Fern Communications Ltd, a leading provider of two-way radio communications systems to the international upstream oil and gas industries, declares that its FRX-1 ATEX Portable Radio Repeater provided uninterrupted radio communications for Qserv crews while onboard the Seawell.

The Seawell, which is a riserless well intervention vessel, is one of Well Ops’ primary vessels that the company uses to carry out wireline, coiled tubing and pumping operations for customers, particularly in the North Sea. While working onboard, maintaining continuous radio communications is extremely important to the safety of crew members, and to the efficiency of the operations carried out by Qserv. Qserv approached Fern Communications to explore the idea of using the FRX-1 radio repeater, which improves radio coverage by eliminating radio “black spots” that disrupt radio signals. Soon thereafter, plans were made to test two FRX-1 units onboard the Seawell in Aberdeen Harbour.

No More Radio Black Spots

Fern Communications technical director Clive Cushion positioned the FRX-1 radio repeater on the Seawell between two points where no radio communication had been possible due to the ship’s construction. “We often experience radio black spots onboard vessels because they are constructed with steel bulkheads and fitted with watertight doors,” said Cushion. “In the past, Qserv had been forced to place a crewmember with a radio in this particularly difficult area of the Seawell. He would then relay radio messages back and forth. I’m happy to report that when the FRX-1 was placed in this and other difficult “black spot” areas of the ship, they were able to maintain radio communications without any breakdown in the signal,”

Following a three-week testing period on the Seawell, Qserv reported that the two FRX-1 units greatly enhanced the quality and consistency of radio communications. “Not only did the FRX-1 give us radio communications where we previously had little or no reception, it made it possible for the crew to communicate much more efficiently. Gone are the days when a crewmember had to physically move back and forth to positions on the ship to relay messages,” said Paul Strudwick, operations supervisor for Qserv. “We look forward to having the FRX-1 on the Seawell and other vessels as a standard feature of our onboard radio communications equipment package.”

Bending Radio Signal = Reliable Radio Communications

The first portable radio repeater in the oil industry, the FRX-1 fills a gap in the market for a system that provides consistent, uninterrupted radio communication. Reliable radio communications are critical to the safe and efficient delivery of well services, especially offshore. Unfortunately, standard radio systems are extremely vulnerable to ‘black spots.’ Typically, these are solid structures that make up the platform and block radio signals, making it impossible for the targeted receiving radio to receive the signal. The upshot is that radio communications consistently break down in certain areas. In an effort to solve this problem, Fern Communications developed the FRX-1 radio repeater. Today, it is the only system of its kind that effectively bends the radio signal around a solid structure so that it reaches its target destination: the receiving radio located on the other side of the structure. For the first time, two-way radio communication is truly reliable, which bodes well for improving productivity, and enhancing health and safety standards.

To ensure that the FRX-1 can be used in a broad range of environments, the system is approved for use by the European Union in hazardous Zones 1 and 2, gas group 11C and temperature-rated to T6, all in accordance with ATEX Directive 94/9/EC, the set of rigorous standards aimed at preventing explosions, and protecting people in the event of an explosion. Because the RF section of the FRX-1 has both EU and FCC approval, it can be used in North America, Europe and most oil-producing regions. It is also ingress-protected to IP66, which makes it dust-tight and protected against powerful water jets and water dispersed by heavy seas.

Lightweight System Highly Compatible

The portable FRX-1 operates on VHF, marine and UHF frequencies, meaning that it is fully compatible with existing radio communications systems currently in use offshore. The four-position channel switch makes it possible to select one of four frequencies, which is very useful at busy sites where frequencies are often shared. Using CTCSS and DCS, users can also share frequencies with other radio users in privacy. The output power can be set to between one and five watts, depending on the country and site owner’s specifications.

Weighing just 14kg, the FRX-1 is lightweight and extremely compact so that it can be easily used and positioned on platforms, rigs and FPSOs. The system’s high capacity Li-lon battery means that the FRX-1 can operate for more than 18 hours before it must be charged. For continual use, auxiliary batteries are available.