Coast Guard calls on new ally in rescue operations


March 25, 2010 at 6:04 p.m.
Updated March 25, 2010 at 10:26 p.m.

Cellular technology is changing the way the U.S. Coast Guard searches for missing boaters.

In February, cell technology contributed to the rescue of two Alabama boaters, U.S. Coast Guard officials said.

Information from Broadpoint Communications' cell towers in the Gulf of Mexico narrowed the search area from a 300,000-square-mile radius to a 25-square-mile radius, said Lt. James McKnight, spokesman for the Coast Guard sector in Mobile, Ala.

The narrowed search area was easily managed by one boat and one aircraft, McKnight said.

"If we had rescued them, it would have been much harder without the help of Broadpoint," he continued.

The Coast Guard does not disclose names of rescued people after cases are closed, so the boaters' names were never released.

The two men were transporting a boat in need of repair in the Gulf of Mexico, 35 miles west of the mouth of the Mobile seaport.

A passing boat caused a wave, which capsized the men's boat. Emergency signals were sent that night, but the men were left without their marine VHF radio, which was in the tugboat. A VFH radio is used to contact rescue services.

Although Broadpoint's cell towers came through, McKnight stressed the importance of equipping vessels with marine band radios.

"We don't want to discount the fact that people need to have a marine band radio," he said. "VHF is really a necessity on the water."

The boaters used their cell phones to contact relatives about their emergency. In the process, they contacted Broadpoint's offshore towers, which allowed its employees to view their call log and locate them via cellular data.

Broadpoint is the only offshore cellular network operator in the Gulf of Mexico, according to its Web site. The network covers about 100,000 miles in the gulf, said Bryan Olivier, chief operating officer.

The offshore telecommunications company hopes to forge a stronger working relationship with the U.S. Coast Guard, Olivier said. They also plan to make other sectors of the Coast Guard aware of their capabilities.

The U.S. Coast Guard Corpus Christi sector does not have a working relationship with Broadpoint Communications, Lt. Nick Leiter, public affairs officer, said.

Leiter said he was unaware of the Mobile rescue case or Broadpoint.

McKnight said he has worked on informing other sectors in the Gulf Coast that Broadpoint is an asset they can call upon during a rescue situation.

"We've seen this instance how well we can work together to save someone's life," he said.



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