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Portpatrick Radio BYG GPK

Distress Watch

To the radio professionals who serve at Coast Radio Stations, the Distress Watch they have provided over the years has been their primary reason for existing. Although they may spend most of the time during a watch connecting link calls or handling radio telegrams, their ears were always tuned ready to respond immediately to any call for assistance. It would probably be putting is far too mildly to say that they regret the downgrading of the distress watch which has taken place in recent years.

So often, it takes a serious incident before authorities come to their senses - and such was the case in the establishment of Portpatrick Radio as a full time station.

Marine Casualty - West Camok collision with Rowan

In October 1921, in thick fog, the American vessel West Camok rammed the Laird Lines passenger ship Rowan. Badly damaged, the Rowan sent an SOS. The admiralty-run radio station at Portpatrick was off watch that day but several other ships responded to the SOS. One of these, the Clan Malcolm, being without the aid of radar in those days, also collided with the Rowan causing her to sink rapidly. 785 passengers were rescued by other vessels but 36 died. Alerting the Portpatrick Lifeboat required a telephone call which had to be routed via Liverpool and Glasgow - the consequential delay resulting in nothing to be found by the time the lifeboat arrived on the scene. Within a month control of the station had passed to the GPO and Portpatrick Radio/GPK was on 24-hour watch.

Marine Casulaty - Athenia GFDM - 1939

Over the years the station has been instrumental in bringing help to many vessels in trouble. In 1939 it was GPK which responded to the SOS from GFDM - the liner Athenia - which, with 1,500 people onboard, had been torpedoed by a German U-boat. 120 people lost their lives, but without the presence of GPK the loss might have been much greater. Many years down the line, on a BBC television programme, the Radio Officer of the Athenia met the Portpatrick Radio Officer who had responded to his call for assistance.

Extract from the log of Portpatrick Radio recording the SOS sent by the Athenia
Extract from the log of Portpatrick Radio on 3rd September 1939
recording the SOS sent by the Athenia

Marine Casualty - Princess Victoria

In 1953 another disaster happened when the railway steamer Princess Victoria sank with large loss of life. Such was the impact on the local community and in other parts of the West of Scotland, that this incident is remembered even today - and deserves its own web page.


Another distress-related service provided by Coast Radio Stations was the interception service. SOS/Mayday and XXX/Urgency by Coast Radio Stations of other countries were reported to UK authorities.

Dunedin Star distress intercept
Interception of Dunedin Star SOS transmissions
on 375kHz
at 22.36 on 29th November 1942


Transfer of Distress Watch to Stonehaven Control Centre

In 1989 local responsibility for Distress Watch came to an end when control of the station's equipment passed to Stonehaven Radio.

The End of Professional Distress Watchkeeping

In 1996 responsibility for 2182kHz distress watch passed to HM Coastguard and at midnight on 31st December 1997 the 500kHz Morse Code distress watch ceased at all UK Coast Radio Stations - the final signals of this service being an exchange between GPK and it's sister station Landsend Radio/GLD.


Ship's Nostalgia - The Radio Room

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