and once they have a fix on which station is being called on – Akaroa Maritime Radio for example, they then switch to the working channel for that station – in this case channel 68.
The screens on their desks show all the radio channels and when someone is calling that station lights up. However if you don’t mention the station name, and the radio operator happens to be standing on the other side of the room and not see which station lit up, then it can make it hard for them to call you back.
They monitor both SSB and VHF radio stations.
Their main responsibilities include broadcasting the Marine Weather forecast which is broken up in to various areas. This forecast is read out over the radio by a computer generated voice at 0533, 0733, 1333, 1733 and 2133 hours. They check that the computer is reading the forecast correctly and that the pauses and place names all sound ok before it goes out over the radio. The forecast is announced on Channel 16, and then you tune in to your local station to listen to the forecast.
They also take Trip Reports for vessels travelling up and down the coast. They enter all the information that you provide relating to your trip in to a computer database. All the details are linked back to your callsign, and when they enter your callsign in to their system it brings up the name of your vessel and all the other information linked to that callsign.
When you call back either during your voyage to update your TR, they add in this extra information. Then if you set off your EPIRB at some stage during your trip, they could give the RCCNZ valuable information. At the end of your trip you need to call up and close off your TR. If you don’t, then nothing happens – they won’t automatically assume that you are needing to be rescued, but you just sit there in the database of open TR’s until they close them off.
While we were there, a number of vessels called in to check their radio signals. These signals are given a score out of 5. They never give out a 1 – as technically speaking you couldn’t actually hear a 1, and similarly they never give out a 5 – which is considered absolutely perfect. So if you call up and ask for a radio check you are likely to be given a score of 2, 3 or 4. With a 4 being the best – i.e. they read you loud and clear.
We were also able to listen to a distress call from a power boat in Wellington Harbour. They called in with a Pan Pan message, their motor had broken down and they required a tow back to the Marina.
Tony explained that in the case of a distress call, the most important information they can provide is a location. Preferably a GPS Latitude and Longitude and then also a bearing relative to a prominent landmark – in this case, the vessel was in Eastbourne, just to the South of the Wahine memorial. Other information they require includes the weather conditions, the type of vessel, the nature of your distress, a cell phone number, and how many people on board. It is important to speak slowly and clearly as this information is all being typed in to the database. It is best to collate all the relevant information and have it on hand before you make the call.
Once they have this information then Maritime Radio will relay your message over the VHF to see if there is anyone in the area that can assist. In this case the Wellington Police Boat was able to help, and then we were able to see them speeding across the harbour on the AIS.
Abraham then called the RCCNZ and advised them about the call and subsequent action of the Police Boat.
We didn’t stick around to see how it all panned out, but the weather conditions were good and I presume they would have called back to Maritime NZ to advise once the tow was underway and when everyone was safely back ashore.
They are also able to send messages to commercial vessels via the INMARSAT satellite system. This means that they can send a text message to all commercial vessels within a particular area with this system advising them of a vessel in distress or overdue for example.
There weren’t as many calls as I was expecting, however being middle of winter I guess there aren’t as many people out on the water. But all of a sudden three calls would come through at once and everyone would then be on the radio communicating with various vessels, while Andrew & I were struggling to pick out one conversation from another.
Once again we were super impressed with the professionalism displayed, the fantastic resources they had at hand, and their friendliness and willingness to talk to us about their jobs. I certainly learnt so much from our visit, and left feeling so confident that these amazing people have got our backs when we are out on the sea.
You do require a license to operate a radio in New Zealand, and all vessels with a radio should also have a callsign. You can find more information on their website.
Or contact them here:
Radio: Maritime Radio CH16
Phone: 0800 Maritime (627 484) OR 04 550 5280