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Selected Article from Issue 38 March/April 2004

coastguard features on skipper magazine

Coastguard vessel shows forward thinking by Keith Ingram

howick rescue CRV

In this issue we feature a dedicated Coastguard rescue vessel which can be launched from a beach in heavy swells. We believe that this craft, Howick Rescue 1, could be the forerunner of many more of its type to be commissioned with the Royal New Zealand Coastguard Federation.

Throughout New Zealand the various volunteer Coastguard rescue organisations are coming of age. The professionalism displayed by the volunteers, the manner in which they carry out their duties and the fleet of dedicated rescue vessels that they operate was but a dream less than a decade ago - a dream that only a few could foresee becoming a reality. The introduction of the new Maritime Transport Act in 1994, and the implementation of safe ship management into the commercial industry have been the catalyst to initiate this change. The various Coastguard rescue organisations and the Royal New Zealand Coastguard Federation have much to be proud of.

Howick Volunteer Coastguard, formerly known as Howick Sea Rescue, is one such organisation that has embraced this change. Founded in 1956 after the tragic drowning of three local youths, the local community saw a need to have its own dedicated rescue service. A committee was elected, and after a door-to-door fundraising collection their first boat was built and launched in 1957. The Howick Sea Rescue organisation continued to be operated by the Howick Volunteer Fire Brigade until 1984. And although there have been some management and name changes, the rescue organisation has been in continuous service ever since.

Manned entirely by volunteers, the rescue service is now part of the Coastguard northern region, which includes Auckland, Kawau Island, North Harbour, Thames, Waiheke Island and the Manukau Harbour Volunteer Coastguard units. The site on Howick Beach, where its headquarters are built on reserve land, poses difficulties for launching and retrieving because of the long, shallow, shelving of the beach, so the unit had to give special thought to the choice of tractor, trailer and propulsion. That is why the last two of the unit's vessels have been jet powered.

The unit has had its share of challenges during its history. On one notable occasion in 1987 a wayward car crashing through the roof destroyed much of the boat shed and severely damaged the rescue vessel inside. Community spirit once more came to the fore, with the Howick Borough Council underwriting the project to build a new boat shed which the members constructed themselves, giving their time voluntarily.

Today the unit remains in good heart with the recent delivery of their new dedicated rescue vessel, known as Howick Rescue 1. She expands their operating range to cover not only the Tamaki Strait but also the outer islands of the inner Hauraki Gulf, the Firth of Thames and Coromandel. In addition to search and rescue work, the Howick Volunteer Coastguard runs classes for the public in boating safety, including day skipper, Boatmaster and VHF radio.

The unit, like its colleagues, relies entirely on fundraising and donations. A quick look through the incident log makes interesting reading. Twenty-nine percent of the call-outs are for vessels suffering from mechanical failures, 6.25 percent sinking vessels, four percent fuel problems and 2.5 percent flare sightings, along with overdue vessels, groundings, vessels adrift, people in the water, collisions, man overboard, medical evacuations, fire, and a sheep in distress on Browns Island. All have received the attention of this pro-active unit.

Howick Rescue 1 is a 9.5m Naiad purpose-built rescue vessel. The hull and superstructure is of aluminium, with polyurethane PVC-blend flotation tubes. She has a beam over the inflated tubes of 3.3m, a draft of 500mm and an all-up weight, fully crewed and fuelled, of just over five tonnes. Her hull is designed to optimise weight distribution in order to provide the required hydrodynamic support. The fine entry gives a soft ride in rough conditions, reducing crew fatigue and allowing higher speeds to be maintained in reasonable comfort. She is powered by a nine-litre Scania diesel engine producing 483hp at 2300rpm, coupled to a commercially rated Hamilton 322 jet unit. With a fuel capacity of 400 litres, the vessel has an endurance of 10 hours and a range of approximately 350 miles. The Scania is notably quiet in operation but gives an immediate response to throttle movements, exposing the underlying range of power that can lift the vessel to a comfortable cruising speed of 28 to 32 knots in a very short distance. Put the hammer down from idle and she will clip along at her maximum speed of 38 knots within about 32 seconds without cavitating.

