The remoteness and mountainous geography of Nootka Sound on the West Coast of Vancouver Island is  beautiful but it is a challenge when it comes to communicating on the water. For the Bligh Island response efforts, where there is no direct line of sight from the staging area to the spill site because of the mountains in the area, direct unit-to-unit VHF radio communications can be difficult.

To ensure safety of responders and effectiveness of response operations by improving the on-water communications, the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG) set up a deployable repeater in the area. A repeater extends the range of communications so that the signal can cover longer distances or be received on the other side of an obstruction (like a mountain). The deployable repeater is currently stationed 3000 ft high up on a mountaintop near the response site.

This repeater system is a new piece of equipment to CCG. Under the Oceans Protection Plan, CCG recently procured a number of these systems to ensure responders have safe and reliable communications to support operations. CCG staff applied lessons learned from challenges encountered during previous response efforts to determine solutions that could be deployed to address issues like the ones presented in the Nootka area.

However, setting up the communications equipment hasn’t been an easy task. To begin with, CCG determined three potential sites for installation of the repeater, for which a helicopter site visit was required to determine the feasibility of each location. Once the suitable site was selected, next began the coordination efforts to determine the landowner (land title search), and seek approval from the local First Nation and the Province of B.C.

Coast Guard’s Electronics and Informatics (E&I) branch, part of the Integrated Technical Services directorate, has been instrumental in implementing this communications solution. E&I personnel have contributed to response operations by providing expert advice, testing and preparing the repeater equipment, arranging for it to be transported to Gold River, installing the equipment on the mountaintop, and keeping it maintained. With its installation, radio communications coverage for responders on the water in the area of operations has significantly improved.

While there continue to be some challenges with the deployable repeater – snow covering the solar power system and affecting the batteries – Coast Guard is well-prepared with replacement equipment and dedicated technical staff who are committed to continuing to find a workable solution while keeping the safety of those on-site top of mind. Stay tuned!