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Author Topic:   Coast Guard Small Boat Radios
jimh posted 01-01-2013 10:06 AM ET (US)   Profile for jimh   Send Email to jimh  
Electronic Gear on Newest Coast Guard Small Boat

From the request for proposal from the United States Coast Guard for their new Small Rescue Boat, a 28-footer, we can get some insight into what type and what brand of electronic equipment is being specified and used.

The heart of the navigation electronic systems is the Furuno MDF-12 display and NavNET 3D system. RADAR is provided by a Furuno DRS4D 4kW unit. Vessel heading is provided by a Furuno PG500R heading sensor. Vessel position is taken from a Furuno GP-37 GPS/DGPS receiver, and a GPA-019 differential GPS loop antenna is also specified. A Furuno RD-30 Multi-display provides a second display unit in front of the boat pilot (or coxswain). An infra-red camera (if installed) an be viewed on the chart plotter display.

For SONAR, a Furuno DFF1 network sounder and SS60SLD transducer are specified.

For radios, the primary system equipment specified is not consumer-off-the-shelf (COTS) units.

The Secure VHF Radio System is specified to use a Harris PRC-117F radio. This appears to be a portable radio, but it is apparently adapted to some sort of fixed mount in the boat's cabin. This specialized military radio is capable of secure voice and data transmission using very strong encryption techniques. The PRC-117F is a software-defined radio, giving the system great flexibility. A specialized very wide band antenna is used with this system, the Harris E75-0022-004. This radio system is capable of integration into military radio networks and systems.

The primary VHF Marine Band radio or VHF Tactical Radio System is specified to be Motorola XTL-5000-05 tactical VHF radio system, which is described as a "digital radio" system. It appears to be a popular choice in public safety, law enforcement, and military systems. A Shakespeare HS 2774-1 antenna is specified. This is a rugged and wide-band six-foot antenna, with VSWR below 2:1 from 136 to 174-MHz. This radio is programmed with several VHF Marine Band channels typically used by the Coast Guard in their interaction with the public.

A second Motorola XTL-5000-05 radio system is also specified for a UHF Tactical Radio System. This system is to use a Shakespeare US-3849 antenna, having a 2:1 or less VSWR from 380 to 420-MHz.

Finally, a Secondary VHF or Marine Band VHF-DSC Radio System is specified. This radio is a COTS device, a Standard-Horizon GX5500S transceiver. This radio will use another Shakespeare HS 2774-1 antenna. The VSWR must be below 2:1 from 156 to 163.775-MHz.

For transmission and reception of AIS signals, a specialized L3 Protec-M AIS system is used. This device can encrypt and transmit vessel position, and also receive and decrypt other vessel positions using Coast Guard specific methods. This allows the Coast Guard (and other law enforcement vessels) to see and track each other while not being visible to the general public using the normal AIS methods. (This is often called Blue Force AIS, possibly from the blue color of the law enforcement boat flashing lights or the blue color of uniforms.) The AIS transceiver is to be connected to a MORAD VHF-159 HD antenna.

For more information on the products mentioned or on the general subjects raised, just follow the hyperlinked text.

dfmcintyre posted 01-01-2013 06:10 PM ET (US)     Profile for dfmcintyre  Send Email to dfmcintyre     
Huh.--One Harris, two Motorola's and one Standard Horizon. And none of the listed comm sets will have the capability to communicate with virtually any of the emergency dispatch centers in Michigan. They are on the State of Michigan's 800 [MHz] system. One of the biggest issues we encounter in government comm, is interoperability. And I find it somewhat amusing as the Federal people are always preaching interoperability, and they are the worst at actually achieving it.
jimh posted 01-01-2013 06:37 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
In addition to the electronics I described above, the Coast Guard new Small Rescue Boat is specified to have a rather elaborate crew intercom and communication system. The intercom and communication system must provide for the crew of five to communicate from a variety of position on the boat using a wired headset design. In addition, from each position it must be possible for a crew member to have three modes of communication:

--listen to a selected radio receiver
--operate the transmitter and speak over a selected radio
--listen and speak in a hands-free manner to other crew

From what I can read in the proposal, some sort of intercom and communication console will select who listens and talks on which radio, but all the various communication radios must be available to the intercom system.

