VHF outages are less common in Southeast Alaska this year, Coast Guard says

A map showing VHF signal coverage areas in Southeast Alaska.
A map showing VHF signal coverage areas in Southeast Alaska. (Graphic courtesy of U.S. Coast Guard)

The U.S. Coast Guard reports intermittent VHF outages on the emergency Channel 16 but says the situation has improved in the past two years. That’s according to Commander Lyle Kessler, a Coast Guard spokesman.

“I think it was, in 2019. In January, we had our worst that we had had, I believe was 19 sites that we had down at one time. And, like, right now, there’s only three sites down. It’s been getting better and better. We switched contractors a couple years ago, and we also made some improvements to the contract that allowed the contractors to do maintenance while they were doing repairs at the same time. So enable them to do more work essentially, than what the old contract had,” Kessler said.

Relay towers near Mt. McArthur, Cape Fanshaw and Bede Island are at best semi-functional, and at the worst completely inoperable. The affected areas include the inland waters north of Afognak Island, the coast near Mt. McArthur west of Wrangell, and the area of Stephens Passage and Frederick Sound east of Kake.

The Coast Guard says that these outages are expected to continue for the time being. Kessler says the remoteness of the locations and extreme weather of late have made repairs difficult.

“The Coast Guard over the past couple years have been going through a process of upgrading all of the power generation and microwave links up to more current technology, the microwaves are, I think, like 1960s 1970s technology or something,” Kessler said. “So next summer, all the sites should have new power generation capabilities and new microwave links. And that’s been the majority of the reason that sites have been down.”

Kessler advises mariners to keep a secondary means of communications onboard their vessels such as a cell phone or satellite phone. And to file a float plan and carry emergency equipment onboard.

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