By Chris Barton
The Auckland Coastguard has spent $750,000 upgrading its Marine Rescue Centre computer systems to deal with increased boating incidents and an expected surge during the America's Cup.
The new system features eight dedicated dual screen stations which can access on-screen maps and marine charts linked to the Volunteer Coastguard's 21 private vessels, and dedicated spotter aircraft and search boat by global positioning system (GPS) signals transmitted via radio frequency.
The system, which has been operational for about three months, replaces the paper charts with locally developed Worker Systems Mapmaster software and enables radio operators to plot sighting information and follow the progress of rescue craft in real time.
Auckland Coastguard general manager Michael Pate said the efficiency improvements have been dramatic and were vital to dealing with increases in boating incidents - up from 1074 to 1228 this year - in the Auckland area.
"It's a life or death difference - anything up to 15 minutes or more."
He believes the system will be invaluable during the Louis Vuitton and America's Cups, when a huge number of spectator craft are expected to be in the Waitemata harbour.
The Windows NT network uses a Compaq cluster server and as well as providing access to Mapmaster marine charts, street maps and topographical maps, also links to Fleetwatch - a database of Coastguard craft and resources.
In addition, an intranet provides further location specific information.
Microsoft donated $50,000 worth of software to the project. The Mapmaster component of the system is worth about $60,000 with the bulk of expense coming from remodelling the rescue centre, and computer and radio communications hardware.
Much of the credit for putting the system together goes to Coastguard communications officer John Cowan, formerly of local accounting software company Cowan Bowman Associates, which was sold to US company Platinum in 1993. After working with Platinum for a year, Mr Cowan opted for change of lifestyle and now runs the charter launch Parimar.
He said the logical extension of the system will be to put portable notebooks on the boats using Mapmaster's moving maps, which would enable them to see other rescue boat positions, and relay incident and navigation details directly to the Marine Rescue Centre and vice versa The Coastguard Air Patrol uses notebooks and GPS receivers inside its aircraft, running Worker System's Skymaster software, which employs aeronautical maps rather than marine charts.
The system is also used in conjunction with street maps in the Auckland Police Eagle helicopter and the Westpac Trust search and rescue helicopters.
By Chris Barton