FCC Headed in Wrong Direction on GPS

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You are cruising back to Newport Harbor from a weekend visit to a nearby harbor, and you notice that the GPS system aboard your boat is not operating properly.  The display shows your waypoint at Newport’s entrance buoy, but you can visually see the boat is angling for the beach.

This is what might happen to GPS units in the near future, and BoatUS is warning all boaters and basically anyone who uses a GPS that the future reliability of GPS systems is threatened.  The reason is that the Federal Communications Commission has granted a waiver to LightSquared, which is a broadband wireless communication provider, to expand its spectrum to frequencies directly adjacent to the frequencies used by GPS systems.

Boaters use GPS as their primary navigational tool, and since the demise of Loran C, GPS is the only navigational tool readily available for boaters without having to revert back to paper charts, divider, and a compass.  (Might not be a bad thing for boaters having to know how to use a chart!) GPS is a safety tool, as well, by providing one’s exact latitude and longitude in the event of an emergency.

Furthermore with the DSC marine band radios, a signal from the GPS unit is fed directly into the radios for use in an emergency.  Most marine radios now have an emergency button that when activated will automatically broadcast your MMSI number and your latitude and longitude over channel 70 to the Coast Guard and nearby boaters.

The Coast Guard’s new Rescue 21 advanced communication system that has been installed around the nation will also be jeopardized by the closeness of the frequencies.  Additionally, anyone using GPS – whether in your car, hiking, or aircraft – might be affected, so other user groups need to let their voices be heard by the FCC and congressional representatives, as well.

There is only a very short 30-day comment period at the FCC, and boaters need to speak out during this period.

“This is a remarkably short comment period for an issue that has such dire consequences for America’s boaters and every other GPS user in the country,” said BoatUS Vice President of Government Affairs Margaret Podlich.  Boaters and other GPS users are urged to speak up now by going to www.BoatUS.com/gov to send their comments to the FCC and their members of Congress.

On another topic, boaters who trailer their boats to the river, other lakes, or basically any bodies of fresh water need to recognize that the freshwater bivalve mollusk known as the quagga mussel is still lurking waiting to hitch a ride on your boat.

The quagga mussels were first discovered in the Great Lakes and mostly likely entered the lakes from the discharge of ships’ ballast water.  The mussel poses a economic threat to any body of water by clogging water intakes and screens, and harming power plants.

Most states now have border inspection sites for any boats being towed, and most if not all lakes have an inspection before you can launch your boat.  The mussels can survive out of water for more than a week, clinging to your boat.  Remember, the critters can cling to your outboard motors, sit in your water intakes or exhaust systems, and hide on recreational toys that were used in the fresh water.

You can download fact sheets and a boat cleaning guidebook from the California Fish and Game’s website at http://www.dfg.ca.gov/invasives/quaggamussel.  Know before you go about the very invasive mussels.

Tip of week is for sailors to sign up for the Commodore’s Club of the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce to enter the 75th Annual Flight of the Lasers, when the bay will become alive with Snowbirds – no, wait, that was in 1936.  Today, the Snowbirds have been replaced by Lasers and Bytes.  I am not talking about birds or the oscillations of atoms generating electromagnetic radiation, but a very popular sailboat race in Newport Harbor.

I do have one caveat, as I am a Staff Commodore of the Commodore’s Club, so yes, I have a little bias in promoting this event.  Join us after the race at Newport Harbor Yacht Club for refreshments and presentation of the awards – the public is welcome! Sailors can find out more information by calling Newport Harbor Yacht Club at 949-63-7730, Balboa Island Ferry at 949-673-1070, or the Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce at 949-729-4400.   You may also go online to http://www.newportbeach.com\Downloads\FlightEntryForm2011.pdf.

And don’t forget: Tune in to the No. 1 boating radio talk show in the nation, Capt. Mike Whitehead’s Boathouse Radio Show, broadcasting coast-to-coast on the CRN Digital Talk Radio syndicated network every Saturday at noon, Pacific Time and replayed on Sunday at 10 am Pacific.  Join Chandler Bell and me as we talk about “all things boating.”  You can find the station listings, cable TV channels, live streaming on the Internet, and now available are apps to listen to the show for your iPhone, Blackberry, iTouch, Android, Palm, and Windows Mobile at www.BoathouseTV.com or www.BoathouseRadio.com.

Until next week, Safe Voyages!

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