Future of LORAN

Global Positioning Satellite or GPS devices are everywhere nowadays, from handheld units for hikers to more sophisticated systems for ships at sea. But before GPS there was Long Range Navigation or LORAN, a system based on radio signals. Houston Public Radio's Rod Rice reports that the Coast Guard is trying to decide what the future holds for LORAN.

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The government has three options, keep LORAN as it is, eliminate it or upgrade it to an enhanced system that could be a back-up for GPS. First, a LORAN primer from the Coast Guards Angela McArdle.

"It's a terrestrial based navigation system that uses low frequency radio transmissions from radio towers that are located around the United States and around the world. It uses the radio signals from three or more air towers to locate a vessel or aircraft."

It was first used in the Second World War and the current system, called LORAN-C goes back to the '70's. LORAN is considered to be accurate to within a quarter of a mile. Houstonian Bill Fink is pilot and a recreational boater who made the switch to G-P-S because it is more accurate, cheaper and easier to use. Fink says it also does more than just fix a position.

"They get a latitude and a longitude and that doesn't tell 'em anything. They've got to have a map. The LORAN did not provide the mapping option you had to have another piece of paper in front of you to tell you where you are with LORAN."

The Coast Guard's McArdle says one option for LORAN is to upgrade it to enhanced LORAN.

"It's quite a different system and it would require a new devise, so people in industry and any one else who wishes to use it invest in another devise."

Authorities want to know what professional and recreational mariners think about LORAN.

"We are looking for public comment. We want to hear from folks as to whether they use LORAN, what could be done to improve it and if it's something that we need to consider either changing or discontinuing."

Bill Fink says as far as he's concerned....

"It's my opinion that it would not be a significant loss to shut down the LORAN's system."

Fink says the only argument to keep LORAN would be as a back-up to GPS, but the problem there is that few boaters even have LORAN equipment these days.

The Coast Guard will be accepting public comments on LORAN until February 7th. You'll find a link at KUHF.org.

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