I consider this a side issue, but since much has been made of the sinking of the Tall Ship Bounty replica and amateur radio's role in the rescue effort, I have to address it here because misinformation is being used to influence the FCC RM-11708 rulemaking process. This ship was made famous by appearing in various movies you may have seen. It was in marginal condition and short of crew, and set to sea in conditions that would have been a challenge to a vessel in good repair with an adequate crew. It was not up to the task of superstorm Sandy. The captain had only a hand held sat phone which was not powerful enough to operate below deck in the storm. There was an emergency locator beacon which was not deployed until the situation had deteriorated. A crew member asked to contact the Coast Guard directly, but was overruled by the ship's captain. The captain made contact later with the sponsoring organization, NOT the Coast Guard directly, by amateur radio email. The sponsoring organization then contacted the Coast Guard. The bottom line is that the ship set sail in bad conditions with an underpowered Sat Phone and amateur radio as the primary means of communication. The captain was unable to raise anyone on the 20 meter maritime net, perhaps due to the storm and time of day when he finally realized that the ship was lost. If he had attempted contact earlier, the loss of life might have been prevented. If he had diverted to port earlier as warned in a general advisory by the Coast Guard, the ship might have been saved. This could happen again, if people do not avail themselves of adequate commercial equipment for safety and communication gear. I remind you that this is AMATEUR radio, and we all gladly stand ready to aid any vessel in distress to the extent we have the resources. In an emergency, a vessel can contact ANYONE on ANY frequency in ANY MODE available to them. Usually a distress call should be in a mode that is likely to be heard by the largest number of people. That might be by voice, not a digital mode, although certain weak signal digital modes can get through more effectively than voice. The debate over which of the digital modes are best is up for grabs. The Coast Guard itself states that email contact is NOT advised as the primary method in the event of emergency, to use other means which are constantly monitored. Read the information below to verify this for yourself. I have tried to provide links which give a variety of viewpoints for balance, as well as official Coast Guard reports, not news that has a "spin" to support an agenda.
Here is the ARRL story, which puts the best possible PR spin on it:
We had Winlink on the ship that we used for e-mail and accessing the Internet to post to blogs and to Facebook, and we finally found an e-mail address for the Coast Guard. As a last-ditch effort, we used Winlink to e-mail the Coast Guard for help. Within an hour, we heard a C-130 plane, and later, a helicopter overhead.http://www.arrl.org/news/robin-walbridge-kd4ohz-missing-at-sea-after-sinking-of-tall-ship-em-bounty-em-ship-s-electrician-dou
Here is a commercial equipment provider's information on the sinking:
SCS has removed the material from their web page, possibly to avoid liability.
Here is the account of an actual survivor of the sinking. Read it carefully and consider the work done during the repairs to the ship done in port earlier by the crew themselves rather than a shipyard repair facility. Note also the replacement of the Sat Phone by a lower powered hand held unit.
Money was always an issue. Two seasons ago, the ship's satellite phone broke and was replaced with a handheld unit. Last year, during the Boothbay refit, the ship was scheduled for repainting and re-caulking, along with a reconfiguration of the space below deck. Hansen and Walbridge tried to save money by having the Bounty crew do most of the work themselves. One crew member said that he asked the office for a new fuel-filtering system but was told to make do with the old one.
Read the account of one of the crew here:
The port generator was by now the only thing running, and it, too, would soon be submerged. Faunt and Svendsen helped the ailing Walbridge up to the navigation shack, where, with effort, he was able to use the last of the ship's electricity to send an email to Simonin via ham radio. At 8:45, she forwarded the message to the Coast Guard; in the hours that followed, McIntosh's C-130 carried out its vigil circling over the ship.
Simonin was the Bounty organization business contact person on land. Bounty used WinLink to conduct all its business. It did NOT email the Coast Guard to establish first contact. Only AFTER Simonin obtained the Coast Guard email were they able to communicate via Winlink.
