Coast Guard has New Search and Rescue Technology

August 22, 2012 Updated Aug 22, 2012 at 6:45 PM EDT

By Rachel Elzufon

August 22, 2012 Updated Aug 22, 2012 at 6:45 PM EDT

Buffalo, NY (WKBW) - If you get lost or stranded in the Great Lakes, sometimes just a couple of minutes can be the difference between life and death.

Now the Coast Guard Sector Buffalo has new equipment to help it's search and rescue missions.

A new boat, known as Response Boat Medium, is crucial to these operations. It can get to shallower water, respond faster and cover a larger area.

Chief Dennis O'Connell tells Eyewitness News "with the new diesel technologies out there, the boat does not burn much fuel. So we can stay out there much longer during a search and rescue case, when we're looking for people in the water.

The boat's top speed is more than 50 miles per hour. That means it can get to emergencies faster and farther away.

This boat does not have any propellers either. It's a jet boat, meaning there's more space at the bottom of the boat and it can get to shallower waters.

It also includes forward looking infrared, which makes night search and rescues a lot more effective. While more boaters during the day means there are a lot of daytime rescues, more inexperienced boaters come out at night.

The boat is built to be able to handle Buffalo's tough weather conditions.

There's also more new technology.

At a dedication ceremony on Wednesday morning, Buffalo's Coast Guard Station celebrated Rescue 21 -- a new state of the art, cutting edge communications system.

Instead of trying to make out a garbled distress call on the radio, the Coast Guard can now take the search out of search and rescue.

Captain John Wood explains it's as easy as hitting a button. He says "the radio call, it gets picked up at multiple towers and those towers give us multiple messages so you can pinpoint exactly where that person is on the lake."

Wood further explains "we can better understand in clarity what the distress is, we can even replay it if we're not really sure what he said."

The system has already been used in more than 600 search and rescues since last September. It's also saved almost 140 people.

Representative Brian Higgins (D-27) says it could not have come at a better time, because "we are trying to make Buffalo, and we are succeeding, and destination for Buffalo throughout the great lakes."

This new technology is so exact, it can even identify hoaxes, saving resources for those truly in need.

Rescue 21 cost about $700 million, but Captain Wood says it's saved up to several million dollars.