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Cell phone providers asked to cut *CG service

The Coast Guard has asked all cell phone service providers to remove the *CG keying sequence (except in Alaska) as a method of requesting emergency maritime assistance. Boaters are urged to use a VHF radio as their primary means of making distress calls on the water. However, if a cell phone is the only means of communication available, the Coast Guard wants boaters to dial 911 directly, rather than *CG. As an interim measure, the agency has requested that cell phone providers reroute all *CG calls to the nearest 911 operator.

The *CG feature was introduced by some cell phone providers in the early 1990s but never developed into a nationwide service. As providers moved to digital systems, some no longer included the *CG feature, creating a patchwork of service that can delay response times significantly. The sole exception to the change is in Alaska, where *CG willremain active. Cell phone service providers operating there all include the feature and route calls to a single Coast Guard emergency line. Calls are not missed and cannot be misdirected.

High anxiety over high latitudes cruise

A Princess Cruises ship scheduled to make its first voyage to Antarctica this winter has caused concern among environmental advocates. At 689 feet and with a capacity of more than 2,500 passengers and 1,200 crewmembers, the Golden Princess is 10 times the size of other cruise vessels that visit the southernmost continent, according to Cruise Ship Report, an independent online source of cruise industry news.

Concerns over the challenges of pollution and a potentially massive rescue effort in a remote part of the world should the vessel run aground or hit an iceberg were raised at an international Antarctic meeting held in Scotland in June.

“Golden Princess will sail in relatively ice-free waters at a time of year when there is little or no ice on the charted route,” says Julie Benson, a spokesperson for the cruise line. “We want to avoid the ice, not break the ice,” she says, noting that the ship’s hull isn’t reinforced for ice.

The 21-day round-trip voyage from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, marks the fifth year Princess Cruises has sailed to Antarctica. The ship will visit 13 ports and areas, including Cape Horn and the Falkland Islands, before crossing Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula, where passengers will enjoy several days of cruising with views of the islands, straits and channels of Antarctica. The ship reportedly will transit only open water and areas with limited ice floes, like those encountered in Alaska and Northern Europe. The itinerary is limited to the west side of the Antarctic Peninsula.

The cruise, which starts at $2,995 per person, embarks Jan. 22.

Classic wooden boats on postage stamps

The U.S. Postal Service has created a commemorative antique and classic boat stamp series, the result of a five-year effort by the Chris-Craft Antique Boat Club. As reported in an issue of the club publication, The Brass Bell, CCABC executive director Wilson Wright traveled to Washington, D.C., to see what could be done to create a postal commemorative recognition for antique and classic “woody” boats. He lobbied members of the Postal Caucus as well as other members of Congress, and rallied CCABC members to do the same.

The club received word this fall that a four-stamp series would be issued, and postal authorities were taking photographs of vintage boats in the Lake Tahoe area. One of the boats is a 1954 19-foot Chris-Craft Racing Runabout. The other three are a 33-foot Gar Wood, a 1915 Hutchinson, and the John Hacker-designed Thunderbird commuter.

Postal authorities say the stamps will be released in August 2007, with first-day issues available at all U.S. Post Offices the same day.

A compendium of boating blunders

An online survey of more than 1,000 boaters has brought together the most common, humorous and sometimes painful misadventures at sea.

The survey, conducted by the Progressive Group of Insurance Companies, reveals more than a few embarrassing slip-ups. For example, 7 percent of respondents said they unexpectedly wound up in the water when trying to jump from boat to dock; 7 percent admitted they’ve dropped their anchor without first attaching the rode to the boat; and 2 percent said they’ve dropped the anchor on a foot.

The most common items lost overboard are hats (52 percent), sunglasses (46 percent), fishing gear (39 percent), and towels (23 percent). Only 2 percent said they’ve lost wedding rings. When asked to provide write-in answers for items lost overboard, one boater reported losing his teeth, and another his hearing aid.

The most common mistakes at the helm included running aground and getting a line caught in the propeller (each 15 percent), and not being able restart engines because the kill switch was left on (12 percent). About a third (31 percent) of respondents said they’ve been stranded because of a mechanical breakdown.

New national commodore of CG Auxiliary elected

Steven M. Budar was elected national commodore of the Coast Guard Auxiliary earlier this year at its national convention in Dallas. Budar will assume the office for a two-year term, beginning Nov. 1. He was to be sworn in by Admiral Thad Allen, Coast Guard commandant, in a ceremony at Coast Guard headquarters in Washington, D.C.

Born in Hawaii and a resident of the Big Island since 1996, Budar joined the auxiliary in 1985 and has served in all of the group’s elected positions. His most recent duties included serving as national vice commodore, and president and chief operating officer of the Coast Guard Auxiliary Association, the non-profit entity providing financial support to the 30,000 civilian volunteers of the Coast Guard Auxiliary. Budar is qualified as a coxswain, aircrew and instructor.

New models improve tsunami forecasting

Scientists with the NOAA National Geophysical Data Center and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences are creating high-resolution digital elevation models, or DEMs, designed to improve forecasting for early tsunami warning systems. The DEMs are constructed from near-shore seafloor depth and land elevation data to create detailed representations of coastal relief. They provide the underlying framework necessary to accurately forecast the magnitude and extent of coastal flooding during a tsunami event.

“Near the shoreline, all tsunamis are sensitive to minor variations in sea floor and land topography, increasing in height as they approach the coast,” says Barry Eakins, CIRES research scientist. “Better understanding of the relief of the coastal zone is, therefore, critical to predicting how a tsunami will flood coastal communities.”

Since the effort started early this year, the team has created DEMs for the coastal communities of Myrtle Beach, S.C.; Cape Hatteras, N.C.; Port San Luis, Calif.; Dutch Harbor and Sand Point, Alaska; and San Juan and Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. They expect to complete more than 100 DEMs for U.S. coastal communities in the coming years. Completed DEMs, with accompanying graphics and documentation, are available online.