Radio and the ‘Air Traffic Control’ of the Solent

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John Periam returns to RadioUser with another fascinating article on maritime communications.

 

 

John Periam returns to RadioUser with another fascinating article on maritime communications. This time, he looks at the indispensable role of radio communications for the work of the Southampton/ Solent pilot crews.

 

In this article, I would like to emphasise the important part that radio communications play in marine pilotage.

Let us begin with Ryan Hall: Ryan is the Pilotage Service Manager for Associated British Ports (ABP) Southampton and looks after the Pilotage function in the Solent. There is a team of 47 pilots, along with 20 pilot cutter launch crew, whose responsibility it is to get the pilots onto the ship – all working on a 24-hour watch system. There are four Halmatic Nelson 48/50 pilot cutters, equipped with 2 D-13 Volvo engines, and based at Gosport ABP (Fig. 1).

When I met him, Ryan said, “Out of our pilots, two-thirds are qualified as ‘First Class’ and are able to take the largest ships into port. They can include container vessels (some with 2,000 containers on board) and the latest cruise liners with up to 5,000 passengers and 400 meters in size. The other third is able to take smaller ships into port whilst undergoing training for the larger ones.

“My role is to support the Harbour Master Phil Buckley in seeing that all ships are brought safely into the port. We conduct about 9,500 pilot ship movements a year unless they are guided by Southampton Vessel Traffic Services (VTS), which manages about 130,000 movements a year from their operations control room based at Ocean Gate.”

 

Operations Control

The operations control room is looked after by Mike Toogood, the Harbour Control Manager, and his team. Mike explains: “In layman’s terms, they are the ‘Air Traffic Control of the Solent’, tracking the movement of all ships, including fishing vessels and pleasure craft.” (Fig. 2).

Ryan went on to say: “Constant communication is provided to the pilots, who will be given navigational advice prior to boarding a vessel. The Harbour Master Patrol Launch is there to head off any vessel that may hinder operations.

“We like to work with the region’s fishing communities, and we are aware that they have a living to make. Fishermen know that we have direct communication links and work closely with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the Royal National Life Boat Institution (RNLI). Having the National Maritime Communications Centre at Fareham is a real bonus to us, and we work well together.”

 

From Safety to Hydrography

Ryan continued, “I cannot stress enough that safety at sea is what this job is all about. For example, we have regular ferry trips to and from the Isle of Wight. These contain vehicles and passengers, and crossings are made at all times, including in inclement weather. Controlling the Solent, so that all shipping can move properly, is what this work is all about”.

In addition to the people mentioned above, there is also a Hydrographic Team. It is involved in monitoring the depth of the water in the relevant shipping channels. There are navigation aids, so the berthing officers can make sure the ship comes alongside safely. Time can be of the essence when it comes to unloading a ship with its cargo or cruise passengers.

Most cruise ships arrive at around 4 am, and there are more than 500 of these, bringing in two million passengers a year.

Southampton is also the UK’s number one port for export. About 900,000 cars a year are handled by the port, and many arrive by train each day. Over one million containers also come to the port.

In Ryan’s words, “Our pilots’ working schedules are increasing, and ships are getting bigger. The latest container ship is 400m long and has a beam of 50m. Technology is on the increase, and our in-house training grows likewise. We are involved in the training of new pilots all the time; two more have started with us this week.”

 

Preparing to be a Pilot

How does one become a Ships Pilot? Ryan explains, “You have to have been a Ship’s Captain and hold a Master’s Certificate. You require a strong background in ship-handling, which is doing the actual hard work of bringing a ship alongside or take her off a berth. Each pilot does about 230 moves a year.

“There is a 13-week ‘express-training’ period. During this time, they go in and out every single day, visiting all types of shipping. Candidates are examined and become a ‘Class Two Pilot’, working with ships up to 10m, such as small tankers. They do this progressively, for five and a half years, until they become a ‘Class One Unrestricted Pilot’.” They would not be doing this, if they did not enjoy piloting ships – it is a chosen vocation!

