A Q&A with an Electronic Technologist

Katharyn Taylor, flying by helicopter to the top of Mount Hope for a site preventative maintenance trip.
Are you curious about the world of electronic technology and its application in the marine industry? If so, then you should know what it takes to work as an Electronic Technologist with the Canadian Coast Guard (CCG).

The field of marine electronics is a realm where technology meets the vastness of the open water, and where curiosity, passion and dedication are in demand. From her educational background to her work with the CCG, find out in this Q&A about Katharyn Taylor’s journey to be an Electronic Technologist based in Richmond, British Columbia.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about the work you do with the Canadian Coast Guard?

At my office, we work on land-based Radio and/or Radar sites, large vessels when they come in for refit (such as the CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier), smaller Search and Rescue (SAR) station vessels (such as the CCGS Laredo Sound at the Kitsilano Station), the two hovercrafts at Sea Island Base, and DFO/fisheries Radio systems for BC and the Yukon (located on mountain tops).

I have been fortunate to travel for work across BC, as far north as Fort St. James, as far east as Salmon Arm, as well as locations on Vancouver Island like Campbell River and Ucluelet.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your educational background and how you got into the field of electronics?

I completed the Electrical and Computer Engineering Technology (Telecommunications and Networks Option) Diploma from BCIT (British Columbia Institute of Technology), and I am currently finishing up my Bachelor of Technology (specializing in electronics) at night school. Halfway through my diploma, I worked an 8-month co-op term with the Coast Guard electronics department. After my co-op, I was offered a job upon finishing my diploma.

I have been interested in electronics ever since I was young. As a child I would often take apart electronics to see how they worked, and quickly became the “tech person” in my family. I specifically went into the telecommunication options diploma because I was fascinated with fiber optics, and our world is so entwined with telecommunications that it was a no brainer for me to go into a field I was so passionate about.

Q: Can you walk us through a typical day in your role as an Electronic Technologist with the CCG?
Another trip to Mount Hope in September.
The great part about my job is that there is no such thing as a typical day at work. I could be going to SAR bases to fix equipment on a boat or driving to any of our local radio sites to maintain our radio network. I might go to one of the dry docks to work on any large vessels in refit. As outages come in, we respond as soon as possible, and down time in between is spent performing preventative maintenance on our equipment.

“The great part about my job is that there is no such thing as a typical day at work.”

Q: In your opinion, what is the most important aspect of maintaining equipment and systems on CCG vessels?

I am of the mind that the Canadian Coast Guard operates as one big team, nationwide. Operations relies on us to maintain equipment on vessels and across the country so that they can focus on their job and not have to worry about their equipment failing. If I don’t make sure everything is working properly, they can’t do their work and provide services. Because people's lives are potentially at stake, you cannot take chances.

Our fleet relies on radar for navigation, for example, the CCGS Sir Wilfrid Laurier, which travels to the Arctic and Haida Gwaii. We employ land radars (like the one we are putting on Bowen Island) for Marine Traffic Control, which allows our Marine Communications and Traffic Services (MCTS) operators to see what types of vessels are entering and exiting Vancouver, Prince Rupert, and other harbours. We utilize our radios to communicate with other vessels, with MCTS centres, for vessel Automatic Identification System (AIS), and for Continuous Marine Broadcast (CMB) transmissions up and down the coast.

Q: How do you ensure that the electronics and remote radio sites you work on are functioning properly and up to industry standards?
We have remote monitoring software and hardware at our sites, so that we can monitor and potentially power cycle our equipment. We also do regular site visits and equipment checks to ensure everything is working properly.
Q: Can you share with us a particularly challenging repair or project you've worked on, and how you overcame any obstacles that came up during the process?

Installing solar panels on a radio mountain top site.
Prior to this job, I had not had a lot of experience in a marine environment. I had a lot to learn, from the basic directions on a boat (Bow, Stern, Port & Starboard) to more complicated things like installing new equipment on vessels.

I am extremely fortunate to have many amazing co-workers across the Western region, who mentor me, impart their knowledge and share their tricks. I tend to regularly ask them questions and advice on challenging repairs or installations.

“I am extremely fortunate to have many amazing co-workers across the Western region, who mentor me, impart their knowledge and share their tricks.”

Q: How do you collaborate with other members of the CCG team, such as Operations, to ensure that equipment is functioning properly and the mission of rescuing people in need is being met?
I have had the opportunity to work on some projects in collaboration with operations such as an ongoing pilot project to come up with AIS & GPS (Global Positioning System) drift buoys, so that operations can deploy the drift buoy to aid them in searching for persons in the water. We have come up with a couple of different buoys and have experimented with their drift patterns as well as distributed them to SAR stations and are getting their feedback in order to come up with a project that meets their needs.
On top Hope mountain to clear off the snow on our solar panels.
Q: What advice would you give to young people interested in pursuing a career in electronics in the marine industry?
Having prior marine industry experience is not necessary, as I had no experience in the marine industry before I did my co-op with the CCG. You can pick up skills and acquire knowledge on the job. Having a positive attitude, good work ethic and self-starting initiative will take you far. Doing a co-op with the Coast Guard is also a great way to get into the electronics side of the marine industry!
Q: Lastly, can you share with us a rewarding experience you've had while working with the CCG, and how it has impacted you personally or professionally?
The drift buoy project is a super rewarding experience for me, as I have gotten more feedback from SAR stations, we have been able to adjust and finetune the buoys so that they meet the needs of operations. Knowing that our work is directly aiding in operation’s activities makes me proud of our work and makes it worth going to work every day. It is also comforting to know that the projects I have worked on can help operations save my own life, should I ever need saving.
With individuals like Katharyn at the forefront, the future of marine electronics shines brightly, promising enhanced safety, efficiency, and a continued dedication to keeping everyone on the water safe.

Learn more about how to start your own marine career here.
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