Communicating with USCG helicopter??

N8SHA

Newbie
Premium Subscriber
Joined
Sep 29, 2017
Messages
18
I've been wondering about this for many years and it's really about how it could have been done.

So, back in the late 80's, early 90's, I worked with a land based search & rescue team in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. At the time, it wasn't uncommon for a USCG helicopter to assist with the searches. One of the problems we had was communications. Local LEO/EMS/Fire could not communicate with them (or at least didn't know how to) The SAR team usually utilized amateur radio. The only comms that I recall is being on the receiving end of a message dropped from the air - literally tied to a weight.

Is there a way we could have LEGALLY communicated with the helicopter? ie, is there a Public Safety band frequency we could have been licensed on, or is there a USCG frequency we could have used?

-Matt
 

GTR8000

NYS Database Guy
Database Admin
Joined
Oct 4, 2007
Messages
8,126
Location
BEE00
Nationwide interoperability channels are one possibility. Of course it all depends on the capability of both the airship as well as the ground units. If we assume that everyone involved had the capability to operate in FM mode on at least one band that the interop frequencies span (VHF, UHF, 700, 800), then it shouldn't be much of an issue.


Maritime channels might also be used if you're relatively close to a body of water to justify their use. Working with the USCG, I would assume that to be true, and they would almost certainly have a VHF radio capable of operating on those channels. I'm aware of some local and county public safety agencies who have gotten permissions from the USCG to operate on certain maritime channels expressly for the purpose of interfacing with the USCG, including using land based fixed site transmitters.
 

lu81fitter

Member
Joined
Mar 26, 2014
Messages
294
Location
Marshall County, Illinois
Around here, (Illinois) I know the medical helicopters have a frequency known as IREACH. Its the Illinois Radio Emergency Assistance CHannel. The freq is 155.055. All the fire and ambulance vehicles that I know of have this freq as well. I know its been around quite a while. Not sure if other states have something like that. On the law enforcement side, ISPERN (Illinois State Police Emergency Radio Network) at 155.475 is a common channel. I think it is common for most agencies to have both of these.
 

vagrant

ker-muhj-uhn
Premium Subscriber
Joined
Nov 19, 2005
Messages
1,179
Location
California
You need to read the DHS NIFOG document, it specifically covers this, including the FCC rules regarding proper licensing.

Coordination with the USCG ahead of time would permit working out the finer details.
Good advice but, the OP is asking about the 80’s and 90’s. Still, the point about coordinating something with them back then would have been at least worth a phone call to figure something out.
 

mmckenna

I ♥ Ø
Joined
Jul 27, 2005
Messages
11,753
Location
SNCZCA01DS0
Good advice but, the OP is asking about the 80’s and 90’s. Still, the point about coordinating something with them back then would have been at least worth a phone call to figure something out.
And, the solution would be what it is now and what it shows in NIFOG: Using one of the USCG liaison marine VHF channels. Our county has a "Coastal Incident Response Plan" that was put together with the USCG. Back in the 80's and 90's it was the same thing. Somewhere deep in my file cabinet I had the response plan for the 80's and 90's for our area. These things don't change much because the are basic and they work.
 

RichardKramer

Member
Premium Subscriber
Joined
Oct 13, 2006
Messages
114
Location
Reading, PA
In Berks Co PA, we had a liason; (in your case another ham radio op); get onboard the helo to establish comms to make the link.

Rich - N3VMY - KAG0096
 

trentbob

Member
Joined
Feb 22, 2007
Messages
1,676
Location
Bristol, Pa.
So Matt you're asking, not what's done today but what you could have done in the 80s and 90's.

A marine radio which at that time you still needed a license for up to 1996, I had one WM6934,
could of course communicated with the Coast Guard Helo on 16, 21, 22, 23, 81, 83.
Also at that time the national interop frequency of 155.475 was available and it's still used in my area occasionally by helicopters and ground units.

I'm not sure about exactly what your outfit was and if you were qualified to use that frequency but it is available to police fire and EMS.

That's just my two cents you have a lot more qualified people here on this thread with some good answers.
 
Last edited:

AK_SAR

Member
Joined
Aug 26, 2018
Messages
55
Your would probably want to use a marine VHF radio. You would establish contact on Channel 16 (the "hail" or "calling frequency") at 156.800 MHz. If participating with the CG in a SAR mission the Coast Guard would generally then tell you to move to one of their "working channels", either Channel 1021 (formerly 21A) at 157.050 MHz, or to Channel 1023 (formerly 23A) at 157.150 MHz. See U.S. VHF CHANNEL INFORMATION for a complete list of marine VHF channels.

Talk to the local USCG folks you would be dealing with. There are other channels that might work, for example the National SAR Channel at 155.16 MHz. However, you need to make sure that the CG will be guarding those channels if you need to call them. And absolutely before using any public safety channel make sure you have appropriate written authorization! (This includes 155.16.) Here in Alaska volunteer SAR teams have a written, signed frequency sharing agreement, which allows us to use a number of public safety channels. Besides the USCG, talk to any other agencies you will be working with. Make sure everyone understands the rules and follows them. Arrange some joint training exercises with agencies. The time to work out interoperability is before an actual incident.
 

