U.S. Coast Guard installs new fog signal in 17 lighthouses across Maine | News

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U.S. Coast Guard installs new fog signal in 17 lighthouses across Maine


The United States Coast Guard installed a new fog signal at the Portland Head Light Tuesday to increase boater safety.

The Coast Guard Sector Northern New England will install the new system, the Mariner Radio Activated Sound Signal, or MRASS, in 17 lighthouses across the state, including Spring Point and Ram Island.

Boaters will now control the fog signal through VHF radio. Boaters key the radio five times in ten seconds on channel 83 Alpha to activate the signal. Any boater in the line of sight of an equipped lighthouse can activate the signal. The horn sounds intermittently for 60 minutes. Once a boater reactivates the signal, that timer resets, and starts another cycle. 

Tony Robb, an electricians mate first class at the Aids to Navigation team South Portland lighthouse department, said the old system, called the VM 100, often sent out false signals due to environmental conditions such as moisture on the lens or a bird flying in the path of its scan.

"As a boater, it's kind of more of a reassurance that you have another tool at your disposal for navigating these waters," said Robb. "It's a simple upgrade to the older, failing system. It's really reliable now. Before, the old technology [determined] when to turn on and off the fog signal. Now the boater actually gets to decide when that is."

The sound signal helps boaters navigate in addition to lighthouse beacons. The MRASS can even sense a power failure and continue to sound the horn.

Some boaters worry because they do not have these radios. The Coast Guard advises all boaters to get one.

"In addition to wearing their life jacket, in addition to letting someone know that they're out on the water and when they're expected back, we would highly recommend them getting a handheld radio at a minimum," said Lt. David Bourbeau of the USCG Northern New England.

The signal at Portland Head Light has a one nautical mile range.

"Everybody says, 'oh well, I got a cellphone.' Cellphones are unreliable. If you get far enough off shore, you might not get a signal. A VHF handheld radio is always a good thing to have on a boat, not necessarily now to activate the fog signal when needed, but to call for help if you need it," said Robb.

Bourbeau said people who live near the lighthouses may hear fog signals less often because the system is less likely to send out erroneous signals.


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