Fire Department Employs Side Scan Sonar

More public safety dive teams are adding sonar to assist in their underwater search and recovery operations. Side scan is a tool for these operations because it produces detailed images of the underwater environment regardless of water clarity. In addition, the sonar is able to search large areas quickly, scanning several hundred feet of ocean, lake, or river bottom with each pass of the boat. The sonar does this by transmitting an acoustic beam from a towfish which sweeps the bottom and reflects off any objects lying there.The reflected beam returns to the fish and is sent topside where vivid color images are displayed and stored on a notebook computer.

Connecting a GPS allows position coordinates to be captured with the sonar data. Side scan can easily locate a variety of targets including sunken boats, submerged vehicles, and drowning victims. An optional Splashproof computer with ultrabright display can be an essential item when operating from a small, open boat.

One team that recently acquired a side scan is Grayson (KY) Fire Department in Kentucky. The department serves an area covering 90 square miles. Its dive team is responsible for search and recovery missions in 20 mile long Grayson Lake and surrounding waterways, where tragically 2 to 3 persons drown each year. To assist in searching such a large area, the team decided a side scan sonar would be a great asset.

With support from the community and assistance from New Horizons Dive Shop, the team raised the necessary funds and purchased a sonar.  The one the team chose was JW Fishers SSS-600K side scan because it would give it the optimal combination of range and resolution. With five different range settings providing varying resolution, the 600K lets the operator tailor the system’s operation to meet the mission requirements.

On the long range setting the sonar is capable of scanning a swath up to 200 feet wide on each side of the boat, most helpful when searching large areas. This setting is best when looking for bigger targets like a car that has gone off a bridge or a capsized pleasure craft. When looking for small or soft targets such as a drowning victim, shorter range settings are a better choice.

For more information, visit www.jwfishers.com.

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