Coastguard communications in the Bay of Plenty area are going regional with the establishment of a 24 hour radio room at the eastern region’s Mount Maunganui headquarters.
It’s a development of Radio Over Internet Protocol, which will link the communications of all regional volunteer coastguard offices, allowing 24/7 radio watch to be maintained.
For boaties in the eastern region it means that no matter where they are or when, there will be someone listening when a VHF radio call is made.
The Coastguard eastern region covers an area from Whitianga, round East Cape as far as Gisborne and back up inland with Taupo and the Rotorua Lakes.
Smaller volunteer coastguard units dotted along the coast such as Whangamata, Waihi Beach, Maketu and Whakatane cannot man the 24/7 radio watch.
Tauranga, which is the biggest unit in the Eastern Region, can only offer daytime coverage.
“Essentially what we are doing is we are providing a communications network that connects all the individual units together,” says Coastguard Eastern Region regional manager Graeme Hull.
“Some units may not have any operators, in which case we will monitor them all the time. Other units might have a number of radio operators but can’t provide a 24/7 cover, so we arrange for the cover for the night. So it’s literally on a case-by-case basis.”
The 24-hour operation works by using the ROIP as opposed to Voice Over Internet Protocol – VOIP - used for phones.
When a boatie on the water calls the local coastguard on the VHF it is picked up by repeaters which feed it onto the internet and deliver it to an operator at another location.
“Because it’s an internet based radio network, it doesn’t matter where the radio operators is sitting,” says Graeme.
“I quite often joke and say they could be sitting in Bombay for all we know.
“If there’s a local operator they will man it, or as soon as they don’t have someone it goes to another dedicated operator. It’s totally seamless.
“It’s taken four years of trialling to get it to the point where it is today. We have still got quite a lot of work to do... a big upgrade of our equipment planned this year, subject to funding.
“It’s an ongoing process. Now that we have ironed out a lot of the early teething issues with new technologies, it’s actually a great service.”
It means the Coastguard can now deliver 24/7 VHF radio cover, says Graeme.
“Call Coastguard and there will be someone listening out for you. Prior to the network, even big units like Tauranga couldn’t offer that service.”
NZ Coastguard Eastern Region is looking for radio operators to operate the Mount Maunganui communications hub. They want a pool of about 20 operators. Possessing a marine VHF licence helps, but training can be given.