N8SHA

Newbie
Premium Subscriber
Joined
Sep 29, 2017
Messages
18
Thanks for all the answers!

Like I say, this was something that I've been curious about for quite some time. At the time, the "technical environment" where the SAR team was located was pretty limited, as were funds, resources, etc. To give you an idea, one of the counties had only 1 sheriff deputy on duty, no local LEO, and the only occasional state trooper. 911 center was over 100 miles away.

I'm not sure anyone would have known it would have been legally possible to use a marine radio.

-Matt
 

gesucks

Member
Premium Subscriber
Joined
Dec 19, 2002
Messages
639
Location
Our Nation's capitol
All USCG fixed wing and rotary wing aircraft have Cobham RT-5000 radios that cover 29.7-960 MHz in AM and FM and are field tuneable. They have all required VHF and UHF SAR channel as per the NIFOG. You should be going through your COML or COMT on scene to coordinate what channel to contact them on. You should also have the phone number for the USCG Sector Dispatch for your area. The incident COML/COMT or IC can always call them to find out what channel to operate on
 

Citywide173

Member
Joined
Feb 18, 2005
Messages
1,756
Location
Attleboro, MA
So, back in the late 80's, early 90's,
Nationwide interoperability channels are one possibility. Of course it all depends on the capability of both the airship as well as the ground units. If we assume that everyone involved had the capability to operate in FM mode on at least one band that the interop frequencies span (VHF, UHF, 700, 800), then it shouldn't be much of an issue.
Were the Interop frequencies designated that far back?
 

bodnarp

Member
Joined
Sep 6, 2003
Messages
257
I've been wondering about this for many years and it's really about how it could have been done.

So, back in the late 80's, early 90's, I worked with a land based search & rescue team in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. At the time, it wasn't uncommon for a USCG helicopter to assist with the searches. One of the problems we had was communications. Local LEO/EMS/Fire could not communicate with them (or at least didn't know how to) The SAR team usually utilized amateur radio. The only comms that I recall is being on the receiving end of a message dropped from the air - literally tied to a weight.

Is there a way we could have LEGALLY communicated with the helicopter? ie, is there a Public Safety band frequency we could have been licensed on, or is there a USCG frequency we could have used?

-Matt
In Michigan you will hear them on Marine channel 21A
 

ecps92

Member
Joined
Jul 8, 2002
Messages
10,905
Location
Taxachusetts
some were pre-programmed in the Helo's and many were also regional 280, 340, Intercity, 155.4750, CG16/21/81/83 etc
I remember quite well, the USCG doing entry Notes on 280 thru your office :)

They still have 280 and do plenty of touch-n-goes over at MGH

The department's I dealt with the 80/90's all had VHF Marine portables, so talking to the CG was simple.
Ch.16, move to the working channel for the event. 21 etc
Were the Interop frequencies designated that far back?
 

Citywide173

Member
Joined
Feb 18, 2005
Messages
1,756
Location
Attleboro, MA
some were pre-programmed in the Helo's and many were also regional 280, 340, Intercity, 155.4750, CG16/21/81/83 etc
I remember quite well, the USCG doing entry Notes on 280 thru your office :)

They still have 280 and do plenty of touch-n-goes over at MGH

The department's I dealt with the 80/90's all had VHF Marine portables, so talking to the CG was simple.
Ch.16, move to the working channel for the event. 21 etc
I've done patches for the USCG when I was in dispatch ops. It appears that the SAR group referenced may not have had that option. I would think that in the Upper Peninsula, especially with USCG having a tangential connection, someone would have had a marine portable.

My question though, was in inquiry to the post suggesting the interop frequencies be used.....I was pretty sure they didn't exist in the timeframe the OP is referencing.
 

MUTNAV

Member
Joined
Jul 27, 2018
Messages
61
I would have thought that using a portable AIR band radio would have been both slightly more legal (you aren't communicating with marine craft, even though it is a USCG helicopter).

An air band radio that is used by aerodromes for flight service would have worked well for a fixed or mobile station (or using a repurposed surplus aircraft radio). For portable use a surplus AN/PRC-90 would have worked ok (with battery modifications to use regular batteries). You could really only use 121.5 since the other frequencies (243 and 282.2 ) would be out of bounds unless its an emergency.

Surplus military material is first made available to other military units, then local and state governments, all you would need is a letter from the mayor saying it was to be used for gov't purposes.

Thanks
Joel
 

Citywide173

Member
Joined
Feb 18, 2005
Messages
1,756
Location
Attleboro, MA
I would have thought that using a portable AIR band radio would have been both slightly more legal (you aren't communicating with marine craft, even though it is a USCG helicopter).
I am not 100% sure, but I believe the SAR group would qualify as a Marine Utility Station when using a handheld radio for SAR activities.
 
Top