Exciting and Busy Times for Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue

The beginning of a new year is a great time to reflect on the present and future. For the past 7 years I’ve been a SAR volunteer in Unit 1 (Horseshoe Bay, West Vancouver) of the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue (RCMSAR). My unit had 87 calls in 2015 making it the busiest volunteer marine SAR station in all of Canada. I’m not trying to brag but rather hoping to give context to this post so you can understand how important it is for us to try to continually improve the way we do things.

On the West Coast of Canada – RCMSAR’s 30 plus stations handle approximately one third of all rescue calls from the US / Canadian border to Alaska. The other two thirds are covered by the very hard working folks of the Canadian Coast Guard. Funding for both organizations is a continual challenge. The Federal Government sets the Coast Guard’s budget. The ability of individual RCMSAR units to fundraise, limits their budgets.

It’s clear we must all figure out a way to improve with the fiscal constraints we have. One of the ways to do this is to utilize technology in smart and productive ways.

One great example of this is RCMSAR’s callout system created by a member in my unit a number of years ago which simultaneously puts all unit members on a conference bridge when a tasking comes in. We can now verbally verify a fast response time and also that we have the crew resources we need. The system used to be pager based which was far less efficient and ultimately meant a slower time to get the boat off the dock. Our callout system has been a huge success story and has now been implemented in many other first responder and SAR teams.

If you follow me so far I’m getting to the even more exciting part…

Last night I was out training with my Monday night crew and we ran a scenario very common to the SAR community. Essentially a latitude and longitude is received on the radio from either a vessel in distress or more commonly from rescue command. The coordinates are then verified and the lat / long inputted into the multi-function display. In our case we have a network of Raymarine e-series acting mostly as chart plotters and radar monitors.

Response time is obviously vital and getting the lat / long entered accurately and reporting back an estimated time of arrival takes critical time that slows the response. Most of the time an approximate location is given so the boat can head in the general direction during the data entry, but this is not always the case. The exact bearing isn’t known until we have a waypoint to target. In rough seas (common) when you are screaming along at 40 knots over big waves, it is challenging to say to get the waypoint plotted. There are also other challenges such as hearing properly over engine noise, the possibility of human error, and cold numb hands in our open boats.

My grand vision is for Signal K to help solve this problem and others that I will discuss in future blogs.  Here’s possibly how…

It will be fairly easy to create a secure tasking website so that rescue command can type the lat / long into a web-browser at their base and have those co-ordinates appear as a waypoint on the multi-function display of a rescue boat. Like a taxi getting an electronic dispatch, we will have a relatively inexpensive solution using Signal K. The cost is perhaps $400 per vessel if you include the cost of the Signal K gateway and a wireless router with a 3G /4G internet connection. There would be an ongoing $10-$20 monthly data fee for the wireless carrier but overall this is a very affordable solution that will save lives where seconds count.

So for 2016 my resolution is to try to make this actually happen! I’d love to hear your comments or suggestions on this project.

– Safe Boating –

editors note: The opinions expressed here are solely my own and do not represent those of the Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue. This article was re-edited and published at

RCMSAR 01 training in Howe Sound
Train, train, train!