Chic Stewart is the Pilot Desk Operator for Southampton. His job is to look after rostering for all 47 pilots, which are on a roster of an average of 10 a day. Chris said, “They work a 24-hour roster, from 08.30 in the morning. I will contact them and give them their job, depending on the size of the ship. The pilots are asked to call in the night before their duty, at approximately 21.00h, to get an idea of what is involved, e.g. ingoing or outgoing ship.

“With cruise ships, they often board well before and are in place ready for the job as most cruise ship berth in the early morning. I will update them during the day – depending on how busy the Solent is that day – with sometimes three boardings per day. We also have to take into consideration the weather and the size of the ship, when planning each boarding.”

 

Communications Equipment and Routines

The crew for the day of our visit consisted of Coxswain Marine Officers Paul Tomlinson and Lee Williams, along with 2nd Coxswain Matt Dillingham and Matt Stubbs. Once on board, a full safety briefing was given, and Sea Safe Integrated life jackets were provided, prior to heading out about 10m from Gosport to the boarding areas of East Nab and West Nab, where the larger ships wait.

To navigate and communicate the crew and pilots have 2 Furuno, multi-screen, Navnet Radar plotters, one (Port) Thrane & Thrane (now Cobham) Sailor 6222 VHF DSC radio, one (Starboard) Thrane & Thrane  VHF radio, one Furuno FA150 Universal AIS Transponder and one Furuno FI-50 multi-depth display (Fig. 3).

Collecting and delivering the pilots takes considerable skill and knowledge. Even for experienced operators, it can at times be very daunting to be alongside some of the larger vessels and travelling at between 8-12 knots in all weather conditions.

A set communications routine takes place, with an initial radio call from the ship confirming that they are ready. The Coxswain manoeuvres the boat from the smoother waters of being astern to whichever side the gangway or rope ladders are. Embarking or disembarking is always carried out at the bow of the pilot cutter, so the Coxswain is fully visible with the ship and crew (Fig. 4).

Once alongside, the 2nd Coxswain leaves the cabin and attaches himself to the side rail, so s/he can pass from stern to the bow safely. When the cutter is in position s/he checks that the rope ladder is secure, giving the ‘thumbs up’ for the pilot to transfer from the ship (Fig. 5).

 

Size and Safety

Chris Hoyle is an Unrestricted First-Class Pilot, specialising in bulk container shipping. He clarified: “Our main district is approximately 30nm long, using the main channels out to 4nm south of the Nab Tower. The role of the pilot is to take charge of the navigational conduct of the ship. When I say that, I mean its course and speed. I like to see us as a ‘safety-valve’. We can take away the commercial pressure from port users, the Harbour Master, oil refinery, ships Captains and ships’ owners.

Chris went on to say, “Handling ships in confined spaces – whether they are large container ships, tankers or cruise ships – you have to take the same view as taking a small ship up a river. It is relative to the available space, passage planning, and tidal calculations; within that, we have to find the opportunity for the ship to get in earlier or later before the water runs out.”

On the day we were there, the container ship Chris and Neil Dunn were bringing into Southampton dock, was the CMA GMA-OGM-Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, with 2,100 containers on board. When she made her maiden call in March 2018, she was the largest container ship yet to visit the Port of Southampton.

Rope ladder boarding is still required, and, when on the ship’s bridge, you can see for miles. By contrast, you can’t see a short distance because the view is blocked by containers and the length of the ship.

Chris warned, “If you can’t see the ship’s bridge, we can’t see you, therefore, it’s important to make sure we know of your intention early, rather than not at all. At a speed of 10 knots, you are doing a mile every 6 minutes. We risk-asses the ship’s movements and have guidelines for towage, windage, speeds and other requirements, sticking to the relevant collision regulations of international law as much as possible.

The largest container ships are about 200,000 tons at more than 15m draught, with a cargo worth a billion dollars or more. If you went to bed worrying about that, you would get no sleep!” said Chris with a broad smile.

