|Coast Guard Revival|
3: U.S. Coast Guard
By Brad Dunn — February 2001
In the short term the agency says about $257 million will go to immediate renovations of cutters, tenders, radar equipment, and other basic navigational electronics. Some instruments haven't been updated since the 1970s. The Coast Guard also plans to replace Mackinaw, the 87-foot Great Lakes icebreaker that is long overdue for decommissioning.
Drug interdiction efforts are also on the docket for expansion. This year the Coast Guard will spend $565 million to stop illegal drugs from landing on U.S. shores, easily eclipsing its 1999 figure of $372 million. It will increase ship and aircraft operating hours, deploy more armed helicopters, and bolster its drug-smuggling intelligence operations.
The primary focus will be to stop the "go-fast" boats that run narcotics into California and Florida. To that end, the agency said it will buy 15 more high-speed patrol boats, two high-endurance cutters, and eight helicopters.
Perhaps most important to recreational boaters, the National Distress and Response System Modernization (NDRSM) project will get a much-needed shot in the arm. With an estimated price tag of $220 million, the project will use modern VHF technology to build a nationally integrated communications system. New monitoring equipment including Digital Selective Calling technology (see "The ABCs of DSC," January 2001, plus "DSC Redux," this issue) will let watchstanders locate a caller's position with far more accuracy than current direction-finding techniques. With modern software and digital voice recording, watchstanders will also be able to get immediate distress call playbacks with enhanced sound quality, the kind that could have saved the crew of Morning Dew.
Once the NDRSM project is completed, the Coast Guard will be able to monitor individual boats via improved radar and tracking systems. To allow more calls across more channels, the agency will also expand the operating VHF spectrum of frequency to a range of 100 MHz to 1 GHz.
The NDRSM's full-scale development phase will begin next year, and the whole system is slated to be online by 2006. The Coast Guard says the project will be the most important development in public boating safety in decades.
For an agency that has had little in the way of legislative or financial support over the past 20 years, the Coast Guard has grown accustomed to running marathons on an empty stomach, performing its myriad tasks without complaint. But now it's got a new meal ticket, one that will pump fresh energy into its wide-roaming sea legs and long-standing tradition of excellent service.
And while you may not witness the capture of a high-speed drug-running boat, the containment of an oil spill, or the arrest of a drunken boater, soon you will be able to cruise the coastline a little easier knowing that more than ever someone somewhere really is Always Ready.
This article originally appeared in the May 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.