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Advanced Lifesaving Technology Comes to the Caribbean with US Coast Guards Rescue 21

When you have that sinking feeling on the high seas, who are you going to call? The U.S. Coast Guard (USCG). New cutting-edge advanced direction-finding communications technology called Rescue 21 now allows the USCG to locate boaters in trouble and save lives and property at sea. The extra good news is that this capability will be operational in the Caribbean, specifically the Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands region, incrementally throughout 2012.

Rescue 21 has the capability to accurately identify the location of callers in distress by using lines of bearing, thereby reducing search times. “For example,” says Richard Kanehl, a Washington, DC-based USCG spokesperson, “when a distress call is made on a VHF marine radio, Rescue 21's direction finding capability will provide lines of bearing to the source of the transmission, enabling watch standers to more accurately direct response assets. To date, Rescue 21 has been used in more than 25,000 search and rescue cases.”

The Rescue 21 system will work across Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands the same as it does across other regions in the U.S. where the system has been deployed. The coverage radius will extend 20 miles out from the Rescue 21 towers located in Crown Mountain, St. Thomas; Blue Mountain, St. Croix; and sites at El Yunque, Cerro Maravilla and Monte del Estado, Puerto Rico. All boaters equipped with a reliable VHF marine radio can benefit from this system regardless of their nationality. The system will also enhance the logistics of joint agency operations, foreign and local, in the Caribbean.

Now is the time for boaters to prepare by making sure they, at minimum, have a reliable VHF marine radio that will allow them to be heard by the USCG within 20 nautical miles of the shoreline. And ideally to also have a properly installed and registered radio capable of Digital Selective Calling (DSC).

“With a push of a single button, this life saving capability will allow vessels in distress to transmit their exact GPS position to Coast Guard units and nearby DSC-equipped vessels,” Kanehl explains.

In order for this capability to function properly, boaters must connect their radio to their onboard GPS as well as register at to get an MMSI number and program it into their DSC capable radio. Boaters can find more information about DSC by visiting the Rescue 21 website:


The U.S. Coast Guard’s Rescue 21 capabilities in the Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands region – one of the busiest sectors in the entire Coast Guard – will include the following when it incrementally comes on board in 2012:

Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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