 

Precision Manoeuvres and Communications

Photographer Geoff Lee was invited to board the container ship by its Captain Christophe Garzon-Rigby. Geoff said, “It’s an experience I will remember. Seeing the 19 wooden steps of the ladder I would have to climb before going up the gangway to join the ship was a little daunting. Thankfully, the sea was calm. Had it been a heavy sea state, the cutter and ship would have needed to be on the same wave, allowing ease of access for the pilots. There is no technology at hand to help.

Nine floors later via lift, followed by two more sets of stairs, one arrives on the bridge. This is where the formal ‘conduct’ (navigational intentions, speed, tugs and berthing of the ship) handover takes place, so the ship can commence its journey from the Nab Tower, and they can berth at Southampton Container Terminal (Fig. 5). The pilots use portable pilot units (PPU) with professional piloting/navigation Safe Pilot software, and passing by Ryde (Isle of Wight), they are joined by a tug and the Harbour Master’s patrol boat (SP) (Fig. 6).

Pilot Chris Hoyle noticed 30 sailing yachts a few thousand metres away and asked for the ship’s horn to be sounded twice. This was followed by the Southampton Patrol (callsign SP) boat, to escort the last few yachts to safety (Fig. 7).

We were amazed at the skill of all on board when it came to entering the dock, ready for berthing. Geoff reported: “Several 90-degree turns were required, and Neil Dunn instructed the Captain as to what was required, using his local knowledge of these waters. Looking ahead, all was calm, and a tug, attached to the stern, was in direct communication with the pilots on maritime VHF radio Channels 71 or 74.

He further advised: “There is little room for error as the ship nears the berth, with another vessel less than 20m away. Chris instructs the ship to stop engines as the tug at the rear stops the ship. Once stationary, it is joined by two more tugs, both with a Bollard pull of 80 tonnes, for the final manoeuvres […].

 “Communication is what it is all about. The process is slow. Experience is what it is all about, as, at times neither the pilot nor the tugs can see each other. This is normal procedure, and both parties are well aware of these formalities. At the end of the day, it is our duty to see that the ship – whatever its size – enters and leaves the relevant port safely and on time.”

The role of the ship’s pilot, linked to its relevant port authority, is the same around the world, and regular communications are kept between all parties (Fig. 8).

This involves sharing information responsibly in these important maritime roles. Southampton is the second largest commercial port in the UK. It is still increasing in size and is facing the challenge of taking on larger ships working from its port in the future.

 

VHF Channels, Hotlines and Phone a Friend

Mike Toogood is the Harbour Control (VTS) Manager (Fig. 9). He is responsible for the day-to-day running of the VTS operations room at Southampton Port. There are five watch managers and VTS operators as direct reports. Together, they are monitoring all the traffic around the VTS area (including jet skis).

Mike said, “The ABS Port of Southampton uses VHF maritime radio channels. Our primary one is Channel 12, which is monitored all the time, as well as Channel 16. All movements are announced on Channel 12, as they happen. This keeps everybody aware of what is happening. We have remote sites for VHF and have 25W transmitters at our base station.”

ABP Notify is in charge of all the booking of ships into Southampton Port. This is an internet portal, which allows the required information on vessel movements to be submitted electronically directly to the VTS Data Centre. The information from many individual communications is used by ABP for traffic management, berth allocation and regulatory purposes.

Steve Hornbeckle is the watch manager for Southampton VTS (Solent VTS). He explained, “I am authorised to direct ships and tell them where to go and what to do.  We share hotlines to our neighbouring Harbour Authorities to collaborate on our approach. The role is to ensure maritime safety throughout our area of jurisdiction. To achieve that, we manage traffic movements, in accordance with relevant bylaws […].

“We are the first responders to any incidents, including for the MCA – our first external communication. The VTS and watch managers are all trained according to the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities Standard V103. Operators go to one of two training colleges in South Shields and Blackpool. Courses can vary between two and eight weeks, depending on the trainees’ nautical experience.