Having designed, built, maintained, expanded, and lived with various intercom systems for the past 35 years, I can tell you that an intercom system, particularly one that ties into other communication systems (like radios, telephones, and other intercom systems) can be a rather complicated system. There is often as much or perhaps more complexity in intercom systems than in the equipment which will be operated by the people using the intercom.

David Pendleton posted 01-01-2013 06:40 PM ET (US)     Profile for David Pendleton  Send Email to David Pendleton     
Interesting point, Don. Maybe there is a Small Boat uniform requirement that all personnel carry a cell-phone! That would be more in line with my experiences in the military.
jimh posted 01-01-2013 06:42 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Don--I would think the Motorola XLT-5000 radio should be capable of being configured for use on law enforcement systems and frequencies. I got the impression from the Motorola literature it was a versatile, modern, digital radio that could do darn near anything.
dfmcintyre posted 01-01-2013 07:42 PM ET (US)     Profile for dfmcintyre  Send Email to dfmcintyre     
Jim--I believe the XLT5000 is on the approved State of Michigan's bid list for their digital 800 system. However, I don't think they are multi band capable. That might be why they've got specs for tow of those puppies; one for VHF and one for UHF.

I know Moto has dual band preps, so I'd assume they have mobiles that are dual. Furthermore, I'm not sure they are capable of switching between analog and digital.

dfmcintyre posted 01-01-2013 07:49 PM ET (US)     Profile for dfmcintyre  Send Email to dfmcintyre     
Re intercom specs: I've flown in a number of rotary and fixed wing platforms that must have had that bid requirement in their bid package. It takes an EE to understand the system, and there's enough variation between builds to confuse even one of them! Just one switch thrown the wrong way between the cockpit, the side panels in the back or in the command and control seat is all it takes. Then it can be shutdown, pull the cheat sheets (if you can find 'em) and start from scratch.

You have the ability of understatement.

dfmcintyre posted 01-01-2013 08:03 PM ET (US)     Profile for dfmcintyre  Send Email to dfmcintyre     
Here's an interesting mobile.
jimh posted 01-02-2013 09:33 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Below is a image I took in the cabin of another Coast Guard boat (a 45-footer) showing the Motorol XLT-5000 radio control head mounted at the helm station (upper right). I believe this image shows the same radio as used on the new Small Rescue Boat.

Helm position of USCG 45-foot boat showing Motorola XLT-5000 radio.

jimh posted 01-02-2013 09:47 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Re the Motorola XLT-5000 radio, I believe that you have to order it for the specific coverage desired. If you want a radio for the 764 to 870-MHz band, you have to order that specific model. I suspect that the UHF radio on the USCG boat is probably configured for the military UHF bands. The radio is specified to be channelized as follows:

Channel 1 412.9750 MHz
Channel 2 411.7875 MHz
Channel 3 413.0250 MHz

This implies the model is built only for the 380 to 470-MHz segment. This radio would not cover the 800-Mhz public safety and law enforcement trunked radio systems.

In regard to interoperation with law enforcement trunked radio systems, the land-based system would have to provide coverage out to sea in the operating areas for these boats. When the boats were operating in a metropolitan area, say in the harbor in a major city, there probably would be good coverage from a police radio system. But I wonder how far out to sea the police trunked radio systems would cover. If you were ten miles out in Lake Huron, is there any police radio coverage there?

jimh posted 01-02-2013 10:49 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Here is a good look at the arrangement of antennas on the cabin of the new USCG Small Rescue Boat. There are five antennas. The two tallest white antennas are the VHF Shakespeare HS 2774-1 antennas. The shorter white antenna is the UHF Shakespeare US-3849 antenna. The shorter white antenna with whip extension is the Morad VHF-159 HD AIS antenna. This leaves the tall black device; it must be the Secure VHF radio's specialized Harris antenna, as best as I can guess. Also seen is the boat's masthead lamp, which is folded over to a horizontal orientation, just behind what appears to be a remote controlled search light. Also shown are the Furuno radar antenna and the hailer loudspeaker. Partially hidden is the GPS receiver antenna. That's a lot of gear on the cabin roof.