The local design team consisted of a committee of eight, who diligently and sometimes I detect with an element of frustration went through the process of designing the internal layout by building plywood panel cut-outs and setting them up in a mock boat in the shed. Some ideas were taken from other rescue vessels but many came from within their own organisation. This very practicable approach led to the recipe for success when the vessel was finally delivered and performed to the expectations of all in the unit.

howick coastguard pilotThe decision to have a forward-facing windscreen plus an eyebrow is a huge plus, as it gives added space inside the control room, eliminates glare and provides good weather deflection. It also looks right aesthetically. The control room contains four crew positions, with the helmsman starboard for'ard. The vessel's command and rescue coordinator is port for'ard. Behind him is the communications operator with the port crew position opposite starboard aft. The radio and navigator are port side aft and the command or observer is port side for'ard.

All the crew wear not only their uniform and protective clothing but also automatically inflatable lifejackets. For effective communications they are all wired for voice and sound. The for'ard hatch is large enough for the crew to enter the well deck for working for'ard. The vessel is fitted out with all the aids required to meet any contingency, including a portable fire and suction pump housed in a special box on the aft platform, with all the necessary hoses accommodated beneath a lift-up lid across the top of the transom. Towlines are also stored in the transom in a false compartment on top of the engine box lid. This compartment also houses their new, special-purpose scoop stretcher kindly donated by a local resident, Mr Rhodes.

Navstation supplied the electronic and navigation data, which includes twin 10.5in Raymarine colour LCD displays with a 7in Raymarine CRT display at the helm station. All the displays are interlinked and interface with a Raymarine ST60 depthsounder, which also links to the flux gate compass system at the helmstation. This allows GPS, radar, depth and heading data to be displayed at both the navigation and helm stations simultaneously. Communications consist of twin Icom VHF radios and a UHF radio plus a Vodaphone Nokia cellphone. One of the Icom VHF radios is interfaced with a four-station voice-activated intercom system and headset to allow clear communication between crew members and when transmitting on the VHF. In addition, the observer and helmstation are fitted with Icom VHF command microphones, which allow independent VHF communications if the nav station operator is not manned because they are assisting the other crew member or for any other reason.

The UHF radio is fitted with a GPS transponder system which gives the location of Howick Rescue 1 to the Auckland Marine Rescue Centre at all times. In the advent of an emergency aboard Howick Rescue 1, the vessel is fitted with a 407 EPIRB, a hand-held radio and an automatic bilge pumping system. The use of 24 volt power systems on board both for the main engine and house power give additional power reserves, and allows for the use of 24 volt variable angle spotlights and a driving light, which is a real asset when searching at night. The for'ard cabin has walk-through access to the for'ard well deck area which comprises the anchor locker and capstan.

During sea trials we found the Scania performed exceptionally well and did not have to work hard. With the larger jet unit the vessel literally leaps out of the water when power is applied. She holds a good track when underway and yet displays a nimble agility consistent with jet units when the helm is altered. The vessel is very manoeuvrable at both slow and service speeds. Because the vessel is required to be launched in all tides and in all conditions off a beach, a large John Deere four-wheel-drive tractor was converted by stripping and galvanising all the exposed metal parts prior to painting and fit-out. The launch trailer is a special design to enable bow launching into seas of up to 1.5m safely, and bow retrieving when recovering the vessel. The tow bar is a full-length push me/pull me design which enables the trailer to be turned end-for-end in preparation for relaunching bow out.

Howick Rescue 1 is equipped to Maritime Safety Authority standards as a dedicated rescue vessel, which allows her to operate as a flagged fast response rescue vessel for the Royal New Zealand Coastguard Federation.

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