“Each team consists of two operators and a watch manager. At any one time, we have one on the radar, one on admin and the watch manager planning it. We even have a ‘phone-a-friend‘ facility, where needed. My satisfaction is the routine stuff, and, to date this year, we have had 57,000 movements excluding recreational users. This is already showing an increase on last year.”

 

Digital Radio

In connection with communications procedures, Steve continued: “All inter-ship communications are done on Channel 12, and this can be between cutters, tugs and private vessels. Mike was a Radio Officer Cadet in 1978 for Union Castle, so he has a wealth of experience, and he has witnessed many changes in radio communications equipment. The equipment may have changed but proven procedures have remained to this day. Mike has also worked with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency at Dover and at Southampton, relating to installing of new equipment.

“There is only so far, we can go now with digital radio. Spectrum allocation for marine band radio is being re-arranged at the moment, with the possibility of new channels being introduced for Port Services.

“There is one current problem: Channel 12 is used by the French ports as well, and, because of the power of the VHF base stations, we get interference in the summer months. This can cause issues with our operating procedures. To overcome this, we have introduced new attenuation on the receivers of VHF radios to minimise that interference. These new alternate channels for port operations will help us resolve this matter.

“At the end of the day, when at sea, I’d advise to forget the mobile and invest in handheld VHF radio. If you haven’t got the means for communication to the right people, they are not going to know that you have concerns for your own safety.”

Our thanks go to all the team at Southampton, for their kindness and generosity in allowing us a rare opportunity to see just what goes on behind the scenes.  

 

Editor’s Web Resources

Associated British Ports (ABP): http://www.abports.co.uk

Cobham plc Maritime: https://www.cobham.com/maritime

Furuno: https://www.furuno.com/en

International Association of Lighthouse Authorities (IALA): http://www.iala-aism.org

MCA:  https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/maritime-and-coastguard-agency

Natural Environment Research Council (NERC): https://nerc.ukri.org

Royal National Life Boat Institution (RNLI): https://rnli.org

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Radio and the ‘Air Traffic Control’ of the Solent

 

In this article, I would like to emphasise the important part that radio communications play in marine pilotage.

Let us begin with Ryan Hall: Ryan is the Pilotage Service Manager for Associated British Ports (ABP) Southampton and looks after the Pilotage function in the Solent. There is a team of 47 pilots, along with 20 pilot cutter launch crew, whose responsibility it is to get the pilots onto the ship – all working on a 24-hour watch system. There are four Halmatic Nelson 48/50 pilot cutters, equipped with 2 D-13 Volvo engines, and based at Gosport ABP (Fig. 1).

When I met him, Ryan said, “Out of our pilots, two-thirds are qualified as ‘First Class’ and are able to take the largest ships into port. They can include container vessels (some with 2,000 containers on board) and the latest cruise liners with up to 5,000 passengers and 400 meters in size. The other third is able to take smaller ships into port whilst undergoing training for the larger ones.

“My role is to support the Harbour Master Phil Buckley in seeing that all ships are brought safely into the port. We conduct about 9,500 pilot ship movements a year unless they are guided by Southampton Vessel Traffic Services (VTS), which manages about 130,000 movements a year from their operations control room based at Ocean Gate.”

 

Operations Control

The operations control room is looked after by Mike Toogood, the Harbour Control Manager, and his team. Mike explains: “In layman’s terms, they are the ‘Air Traffic Control of the Solent’, tracking the movement of all ships, including fishing vessels and pleasure craft.” (Fig. 2).

Ryan went on to say: “Constant communication is provided to the pilots, who will be given navigational advice prior to boarding a vessel. The Harbour Master Patrol Launch is there to head off any vessel that may hinder operations.

“We like to work with the region’s fishing communities, and we are aware that they have a living to make. Fishermen know that we have direct communication links and work closely with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) and the Royal National Life Boat Institution (RNLI). Having the National Maritime Communications Centre at Fareham is a real bonus to us, and we work well together.”

