Sea Smart, welcome back the marine operator!
Researching Sea Smart is getting me nostalgic. Back in the 70’s—when I was running a daysailer, delivering yachts, dragging scallops…out on the water a lot— Camden Marine was a tiny independent company with an antenna on a local ‘mountain’, a license to operate 2 “public correspondence” VHF channels, and a few staff who took turns handling the calls from one’s home. Back then, way before cell phones, they had a nice business patching through calls from summer cruisers, lobstermen, etc. They also had such good range that they sometimes relayed distress calls to the Coast Guard. The operators were easily the best known voices on the Bay, and it was a comfort to know that they were almost always listening. (Plus you could hear both sides of any phone call, and listening in was a popular anchorage entertainment.)
You may know the rest of the story. Cell phones really hurt the business, but then an ambitious company called MariTEL bought up almost all the coastal stations (plus more spectrum from the FCC), centralized operations, and made extravagant plans to improve the technology, enabling DSC driven automated dialing, e-mail, etc. Six years ago, I was writing excitedly about MariTEL claims that it would soon be able to hear DSC calls 50–100 miles off the entire U.S. coast and its strong hints that the Coast Guard was going to contract their service in order to quickly adopt DSC distress call ears. But before some of the hype even got into print, the general telecom boom came crashing down, and MariTEL’s big plans with it. In 2003 they even shut down the regular marine operators (and I wrote about their rise and fall with some bitterness here).
Well, guess what? MariTEL still exists, at least as a spectrum and tower owning skeleton of a company, and Sea Tow is licensing its VHF assets to create a very interesting service called Sea Smart. The marine operator is back, though this time around she’s apt to have a “New Yawk” accent. More soon.