Calling ‘Taupo Maritime Radio’

Safe Seas Clean Seas Issue 52, August 2017

“Taupo Maritime Radio” is the catch-cry of many mariners if they get into difficulty on the seas in New Zealand’s vast Search and Rescue (SAR) region.
Maritime Operations Centre Manager Brendon Comerford.
Maritime New Zealand ©2019
Maritime Operations Centre Manager Brendon Comerford – the centre is the ‘111’ service for commercial shipping and recreational boaties.

But rather than a quaint radio hut on the shores of Lake Taupo, the callers are actually making contact with the sophisticated Maritime Operations Centre (MOC) at Avalon, Lower Hutt.

A team of dedicated operators, working in shifts around the clock, receive distress and urgency calls from an area covering between the South Pole to almost the Equator and from half way to Australia to half way to South America. Calls can be received on a range of maritime communications networks and platforms, such as Inmarsat-C (International Maritime Satellite), HF DSC (High Frequency Digital Selective Calling) HF Voice and Channel 16 VHF around the New Zealand coast.

These calls and alerts are usually responded to within 10 seconds, with the first Mayday relay or Urgency relay transmitted out within a minute of receiving the initial call, says Manager Brendan Comerford. Such efficient response times are partly because the MOC uses pre-approved SAR messages in their broadcasts which help prevent triage delays.

Brendan says while the centre is called a host of names, internationally it’s generally known as Taupo Maritime Radio - for the city that is closest to New Zealand’s main HF transmitter (Taupo); or ZLM for the New Zealand call-sign.

Brendan describes the centre as effectively the “111” service for shipping and boaties within New Zealand’s 30 million square kilometre SAR region – which covers around 12.5 percent of the world’s ocean.

Often vessels communicating with the MOC are unaware that New Zealand’s Maritime Radio Stations are all one and the same, Brendan says.

“It can be amusing. For example, a vessel closing a transit report in Akaroa Harbour may call Akaroa Maritime Radio and request that Wellington Maritime Radio know of their safe arrival. Quite often they are talking to the same radio operator.”

The control room of the MOC has four operator work stations, each with its own bank of electronic equipment to interface with remote radios, monitor the networks and provide computerised filters, such as voice modulation recognition. The latter automatically cuts out ancillary HF noise – and modulates the often high-pitched tone of stressed callers.

When dealing with a Distress or Urgency call, Brendan says operators need to be able to clearly confirm the vessel’s identify, location, nature of difficulty and the number of people on board, in order to correctly relay the call and alert rescue services.

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