Tuesday, 18 December 2007


When John handed over the blog to me he asked me to do 2 things.

1. Increase the hits to 500 a day

2. Tell people about the pager system

One of these is easy, the other a little more difficult! So I thought I'd do the easy one first.

In early 1999 the RNLI embarked on a nationwide project to replace its existing paging solution. This varied from BT pagers, Multitone pagers triggered by the Coastguard on VHF Channel 0 and another BT type system in the Channel Islands. The plan was to replace all these different systems with one. After testing at a handful of stations around the country the COACS (Call Out and Communication System) was born. The contract was awarded to NTL (who were bought out by Arqiva a couple of years ago) and in Sept 1999 the role out to all 232 RNLI Lifeboat Stations began. Our station was the first of the official role out, mainly due to our proximity to Poole HQ and Poole Lifeboat Station that was one of the trial stations. There were a few teething problems including our pagers going off everytime Poole ILB went out . . the pager would helpfully say 'Poole ILB launched on service' great, just what you want to know in the middle of the night! These were quickly ironed out and the system has basically remained the same since then.

The Call out part is basically the pager and the system used to trigger it. The pager that we are currently using (although this is being replaced gradually now) is a Multitone unit. It does pretty much what you'd expect . . makes a noise, vibrates and displays text.

The first message we get when there's a shout is 'Launch Request Coastguard' this is Portland Coastguard requesting assistance from one or both of our lifeboats. This message is intended for the Duty Launching Authority but all our crew receive it and they understand that there may be a 'Cancel Launch' message if the DLA decides that the job isn't one for a lifeboat. 90% of the time within a minute or two the pager will go off again, this time with either 'Launch ALB', 'Launch ILB', 'Launch Both Boats' there are also a couple of immediate readiness messages too. Once a launch message is received the crew know that the DLA has authorised the launch and they can proceed to sea. All of the paging is done by phone, the Coastguard and DLA dial into this box of tricks (each station has one with a choice of pine or beech wood trim!).

Inside this box there's the fancy electronics, transmitter, battery backup etc required to fill Swanage and the surrounding area with a strong enough radio signal to trigger the pagers. In order to make sure that the coverage is 100% the signal is also rebroadcast from a remote aerial site on Nine Barrow Down. In the event of phone line or some other sytem failure it is possible to trigger the pagers by pressing the buttons on the front panel (yes there is a secret to it to stop people fiddling!).

In case there are visitors in the boathouse, and there are plenty in the summer, there is a scroll board and a number of sirens that go off with the pagers. The scroll board displays the same message as the crew's pagers. This gives our Boathouse attendants a chance to escort any visitors out before the crew arrive. In the days before the new system I've been the first to the station opened the back door and promptly fallen over a pack of brownies who were having a talk!

If the pagers go off at night (somehow the magic box knows when sunrise and sunset are every day of the year) then the red lights inside the boathouse and the lights on both slipways are switched on. This gives the slipway lights a chance to warm up and get to full brightness and is one less thing for the crew to worry about when they arrive.

The Communication part of the system is made up of 3 parts. 6 handheld PMRs, 1 fixed radio on the Mersey and a transmitter/scrambler on Nine Barrow Down. This system allows us to have secure comms with the lifeboat when its at sea, secure comms between the shore crew, secure comms between lifeboats and even patch into a phone line to make phone calls.

Initially it was thought that DLAs would carry one of these PMRs at all times as it is possible to phone the Coastguard from it and page the crew but as mobile phone coverage got better and better they tend to be the prefered method.

Arqiva constantly monitor all RNLI lifeboat stations for any problems with the system and if it should fail, which it never has for us in 8 years, then there are always good old maroons!


Anonymous said...


What a great post! It would put John to shame if not for the lack of lifeboat girls.

Mack said...

Dave I normally read john's posts via google reader but I had to log on to the site just to help with getting the number of page visits to 500. It's a great blog that he has up and running, and a great way for normal joe blogs like me to follow a day to day running of a RNLI station.

I know a good few lads around the stations in Ireland and it's a great job you all do.

Regards to all,
Safe sailing and fair winds over christmas.

Anonymous said...

When did maroons go out of use? I lived in Weymouth in 2002-2003 and could hear the double-bang most of the way across town.

Best wishes for Christmas and the rest of winter - may the pagers stay silent!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Mack :o)

Hi Helen

We still use maroons but not as much as we used to. Each maroon contains more explosive than a standard NATO handgrenade so you've gotta be careful with them! The RNLI had a few near misses that could have been very very serious and after that they really tightened up on their use. We are allowed to fire them if we can meet one of the following:

1. The casualty will hear the maroons and know that help is on the way.

2. The pager system has failed

3. To clear the local area to allow the lifeboat to proceed to sea safely.

The latter doesn't really apply to us but does at stations in busy harbours, marinas etc.

Hope that clears things up.


lifeboatjohn said...

Wenley, remember where your loyalties lie!

Mack, I've recently changed the feed on the blog so if you read through a reader you only get the first 250 characters.....you have to visit now!

Mack said...

John , no problem in visiting the site when I can, I'll still read the feeds via google and will pop in an out of the site.