 

From Safety to Hydrography

Ryan continued, “I cannot stress enough that safety at sea is what this job is all about. For example, we have regular ferry trips to and from the Isle of Wight. These contain vehicles and passengers, and crossings are made at all times, including in inclement weather. Controlling the Solent, so that all shipping can move properly, is what this work is all about”.

In addition to the people mentioned above, there is also a Hydrographic Team. It is involved in monitoring the depth of the water in the relevant shipping channels. There are navigation aids, so the berthing officers can make sure the ship comes alongside safely. Time can be of the essence when it comes to unloading a ship with its cargo or cruise passengers.

Most cruise ships arrive at around 4 am, and there are more than 500 of these, bringing in two million passengers a year.

Southampton is also the UK’s number one port for export. About 900,000 cars a year are handled by the port, and many arrive by train each day. Over one million containers also come to the port.

In Ryan’s words, “Our pilots’ working schedules are increasing, and ships are getting bigger. The latest container ship is 400m long and has a beam of 50m. Technology is on the increase, and our in-house training grows likewise. We are involved in the training of new pilots all the time; two more have started with us this week.”

 

Preparing to be a Pilot

How does one become a Ships Pilot? Ryan explains, “You have to have been a Ship’s Captain and hold a Master’s Certificate. You require a strong background in ship-handling, which is doing the actual hard work of bringing a ship alongside or take her off a berth. Each pilot does about 230 moves a year.

“There is a 13-week ‘express-training’ period. During this time, they go in and out every single day, visiting all types of shipping. Candidates are examined and become a ‘Class Two Pilot’, working with ships up to 10m, such as small tankers. They do this progressively, for five and a half years, until they become a ‘Class One Unrestricted Pilot’.” They would not be doing this, if they did not enjoy piloting ships – it is a chosen vocation!

Chic Stewart is the Pilot Desk Operator for Southampton. His job is to look after rostering for all 47 pilots, which are on a roster of an average of 10 a day. Chris said, “They work a 24-hour roster, from 08.30 in the morning. I will contact them and give them their job, depending on the size of the ship. The pilots are asked to call in the night before their duty, at approximately 21.00h, to get an idea of what is involved, e.g. ingoing or outgoing ship.

“With cruise ships, they often board well before and are in place ready for the job as most cruise ship berth in the early morning. I will update them during the day – depending on how busy the Solent is that day – with sometimes three boardings per day. We also have to take into consideration the weather and the size of the ship, when planning each boarding.”

 

Communications Equipment and Routines

The crew for the day of our visit consisted of Coxswain Marine Officers Paul Tomlinson and Lee Williams, along with 2nd Coxswain Matt Dillingham and Matt Stubbs. Once on board, a full safety briefing was given, and Sea Safe Integrated life jackets were provided, prior to heading out about 10m from Gosport to the boarding areas of East Nab and West Nab, where the larger ships wait.

To navigate and communicate the crew and pilots have 2 Furuno, multi-screen, Navnet Radar plotters, one (Port) Thrane & Thrane (now Cobham) Sailor 6222 VHF DSC radio, one (Starboard) Thrane & Thrane  VHF radio, one Furuno FA150 Universal AIS Transponder and one Furuno FI-50 multi-depth display (Fig. 3).

Collecting and delivering the pilots takes considerable skill and knowledge. Even for experienced operators, it can at times be very daunting to be alongside some of the larger vessels and travelling at between 8-12 knots in all weather conditions.

A set communications routine takes place, with an initial radio call from the ship confirming that they are ready. The Coxswain manoeuvres the boat from the smoother waters of being astern to whichever side the gangway or rope ladders are. Embarking or disembarking is always carried out at the bow of the pilot cutter, so the Coxswain is fully visible with the ship and crew (Fig. 4).

