USCG Demonstrates New Rescue System for Puerto Rico and USVI


Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen, above center, was on hand to watch the new rescue system demonstration at USCG’s Base San Juan.

U.S. Coast Guard officials demonstrated an exciting new rescue tool last week which will allow the agency to drastically improve its search and rescue operations.

Rescue 21, an advanced command, control and communications system for Sector San Juan, including Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, is basically a maritime version of 911 which facilitates better communication in emergency situations.

USCG officials accepted the system in a formal ceremony at USCG Base San Juan on Tuesday, May 29, with top Coast Guard officials and V.I. Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen in attendance.

The system, which has already been rolled out at USCG bases across the nation, allows officials to pinpoint an incoming distress call and thereby drastically reduce response time, explained USCG spokesperson Ricardo Castrodad.

“Coast Guard bases throughout the nation have been using this and now we have it here,” said Castrodad. “It brings the latest and newest technology known for communications to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.”

The system allows for direct finding, which means USCG officials can pinpoint from where a distress call is coming, Castrodad explained.

“It allows for direct finding which is if you have a VHF radio, and mariners are supposed to have one in their vessels, when you click in on and call Mayday, the antennas on will be able to cross reference that signal and pinpoint the location,” he said. “And it doesn’t just work in near-shore areas, but up to 20 miles off the coast.”

When a distress call came in before Rescue 21, responders had a huge area of ocean expanse to search, Castrodad added.

“Before we would get a Mayday call and all we knew is that it was a transmission and was coming from some point between Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands,” he said. “That is a huge search area and we’d have to do a lot of investigating and send out helicopters to find out where the call was coming from.”

“For example, if a call came in from somewhere between USVI and Puerto Rico it could require eight helicopter searches which means eight different flights to cover that area,” said Castrodad. “With Rescue 21 we’ll be able to get out there on the first flight. When you are looking at cost and precision, this is a big deal.”

Rescue 21 brings the Caribbean up to the level of other USCG areas, according to USCG Sector San Juan Commander Capt. Drew Pearson.

“With the delivery of Rescue 21, we now have a modern sustainable system that allows Coast Guard Watchstanders in Sector San Juan to not just hear those calling for help, but to determine their location, leading to a swift, coordinated response, including the ability to manage and respond to multiple distress calls,” said Capt.Pearson, Sector San Juan commander.

Rescue 21 facilitates better communication and interoperability in emergency situations and provides communications coverage out to a minimum of 20 nautical miles off the coastal zone, according to information from USCG.

“It has advanced direction-finding capabilities and increased range, which helps Rescue 21 narrow search areas significantly,” said Castrodad. “The system also helps identify hoax distress calls that can unnecessarily divert Coast Guard assets and manpower.”

With Rescue 21, USCG can better protect and serve the public in the U.S. Virgin Islands, explained Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen.

“I am pleased to see the completion of the Rescue 21 remote facilities, the maritime emergency system which will greatly assist the U.S. Coast Guard in its mission to protect and serve in the Caribbean,” she said. “I was pleased to be a part of moving the project forward and I thank the U.S. Coast Guard for all that they do to keep our communities safe.”

The system cost $9 million to implement and in total will cover 940 miles of coastline, explained Congressman Pedro Pierluisi, resident commissioner in Washington.

“After an investment of over $9 million, Rescue 21 will allow for better response time, for better intelligence and for better use of the Coast Guard’s resources making them more effective and protecting the lives of our citizens as well as the 940 miles of coastline that surround us,” said Pierluisi. “This is precisely what I have been asking all federal agencies to do. And just as I demand action in Congress, I must also praise the administration when it fulfills its duty to do right by my constituents.”

Capt. John Wood, Coast Guard Acquisition Directorate’s C4ISR program manager said Rescue 21 has enhanced mission execution and marine safety along the coasts of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Additional remarks were delivered James Norton, General Dynamics C4 Systems vice president. General Dynamics C4 Systems was awarded the Rescue 21 production contract in September 2002.

Sector San Juan has 940 miles of Rescue 21 coverage, part of the 41,746 miles that so far cover the entire Atlantic, Pacific and Gulf coasts of the continental U.S., the Great Lakes, Puerto Rico, Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands, according to information from USCG.

For more information about Rescue 21, visit