The sinking of RMS TITANIC/MGY (1912) with the needless and tragic lost of life resulted in many of the policies, rules and procedures still in use today. These include: a continuous 24-hour radio listening watch ("guard") on the international distress frequencies; the establishment of the radio silence periods to listen for distress calls; the formation of the International Ice Patrol; the requirement for minimum safety equipment on ships including wireless, and the standardization of distress signals and radio call signs; all are part of the Safety of Lives at Sea (SOLAS) program.
I worked (retired June 2012) for the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Canadian Coast Guard (CCG), Marine Communications and Traffic
Services (MCTS), Central and Arctic Region, with the official job title of: "Marine Communications and Traffic Services Officer "
(MCTSO); the old moniker was "Coast Guard Radio Operator" (CGRO). In late 1976, I started my career in the old Aeradio (now Flight
Services) combined air/marine service under the control of Transport Canada, and in 1985 transferred to "The Guard" when the air and
marine divisions were separated.
MCTS Centres guard the international distress frequencies, rendering free assistance to anyone regardless
of nationality, broadcast notices to shipping/mariners (NOTSHIPS/NOTMARS), send marine casualty reports (CASREPS) to the Transportation
Safety Board and other concerned agencies, obtain and broadcast weather received from Environment Canada, provide vessel traffic (VTS)
and sail plan processing services just to name a few duties. MCTS Centres work closely with local search and rescue (SAR) agencies,
fire departments, medical and health agencies, and local, provincial and national police services, and the Department of National
Defence (DND). Many pleasurecraft operators volunteer their services by joining the Canadian Coast Guard Auxiliary (CCGA) and work
side-by-side with various coast guard resources, but often they are the only resources we have in many isolated areas of Canada. The
job for coordinating SAR belongs to the various regional Joint Rescue Coordination Centres (JRCC), and in the Central and Arctic coast
guard region this is the responsibility of JRCC Trenton.
View of Primary and Secondary safety positions (consoles 2 and 3) at VBA Thunder Bay MCTS Centre (2010) with MCTSOs Bedford and Belleau. Each console provides dual redundancy, and can take over for the other, as required.
When I started, we used manual typewriters fed by continuous fan-fold, double-copy (carbon paper and later carbonless paper) for log keeping, sent messages using ASCII (8-it) and BAUDOT (5-bit) machine punched paper tapes, used the Morse code, did aviation weather observations/briefings, and had monstrous tube powered transmitters. Many routine tasks were very time consuming using the old analog and/or mechanical equipment because we had to process every thing manually, but in the 21st century, computers are used for everything: log keeping, voice recording, faxes and emails, and daily data analysis all with just a few keystrokes, plus the equipment is solid-state. Most tasks require very little operator input and this frees us for our primary job of providing a maritime safety service.
But even with all this modernization and computerization, the basic job has remained the same, and the wireless operator from 1912
would have no problem sitting down and working the circuit! In fact, it's even easier for him/her because all radio and technical
theory, weather observing, manual paper work, and Morse code have disappeared over the years. We still use a combination of scheduled
and unscheduled live radio broadcasts, but also use a digital voice recording system (in heavy traffic areas) called the Continuous
Marine Broadcast (CMB) Service broadcasting on dedicated VHF marine channels 24/7. Another system called Navigational Telex (NAVTEX)
transmits the same maritime information on 518 kHz (or 490 kHz) using narrow-band direct printing digital messaging (SITOR-B); shipboard
personal don't have to listen and write down spoken broadcasts—with NAVTEX they get nicely printed messages in English or French!
Besides radio, there are other tools to assist MCTSO's: the Maritime Mobile Access and Retrieval Systems (MARS) is an International Telecommunications Union (ITU) database system which allows the maritime community to consult the current contents of the master ITU ship station database; the INNAV (Information System on Marine Navigation) is becoming standard at MCTS Centres for tracking domestic and international vessels. In addition, GIS (Geographical Information Systems), e-Navigation (electronic charting and navigation), AIS (Automated Identification System), LRIT (Long Range Identification and Tracking), and DSC (Digital Selective Calling) computerized systems are changing the face of the 21st century maritime industry.
RO Bob Gilliespie, at VBC Wiarton, working the marine radio position (early 1980’s). The new IBM Selectric electric typewriters made logging easier, and we got rid of the darn carbon paper! Wiarton had the older lower profile console design, but all the consoles (then and today) had/have standard 19" rack mount sections, so swapping out components was/is very easy for technicians to make repairs and upgrades. The air/ground position is to the far right. (Photo courtesy MCTSO Don Brown.)
Yours truly (1979) at the combined air/marine station Resolute Bay callsigns VFR/YRB. I'm standing in front of the air/ground position.
marine radio section (voice and Morse code) is in the centre, and the point-to-point HF voice
weather circuit is far left.
My last day on the job (7 April 2012) at Thunder Bay MCTS Centre. I've changed, the equipment has changed, but the job has stayed
much the same over my 35-1/2 years and the past 100 years!
Oh, my golden-brown locks, how much I do miss thee!
Copyright © 2000-2021 R. C. Mazur, VA3ROM.