West Chop foghorn on demand only

Coast Guard transitions to Mariner Radio Activated Sound System.

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The foghorn on the grounds of West Chop Lighthouse in the fall of 2018. - Rich Saltzberg

The West Chop foghorn no longer sounds with the frequency it once did. 

As part of a U.S. Coast Guard conversion of fog signals, the foghorn is now incorporated into the Mariner Radio Activated Sound Signal system, or MRASS. A boater in the vicinity of West Chop must employ VHF channel 83 A in order to trigger the horn. This is done “by keying a standard VHF-FM radio five times consecutively on VHF channel 83A,” according to a release. “The sound signal will then sound for 45 to 60 minutes following each activation.”

The Coast Guard completed the installation of MRASS for Northeast fog signals in spring of this year. The MRASS system is considered a modernization, replacing a previous system hard to repair. Additionally, MRASS ends continuous horn soundings. 

The end of a continuous foghorn came as a surprise to seasonal resident Luanne Simon, who was used to hearing the horn across Vineyard Haven Harbor on East Chop. Simon said she couldn’t figure out what had become of the horn until she saw a social media post indicating it had been converted to a new system. Two of her boating friends told her they had no idea the foghorn underwent a change.

My biggest problem with this system is that we can no longer be lulled by this beautiful sound,” Simon wrote to The Times.

The Coast Guard issued a release on the completion of MRASS this spring; however, unlike with a past campaign it had to de-establish certain can and nun buoys, it did not appear to hold hearings on the Vineyard to gauge the opinion of the local maritime community. 

Tisbury harbormaster John Crocker said he was not aware of any hearing that took place. 

The Coast Guard does believe hearings were held but, according to Petty Officer Nicole Groll, but it cannot say where they were held because personnel who oversaw the project “transferred out or retired.” Though Groll mentioned no one by name, one key person to the MRASS project who has moved on to a position at Orsted is former Sector Southeastern New England waterways management chief Ed LeBlanc. 

“I was totally unaware of that,” Vineyard Haven fishermen Jeff Canha said of the foghorn change. “I was going by it the other day in low visibility, and it wasn’t going off. I was curious. That seems like a commonsense approach to it. Aviation has been using it for decades. Now the maritime industry is catching up.”

Geoff Freeman, deputy director of Martha’s Vineyard Airport, confirmed that when the tower is unoccupied at the airport, pilots can turn on the runway lights for takeoffs and landing by sending a radio signal. 

Vineyard Haven tugboat Capt. Randy Jardin was ambivalent about the changeover. He said with modern radar and GPS, the horn isn’t necessarily a critical navigation aid in his line of work.

Simon said she is concerned about small craft like skiffs and kayaks, which don’t frequently have radios on board, and therefore might be at a disadvantage now that the foghorn is no longer automatic. 

3 COMMENTS

  1. why would the coast guard do this ?
    What about small boats or boats not from this area that have no idea about this ?
    Is there some sort of significant savings on this one ? Will they require some sort of song and dance to turn on the lighthouse next year ?
    If this was April first, I would catch on right away..
    This is the dumbest thing I have ever heard of the coast guard doing, and I just hope not too many people have to die before they reverse this asinine requirement.

  2. Forgive me, please. My background is not of maritime experience. “If a boater in the vicinity of West Chop must employ…” In adverse conditions, how does a boater know definitively he or she is in the vicinity of West Chop without the foghorn? I would think that this information would be of the greatest utility the earliest it is available – when actions can be taken to avert disaster. Sound attenuates less in fog (vapor) than does light. (Sound is slower. I know that. In dense vapor, however, sound travels for much greater distances.) Would not the extrinsic presence, rather than the absence of bot light and sound, be to any mariner’s advantage? No, I didn’t Google this. I am just miffed at how, a priori,safety warnings would be removed.

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