Once alongside, the 2nd Coxswain leaves the cabin and attaches himself to the side rail, so s/he can pass from stern to the bow safely. When the cutter is in position s/he checks that the rope ladder is secure, giving the ‘thumbs up’ for the pilot to transfer from the ship (Fig. 5).

 

Size and Safety

Chris Hoyle is an Unrestricted First-Class Pilot, specialising in bulk container shipping. He clarified: “Our main district is approximately 30nm long, using the main channels out to 4nm south of the Nab Tower. The role of the pilot is to take charge of the navigational conduct of the ship. When I say that, I mean its course and speed. I like to see us as a ‘safety-valve’. We can take away the commercial pressure from port users, the Harbour Master, oil refinery, ships Captains and ships’ owners.

Chris went on to say, “Handling ships in confined spaces – whether they are large container ships, tankers or cruise ships – you have to take the same view as taking a small ship up a river. It is relative to the available space, passage planning, and tidal calculations; within that, we have to find the opportunity for the ship to get in earlier or later before the water runs out.”

On the day we were there, the container ship Chris and Neil Dunn were bringing into Southampton dock, was the CMA GMA-OGM-Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, with 2,100 containers on board. When she made her maiden call in March 2018, she was the largest container ship yet to visit the Port of Southampton.

Rope ladder boarding is still required, and, when on the ship’s bridge, you can see for miles. By contrast, you can’t see a short distance because the view is blocked by containers and the length of the ship.

Chris warned, “If you can’t see the ship’s bridge, we can’t see you, therefore, it’s important to make sure we know of your intention early, rather than not at all. At a speed of 10 knots, you are doing a mile every 6 minutes. We risk-asses the ship’s movements and have guidelines for towage, windage, speeds and other requirements, sticking to the relevant collision regulations of international law as much as possible.

The largest container ships are about 200,000 tons at more than 15m draught, with a cargo worth a billion dollars or more. If you went to bed worrying about that, you would get no sleep!” said Chris with a broad smile.

 

Precision Manoeuvres and Communications

Photographer Geoff Lee was invited to board the container ship by its Captain Christophe Garzon-Rigby. Geoff said, “It’s an experience I will remember. Seeing the 19 wooden steps of the ladder I would have to climb before going up the gangway to join the ship was a little daunting. Thankfully, the sea was calm. Had it been a heavy sea state, the cutter and ship would have needed to be on the same wave, allowing ease of access for the pilots. There is no technology at hand to help.

Nine floors later via lift, followed by two more sets of stairs, one arrives on the bridge. This is where the formal ‘conduct’ (navigational intentions, speed, tugs and berthing of the ship) handover takes place, so the ship can commence its journey from the Nab Tower, and they can berth at Southampton Container Terminal (Fig. 5). The pilots use portable pilot units (PPU) with professional piloting/navigation Safe Pilot software, and passing by Ryde (Isle of Wight), they are joined by a tug and the Harbour Master’s patrol boat (SP) (Fig. 6).

Pilot Chris Hoyle noticed 30 sailing yachts a few thousand metres away and asked for the ship’s horn to be sounded twice. This was followed by the Southampton Patrol (callsign SP) boat, to escort the last few yachts to safety (Fig. 7).

We were amazed at the skill of all on board when it came to entering the dock, ready for berthing. Geoff reported: “Several 90-degree turns were required, and Neil Dunn instructed the Captain as to what was required, using his local knowledge of these waters. Looking ahead, all was calm, and a tug, attached to the stern, was in direct communication with the pilots on maritime VHF radio Channels 71 or 74.

He further advised: “There is little room for error as the ship nears the berth, with another vessel less than 20m away. Chris instructs the ship to stop engines as the tug at the rear stops the ship. Once stationary, it is joined by two more tugs, both with a Bollard pull of 80 tonnes, for the final manoeuvres […].

 “Communication is what it is all about. The process is slow. Experience is what it is all about, as, at times neither the pilot nor the tugs can see each other. This is normal procedure, and both parties are well aware of these formalities. At the end of the day, it is our duty to see that the ship – whatever its size – enters and leaves the relevant port safely and on time.”

