Centre: Even when the boats are hundreds of miles away, they can still receive up-to-date Maritime Safety Information from the Maritime Operations Centre at Fort George in St George's.
Centre: Even when the boats are hundreds of miles away, they can still receive up-to-date Maritime Safety Information from the Maritime Operations Centre at Fort George in St George's.

As the boats of the Newport Bermuda race make their way to the island, the team at Bermuda Maritime Operations Centre (Bermuda Radio) will be ramping up their efforts.

“We will have extra manning on watch during the arrival of Newport Bermuda race participants when obviously the work load increases for the Controller, who also needs to deal with the daily arrival and departure of other shipping to Bermuda,” explains Denis Rowe, chief radio officer at Bermuda Radio.

The function of the Centre is to handle radio communications with boats, vessel traffic monitoring and rescue coordination.

This year, 165 boats are set to make their way to Bermuda’s waters, so the team must ensure that their communication doesn’t have any negative effect on the day-to-day shipping in Bermuda, adds Mr Rowe.

Even when the boats are hundreds of miles away they can still receive up-to-date Maritime Safety Information (MSI) from Bermuda Radio, making their service invaluable to boaters heading towards Bermuda.

Broadcasts

The MSI broadcasts are sent out to mariners every four hours via NAVTEX (Telex), as well as voice on VHF and MF radio.

The broadcasts include information about weather systems and any dangers to navigation, such as abandoned boat adrift or navigational lights extinguished, explains Mr Rowe.

“All boats are fitted with yellow brick trackers (satellite), which allow a team from Newport and the Maritime Operations Centre the ability to closely monitor the race participants. Vessels are also fitted with satellite telephone or SSB (single-sideband) Radio, while some also have access to e-mail.

“Communication with race participants is only needed if there is an identified need for assistance during the race.

Once race participants have completed the race, they are then instructed by the finish line committee to contact Bermuda Radio for information concerning safe transit to Hamilton and RBYC,” says Mr Rowe.

In the past there have been no major incidents during the Newport-Bermuda race with one life lost in 1932 onboard the boat Adriana.

However, the Maritime Operations Centre team is prepared for the worst-case scenarios that the boats may face along the way.

Responsibility

As Bermuda’s Rescue Coordination Centre, the Maritime Operations Centre is responsible for assisting mariners in distress, whether a local boat or a boat thousands of miles away, says Mr Rowe.

Pre-race planning meetings included the drawing up of an emergency contingency plan for the Rescue Coordination Centre with support groups in Newport and the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club.

Some of the challenges of the race for the participants include lack of communication due to failure of onboard equipment, encountering bad weather, medical issues onboard the boat, damage to the vessel or lack of wind, which can impact the amount of time it takes to get to the island, and the need for participants to withdraw.

Safe arrival

“The Bermuda Maritime Operations Centre function is to ensure the safe arrival and departure of all vessels into and from Bermuda waters,” says Mr Rowe.

“Should any vessels get into any difficulty, then our systems at Fort George will allow us to call on the assistance of other mariners on the water –– including race participants –– and the use of the support network of our colleagues in the US Coastguard.”