RESEARCHER OF THE MONTH

Meet Joshua Ryan, OFI Module I Master's student

by Joshua Ryan

I am originally from the outport community of Newman’s Cove, Newfoundland and Labrador where I grew up watching friends and family brave the sea in the harshest of conditions. This, along with a deeply engrained sense of safety have pushed me to want to improve the safety of fisherpeople and anyone at-sea. 

"A very rough, stormy day on the water completing PLB trials for my Master's research aboard Marine Institute's vessel - Inquisitor". Blackhead Bay, 2.5 nautical miles off of Cape Spear, NL, Canada. December 10, 2019. ©Kerri-Ann Ennis

I am a Master of Engineering student at Memorial University of Newfoundland studying in the Ocean and Naval Architecture program. My thesis topic is Evaluating the Performance of Personal Locator Beacons in Harsh Sea Conditions. I am originally from the outport community of Newman’s Cove, Newfoundland and Labrador where I grew up watching friends and family brave the sea in the harshest of conditions. This, along with a deeply engrained sense of safety have pushed me to want to improve the safety of fisherpeople and anyone at-sea. Studying anything safety-related especially pertaining to the safety of those at-sea has become one of my greatest interests and is an area that I hope to study and work within in the future. 

What is your research about? What are you currently working on? 

My research is about evaluating the effectiveness and performance of personal locator beacons (PLBs) in different maritime conditions. PLBs are electronic emergency radio transmitters that can be used by anyone who goes to sea during harsh sea conditions. The transmitters (if activated) are meant to alert search and rescue providers of an emergency situation and where it is taking place so that search and rescue can take place faster and more efficiently. However, due to the physics of radio wave transmission, there is a possibility that signals can be degraded or blocked - which can reduce the effectiveness of the devices. I am currently analyzing data from sea-trials that were completed by myself, Dr. Robert Brown, and Kerri-Ann Ennis in December 2019. This analysis is being used to show how sea conditions and personal locator beacon positioning affect the distress signal transmissions from being transmitted and received. 

What drew you to explore this topic originally?

I was drawn to this topic due to a lifetime of seeing friends and family going out to sea in harsh conditions. I want to help improve the safety of those who go to sea for any reason. 

What is the most interesting aspect of your research? Share something you have discovered through your research so far.

One of the most interesting aspects of my research is getting to see and use all of the equipment people captaining ships would use to detect distress signals nearby. This gave me a very realistic view of how a rescue operation may work - especially in a ship not specifically designed for rescue of others. It also showed me how difficult rescue operations can be due to the reliance of radio frequencies that can diffract and reflect, giving false indications of positions and distances to persons in the water. 

How does your research address present day fisheries issues in Newfoundland and Labrador and elsewhere? How does it help inform governance responses for coastal communities in the province in a context of change?

My research will help us better understand issues relating to PLB performance in real-world maritime situations. This is very important for the fishing industry as Canada's Transportation Safety Board indicated in 2018 that deaths in the fishing industry are often the result of crew members not wearing floatation devices or deploying safety signals. My research will help inform coastal communities of the value and benefits of wearing personal locator beacons, especially in small boats in harsh sea-conditions - typical of coastal communities. Signals are still able to be transmitted and received for large distances even in very rough conditions. This will hopefully show communities that using personal locator beacons will drastically increase the chance of a rescue if an accident were to occur while someone is at sea. I am also hopeful that my results and analysis can be used to improve guidance and regulations around PLB use by fish harvesters.

What is the one thing you would like the general public to know about your research?

Personal locator beacons are a wonderful thing to have when you are going to sea in any conditions. They save lives and make even the most difficult search and rescue operations more manageable.

What are the next steps and what do you want to achieve with your research?

My next steps are to determine what factors of personal locator beacon usage/positioning affect their performance and how sea-conditions affect their performance as well. I want to make recommendations on how personal locator beacons should be used and how they can potentially be improved.

What do you like doing when you are not working on research?

I enjoy photography - particularly landscapes and architecture along with the occasional wildlife photo (if I'm lucky enough to encounter a friendly animal), cooking and trying new recipes at home, and fishing.

Learn more:

To be in touch with Josh, you can email him at joshua.ryan@mun.ca

Written by Joshua Ryan

Josh is an OFI Module I Master's student at Memorial University's Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science. His research project 'Evaluating the Performance of Personal Locator Beacons in Harsh Sea Conditions', co-supervised by Dr. Robert Brown and Dr. David Molyneux, is part of sub-module I-4 on Marine Health & Safety.

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