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Bathtub society salutes Nanaimo Amateur Radio Association

Tub tracking an important safety measure during world championship bathtub race
Nanaimo Amateur Radio Association volunteers help with tub tracking during past bathtub races. (Photo courtesy NARA)

It’s the winner of the great race that gets the glory, but volunteers make sure they know how every tubber is faring, at all times.

The Loyal Nanaimo Bathtub Society, this year, is saluting the contributions that the Nanaimo Amateur Radio Association has made to the event over the years in keeping tubbers accounted for and safe when out on the water.

Well before the racers head out into the harbour to start the Great International World Championship Bathtub Race on Sunday, July 23, NARA volunteers will have set up checkpoints on land at Berry Point on Gabriola Island, on the Winchelsea Islands, and at Neck Point, and will be at bathtub control on the 11th floor of the Coast Bastion Hotel. They will also have volunteers at Brechin Boat Ramp to track tubbers who don’t make it all the way around the course.

“We try to provide a communications team that backs up the bathtub society and provides tub tracking, safety and security information, track all of that out on the course and relay that information in to tub control…” said Chris Anton, the association’s treasurer. “It’s fundamentally part of the safety function to be able to know where the tubs are, or probably more importantly, where a tub isn’t.”

NARA volunteers identify and record every bathtub that passes their checkpoints and report the information using amateur radio, via their own radio repeaters at Lost Lake and Mount Benson, to tub control. They used to keep track of the tubbers on a white board there, but have modernized and now use a spreadsheet they can publish and refresh online.

Rod Grounds, Loyal Nanaimo Bathtub Society vice-commodore, said the radio association’s contributions are part of an emergency preparedness communication network.

“We know exactly where the tub made it or how far they got, and if somebody didn’t show up to their final destination, we now have a search location because they didn’t pass a specific checkpoint,” he said.

There will also be spotters in a barge near Gallows Point on Saysutshun and on the world’s biggest bathtub in Nanaimo harbour. Anton said in past years, there have been radio operators on Royal Canadian Marine Search and Rescue and naval vessels. NARA spotters use binoculars and digital cameras with telephoto lenses to identify the tub numbers.

“Particularly at Entrance Island, the tubs are coming fast and furious and they’re bouncing around like bejeesus out on the water depending what the wind conditions are like,” Anton said.

NARA members pursue their hobby in various ways throughout the year, whether through amateur radio operator training, radio ‘foxhunts,’ or helping with mountain bike races in areas where cellular coverage is spotty or non-existent. But the bathtub race has always been one of their big days on the calendar.

“The driving force is being able to provide community service to an organization like the bathtub society,” Anton said. “Beyond that, it’s a lot of fun for the participants and it’s also a technical challenge, as well – you need to be able to go out to all of these different locations, have radio equipment that works, connections through the repeater system that work … We’ve had a lot of dedicated people that have been out year after year after year.”

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