The Coast Guard specifically warns people NOT to use email to contact it in emergencies. USCG website info, read down the page for contact procedure table:
Currently the U.S. Coast Guard email system is not set up to accept or respond to emergency SAR messages. If you are in distress or need to report an emergency, do NOT send it via email, contact the Coast Guard via telephone or radio.https://www.uscg.mil/hq/cg5/cg534/Contact_CG.asp
Now that you know the FACTS, read the account:
Here is the analysis of the sinking by the Coast Guard, which gives the exact sequence of events and all details of the communication interchanges:
Given the injuries to crew and problems with dewatering, the Master and Chief Mate called for assistance using a satellite phone and an HF e-mail system. They notified the owner via satellite phone, who directed the vessel's shore support to contact the Coast Guard. At approximately 2045, the Coast Guard was notified by the vessel's shore support that the vessel was taking on water and was last reported to be approximately 90 miles southeast of Hatteras, N.C. The Coast Guard subsequently received a distress signal from the vessel's EPIRB and a C-130 was launched to provide over-watch and establish direct communication with the vessel. At approximately 2130 on Sunday, the vessel's starboard generator ceased operating when water from the bilges splashed up and shorted it out. This left the vessel with no power.
160. After being informed of the loss of the port main engine, the difficulty with the bilge pumps, the flooding, and the injury to the Captain, CM approached Capt. [redacted] and suggested that they should call the Coast Guard. CM testified that Capt. [redacted] told him the best thing for them to do was work on the generator and the pumps and get the vessel dewatered. The Captain chose not to take the Chief Mate's recommendation to hail the Coast Guard at this time.
168. CM testified that, at approximately 1900, he once again asked Capt. [redacted] to call the Coast Guard, and once again, the Captain said "no."
169. At approximately 2000, the starboard generator shut down. The electrical bilge pumps stopped working but the portable hydraulic pump continued pumping. 2/M testified that, at the time, the water level in the engine room was now at the sole boards (a total level of 4 feet). Engineer was not in the engine room. 2/M s and AB now began changing out the fuel filter on the starboard generator itself. Neither had ever done so before. CM brought them a filter, and they were able to switch it out. It was reported that the process took from 25 - 40 minutes. During that time the electric bilge pumps were off line.
170. Also at approximately 2000, Capt. [redacted] agreed to call the Coast Guard. Attempts were made to use the single side band radio and INMARSAT C phone in the Nav Shack, but those were not functional. CM went up on the weather deck to use the handheld INMARSAT C phone. He testified that he called [redacted], [redacted], and tried calling CDR Mike Turdo, Executive Officer of CGC EAGLE, whom he had known through the Tall Ship community. He testified that he was having trouble using the phone, and could not tell if he was speaking to a person or voice mail. When he felt that someone had picked up he simply began to relay the vessel's position and that they were in distress. CM testified that he felt that he had the most success with the call to [redacted]. In fact, CM had not gotten through to CDR Turdo, but, rather, had left a voicemail. That voicemail was received and reviewed as part of this investigation. CM cannot be heard on it; it contains nothing audible.
171. At approximately 2045, U.S. Coast Guard Sector North Carolina's Command Center (SEC.NC CC) received their first notification of distress on the BOUNTY. That call came from [redacted]. had received the call from BOUNTY, and directed her to take action. She reported BOUNTY's last known position, that they had 15 to 16 persons on board, and that she was communicating with BOUNTY via the HF e-mail system. Sector North Carolina began coordinating Search and Rescue (SAR) efforts. was contacted by the COMCEN, and stated that if the vessel was calling, they needed help and was the best point of contact for the vessel. He also related to the COMCEN that he believed that BOUNTY had 20 - 22 persons on board.
179. At 2141, SEC.NC CC notified that CG-2004 was en route to BOUNTY's last known EPIRB position to establish communications.
180. At 2215, Capt. [redacted] sent the following e-mail to [redacted] and [redacted]:
183. At 2246, Ms. [redacted] relayed e-mail information to the BOUNTY for contacting SEC.NC CC via e-mail. She explained that the HF e-mail system would not allow e-mails to go through until the vessel e-mails first.
