Communications Vital to Safety

By Bob Smits, Communications and Safety Director

This year, the 51st annual "Great" INTERNATIONAL WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP BATHTUB RACE will begin in Nanaimo harbour near Maffeo Sutton Park, and take a circuitous route past Gallows Point, around Entrance Island, around Maud Island, around Five Fingers Island and Gallows Point and back to the finish line in Nanaimo Harbour.

Each year about 50 tubs take part in some thrilling and dangerous racing. To keep the tubs and the drivers safe, the Loyal Nanaimo Bathtub Society has an extensive Safety and Communications program. Each year we meet well in advance of the race, assess the conditions and ensure a plan is in place for a safe race.

The organizations included in the race activities include City of Nanaimo, the Canadian Coast Guard, the Coast Guard Auxilliary, Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue, the Nanaimo Port Authority, the RCMP, St John Ambulance, Nanaimo Amateur Radio Association and CFMETR. To coordinate all this activity requires a great deal of communication.

All the tubs must be accompanied by an escort boat, to ensure the tub driver's safety. Each escort vessel must have a Marine VHF radio to communicate with Bathtub Control and the Coast Guard. In addition, a separate Bathtub Control station is set up on Gabriola Island to ensure communications with escort vessels all the way to the mouth of Nanoose Bay.

Each tub must also pass various checkpoints, including Gallows Point, Entrance Island, Checkpoint Three (a CFMETR vessel moored just north of Maud Island), Checkpoint Four (just east of Imperieuse Rock), Checkpoint Five (Five Fingers), and the Big Tub at Gallows Point before entering the Harbour.

 

Spotters and radio operators from the Nanaimo Amateur Radio Association, operate from each checkpoint. The spotters and radio operators or “hams” are all volunteers who bring their own equipment for the task. The “hams” communicate through the club UHF repeater at Lost Lake, to provide links over the entire race course.

All these activities are linked to Bathtub Control at the Coast Bastion Hotel. There, four or five radio operators monitor Marine VHF channels and stay in contact with escort vessels. It is vital that an escort vessel notifies Bathtub Control when a tub has dropped out of the race so that extensive searches are not undertaken for tubs not accounted for.

As each tub and escort passes a checkpoint, the “hams” notify Bathtub Control that the pair has passed that particular checkpoint so that bathtub trackers can update the status board that shows the location of every tub. The trackers at Bathtub Control ensure that they know when each tub has reached each checkpoint.

This communications system, which connects all the participants in the race, ensures that all the tubbers get back to the beach safely, and that we minimize the risks to the tubbers and everyone else on the water. The Coast Guard, RCMP, RCM SAR, Navy and Harbour Patrol vessels can all communicate with Bathtub Control to deal with problems on the water. The race simply couldn't happen without it.