Close-up of antennas on roof of cabin of USCG Small Rescue Boat II.
Photo courtesy of Bonefish Communications. Used with permission

jimh posted 01-02-2013 01:27 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
The specification for the boat calls for a maximum vertical draft when on the trailer of 10-feet. Apparently all of the antennas can be lowered to the cabin roof to reduct the clearance. Also, I would hate to be the coxswain running the boat who forgot to check the antennas when going under a low bridge. There is about $4,000 of antenna hardware on the roof.
dfmcintyre posted 01-02-2013 10:06 PM ET (US)     Profile for dfmcintyre  Send Email to dfmcintyre     
Jim--don't know about other regions, but one of the main towers in the state system in our area is in Lakeport, MI, one mile west of the shoreline. I don't believe Motorola has preps or mobile equipment that can handle more then two bands. I know there is someone with a tri-band unit--cannot remember who though.
jimh posted 01-03-2013 09:07 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
For coordination between government vessels involved in any sort of overt operation at sea, I would think that unencrypted standard voice transmission on the VHF Marine Band radio, typically Channel 22A or in an emergency on Channel 16, would provide a very simple means for all agencies involved to communicate.

If some sort of covert operation is needed, this would probably best be accomplished by the agencies involved. They would establish a radio coordination well in advance of the actual underway and on the water evolution.

jimh posted 01-03-2013 11:59 AM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
We have gotten a bit off-topic here in the discussion. My intention for the topic is to show what type of boat electronics is being used by the United States Coast Guard. I think their standards for performance and reliability would be high, and equipment provided for their use would have to meet those standards.

The Furuno navigation gear seems to be a very standard choice for the Coast Guard. I think this same complement of equipment is used on several other Coast Guard small boats.

The radios are a bit specialized, except for the secondary VHF/DSC radio. The choice of the Standard Horizon GX5500S is interesting.

I thought the antenna choices were also interesting. It seems that Shakespeare is the preferred brand.

jimh posted 05-03-2013 02:19 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
This thread developed a corollary topic: inter-agency communication among marine law enforcement groups. On that topic, I found an interesting article about the U.S. Homeland Security agency providing Canadian law-enforcement agencies with new radios that would permit the Canadians to communicate with the American agencies in on-the-water operations. The radios are hand held and are said to cost $7,000 each. For more details see this CBC article at wdr-homeland-security-canadian-radios.html?cmp=rss

jimh posted 05-03-2013 02:28 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
For more on the use of multi-band radios by United States Homeland Security agents and allied agencies, see multi-band-radio-pilot-report.pdf

dfmcintyre posted 05-04-2013 08:20 PM ET (US)     Profile for dfmcintyre  Send Email to dfmcintyre     
Jim--That model and [cost] is close to what I showed you a few years ago.
jimh posted 05-04-2013 11:57 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
Don--I recall the radio you had a few years ago, but that was before the roll out of Long Term Evolution or LTE or 4G networks, as I recall. These new MBR connect to LTE networks as well as direct radio-to-radio VHF and UHF systems. They are also software-defined radios (SDR), which is a new and amazing technology. And it is darn nice of the Homeland Security fellows to give them to the Canadian folks. Maybe they should have waited for Boxing Day.
dfmcintyre posted 05-05-2013 10:59 AM ET (US)     Profile for dfmcintyre  Send Email to dfmcintyre     
Jim--I was unaware that [the multi-band radios mentioned in the homeland security report linked above] can connect to an LTE net. On the state system, one normally operates through towers, however there is a selection of channels that allow for talkaround mode.
jimh posted 05-05-2013 03:58 PM ET (US)     Profile for jimh  Send Email to jimh     
The reports says that they expect the new multi-band-radios to have LTE network features. That suggests that perhaps the ones they are testing at the moment don't have that feature.

Software-defined radios are simply mind-boggling for me. The speed and capability of modern digital processors are so fantastic they can digitize the radio spectrum, then process it as strings of one's and zero's. That sort of technology seems like something you'd find on an alien's spaceship.

peteinsf posted 05-10-2013 11:49 PM ET (US)     Profile for peteinsf    
Adding a "who is paying" observation, I have been working in the Niagara River area these last few weeks and I noticed that the Canadians don't seem to patrol the shared waterway ever.

In a full week the above pictured USCG and a smaller version used by the U.S. Border Patrol were the only "official" looking boats on the river.

Both departments seem to like WOT operations between Fort Niagara and Lewiston and they were seen every hour or two.

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