184. At 2255 Capt. [redacted] sends the following e-mail to SEC.NC CC;
We are 34-07 N X 074-08 course 130 speed 2.6 knots 17 people on board.
I do not know how long I will be able to receive e-mail.
My first guess was that we had until morning before we have to abandon seeing the water rise I am not sure we have that long.
We have two inflatable life rafts.
We have activated our EPIRB.
191. At 0005, CG-2004 established communications with BOUNTY, via VHF. BOUNTY relayed to CG-2004 that they have 6 feet in the lower hold. Discussions were had to determine if dropping pumps to BOUNTY to aid in dewatering would be feasible given the on-scene weather, lack of surface assets and BOUNTY's limited maneuverability.
192. At 0015, CG-2004 reported to Sector North Carolina Command Center that on scene weather is north west winds at 40 knots and 18 foot seas.
193. At 0022, BOUNTY relayed to CG-2004 that they had lost both generators, and were on battery power only.
194. At 0058, SEC.NC CC relayed to BOUNTY via e-mail that nearest surface assets were 8 - 10 hours away. Discussion began for a planned evacuation at sunrise. BOUNTY was directed to activate their second EPIRB if their situation worsens or if they start evacuation. At the time onscene weather was outside the operating capabilities of CG helicopters (H-60's).
196. At 0300, Capt. [redacted] had the crew muster near the Nav Shack to discuss the possibility of abandoning ship. Bosun testified that Capt. [redacted] asked "what went wrong, and at what point did we lose control?"
9. When Capt. [redacted] finally authorized CM to call for assistance on the night of October 28th , there had already been 3 crew injured (including himself), loss of the port main engine and port generator, problems with the starboard generator, blown out sails and damaged rigging, and flooding that had several feet of water in the bilges. With the clarity of post casualty analysis, looking at the timeline of continued difficulties aboard BOUNTY starting on Saturday October 27th and the continued proximity of the approaching storm center, the best time to have made the first call for assistance (pumps at least) would have been on Saturday when Capt. [redacted] attempted to engage the hydraulic bilge pumps, which were seen as emergency pumps. That said, based on testimony, his realization that the hydraulic pump did not work sometime the evening of October 27th, may simply have been too late, even if he had given the order right then to make the distress (MAYDAY) call. CM approached Capt. [redacted] twice on the afternoon of October 28th in an attempt to have notifications to the Coast Guard made. It is likely that earlier notification of the vessel's and crew's condition to ownership and the Coast Guard would have given more time to establish communications and ascertain the vessel's situation, and possibly arrange for assistance. However, as stated before, the on-scene weather conditions precluded air assets from assisting, and there were few if any vessels in the vicinity.
Every tall ship captain interviewed for this investigation indicated disbelief over the actions of Capt. [redacted], and stated they never would have left port, or they would have sought a safe berth in sufficient time. Practically every vessel in the Atlantic chose to either tie up, or run from Hurricane Sandy. Capt. [redacted] chose to steer towards Hurricane Sandy at a near constant bearing and decreasing range with no compelling reason to do so. His actions conflicted with all known maritime methodologies for storm avoidance. It can only be concluded that he was not trying to avoid it at all. He purposefully placed his crew and his vessel into extremely dangerous conditions. This constitutes negligence.
5) Capt. [redacted] decided to notify the Coast Guard and HMS BOUNTY Organization regarding their distress much too late. When asked by CM S to call the Coast Guard, he refused stating that they would be better off working on the pumps. His decision smacked of pride, and was illogical given the danger they were in. He should have made calls for assistance on Saturday, October 27th at the first indication that the electric bilge pumps were not keeping up with the water ingress. This would have given them some opportunity to come up with an alternate plan or better their chances to receive assistance. This constitutes negligence.
7) The BOUNTY's single side band radio and INMARSAT C phone were not operational when the decision was made to request assistance. As they were not tested prior to departure from Boothbay or New London it is not known how long they were not functional.