The role of the ship’s pilot, linked to its relevant port authority, is the same around the world, and regular communications are kept between all parties (Fig. 8).

This involves sharing information responsibly in these important maritime roles. Southampton is the second largest commercial port in the UK. It is still increasing in size and is facing the challenge of taking on larger ships working from its port in the future.

 

VHF Channels, Hotlines and Phone a Friend

Mike Toogood is the Harbour Control (VTS) Manager (Fig. 9). He is responsible for the day-to-day running of the VTS operations room at Southampton Port. There are five watch managers and VTS operators as direct reports. Together, they are monitoring all the traffic around the VTS area (including jet skis).

Mike said, “The ABS Port of Southampton uses VHF maritime radio channels. Our primary one is Channel 12, which is monitored all the time, as well as Channel 16. All movements are announced on Channel 12, as they happen. This keeps everybody aware of what is happening. We have remote sites for VHF and have 25W transmitters at our base station.”

ABP Notify is in charge of all the booking of ships into Southampton Port. This is an internet portal, which allows the required information on vessel movements to be submitted electronically directly to the VTS Data Centre. The information from many individual communications is used by ABP for traffic management, berth allocation and regulatory purposes.

Steve Hornbeckle is the watch manager for Southampton VTS (Solent VTS). He explained, “I am authorised to direct ships and tell them where to go and what to do.  We share hotlines to our neighbouring Harbour Authorities to collaborate on our approach. The role is to ensure maritime safety throughout our area of jurisdiction. To achieve that, we manage traffic movements, in accordance with relevant bylaws […].

“We are the first responders to any incidents, including for the MCA – our first external communication. The VTS and watch managers are all trained according to the International Association of Lighthouse Authorities Standard V103. Operators go to one of two training colleges in South Shields and Blackpool. Courses can vary between two and eight weeks, depending on the trainees’ nautical experience.

“Each team consists of two operators and a watch manager. At any one time, we have one on the radar, one on admin and the watch manager planning it. We even have a ‘phone-a-friend‘ facility, where needed. My satisfaction is the routine stuff, and, to date this year, we have had 57,000 movements excluding recreational users. This is already showing an increase on last year.”

 

Digital Radio

In connection with communications procedures, Steve continued: “All inter-ship communications are done on Channel 12, and this can be between cutters, tugs and private vessels. Mike was a Radio Officer Cadet in 1978 for Union Castle, so he has a wealth of experience, and he has witnessed many changes in radio communications equipment. The equipment may have changed but proven procedures have remained to this day. Mike has also worked with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency at Dover and at Southampton, relating to installing of new equipment.

“There is only so far, we can go now with digital radio. Spectrum allocation for marine band radio is being re-arranged at the moment, with the possibility of new channels being introduced for Port Services.

“There is one current problem: Channel 12 is used by the French ports as well, and, because of the power of the VHF base stations, we get interference in the summer months. This can cause issues with our operating procedures. To overcome this, we have introduced new attenuation on the receivers of VHF radios to minimise that interference. These new alternate channels for port operations will help us resolve this matter.

“At the end of the day, when at sea, I’d advise to forget the mobile and invest in handheld VHF radio. If you haven’t got the means for communication to the right people, they are not going to know that you have concerns for your own safety.”

Our thanks go to all the team at Southampton, for their kindness and generosity in allowing us a rare opportunity to see just what goes on behind the scenes.  

 

Editor’s Web Resources

Associated British Ports (ABP): http://www.abports.co.uk

Cobham plc Maritime: https://www.cobham.com/maritime

Furuno: https://www.furuno.com/en

International Association of Lighthouse Authorities (IALA): http://www.iala-aism.org

MCA:  https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/maritime-and-coastguard-agency

Natural Environment Research Council (NERC): https://nerc.ukri.org

Royal National Life Boat Institution (RNLI): https://rnli.org

 

 

This article was featured in the December 2018 issue of Radio User