Here is a YouTube video containing an interview with the captain of the Bounty: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNDneMuO7-U&t=10m41s. You can see about 20 minutes into the interview the Bounty Captain's statement about chasing hurricanes, and some other interesting historic information.
This is the Bounty's radio license: http://wireless2.fcc.gov/UlsApp/UlsSearch/license.jsp?licKey=2935665. This shows registration for only the SatPhone, a VHF ship to ship hailing short range radio, and EPIRB emergency beacons registered to the ship, which could have alerted the Coast Guard within maximum 45 minutes (depending on the position of the satellites) if activated in a timely fashion. By the time the SatPhone was tried to directly contact the Coast Guard, the noise of the storm was so loud above deck, the receiver could not be heard; the SatPhone had no separate above deck antenna, so it could not be operated below deck. This was a lower power replacement SatPhone which could have been carried off the ship to a life raft, a useful feature, but was not up to the job in this storm. No mention is made of the HF radio, and I have not found any information on exactly which ham radio was employed. Whether the amateur radio equipment was capable of all frequency transmit modification is unclear. However, one thing IS true - had the ham gear been modified for all frequency transmit while in port, it could have contacted the Coast Guard on one of its emergency channels legally, regardless of whether it was licensed or not. This is clearly a mistake on the part of the owners and operators of the vessel. The intent of using WinLink was to avoid commercial fees for a legitimate business use to contact the parent organization. This is the intent of this article: to demonstrate the dangers of this practice, and to urge boaters to employ the correct method of contacting them. It is also to correct some of the notions surrounding current pending FCC rulemaking which misuse amateur radio for pecuniary purposes.
Check out this article titled "Insurance company sues owners of tall ship Bounty": http://suffolktimes.timesreview.com/2014/11/53828/insurance-company-sues-owners-of-tall-ship-bounty/.
Here is the analysis of the role played by ham radio, by a ham radio operator familiar with the Pactor mode and sailing. It is very critical of the use of ham radio as a substitute for professional methods.
As raised by the Coast Guard neither the HF radio nor the Satphone were verified working before leaving port. Possibly the reason HF contact on 20 meters did not succeed was that the microphone either did not work, or was damaged by salt water in the storm. More likely, the 20 meter maritime net on 14.300 shuts down later in the day, due to propagation conditions, and Walbridge had delayed calling there until it was too late. In this case, static from lightning in hurricane Sandy was probably intense, and people on shore may have shut down their ham stations to avoid damage to their equipment.
I still maintain the if amateur radio Pactor email (WinLink) is to be widely used as the primary means for ocean going vessels making emergency contact with the Coast Guard, we may see more bad outcomes along the lines of the Bounty sinking. This is why I oppose the institution of FCC RM-11708 as it is currently formulated, as well as the ARRL HF BAND PLAN PROPOSAL, which would promote even more use of Winlink as a substitute for available commercial services and use of HF radios not designed to communicate directly with the Coast Guard in the mode that USCG specifically requests (which is NOT by email). See the link at the beginning of the article for the Coast Guard emergency contact procedure.
Vessels navigating inland water ways should be equipped with commercial grade VHF FM marine radios, not 2 meter ham rigs modified to transmit out of band. An amateur radio 2 meter rig can be modified for receive outside the ham bands, but transmitting with such a radio at full power on marine frequencies may burn out the finals, because it was not designed for that purpose. The use of HF amateur radio by inland vessels for email is also competition with commercial providers. I also maintain that IF ARRL intends to go ahead with supporting wide use of amateur based email by the boating community, it surely needs to be planned better than the current proposal. This will definitely take more time than is currently allotted. There is no reason to do it in the proposal's time frame. If this ARRL HF BAND PLAN PROPOSAL and FCC RM-11708 take effect in their current form, I predict that WinLink based internet access will become the Hydrilla of the HF amateur bands. I have tried to provide links which give a variety of viewpoints for balance, as well as official Coast Guard reports, not news that has a "spin" to support an agenda. Back to the issue at hand, which is the implementation of the band planning.