THE AMVER PROGRAM
AMVER is the Automated Mutual Assistance Vessel Rescue.
The need for the AMVER System became apparent during the Titanic disaster in 1912. The distress flares from the Titanic brightened the sky, passing ships considered them part of the onboard celebrations. Little did they know that the ship had just hit an iceberg. This highlighted the need to monitor ships, identify possible problems, and to call on ships in the vicinity to assist. But this was an idea that only became a reality with the help of computer technology.
The first missions took on an experimental role, confined to waters of the North Atlantic, notorious for icebergs, fog, and winter storms. Vice Admiral Alfred C. Richmond, Coast Guard Commandant at the time, called on all commercial U.S. vessels and foreign registry vessels over 1,000 gross tons that could make a journey for over 24 hours, to volunteer as AMVER participants. The foundations of teamwork, helping each other beyond borders and nationalities, stand at the heart of AMVER to this day.
AMVER’s success would depend on close ties to the merchant fleet, hence the AMVER Center was initially based at the Customs House in downtown New York City as many of the commercial cargo and passenger lines operating in the Atlantic maintained offices nearby.
Today there is a Visitors Center at the Coast Guard’s Battery Park Building, just a few blocks from the old Customs House. The system’s first computer was an IBM RAMAC (Random Access Method Accounting Control), characterized as being able to “evaluate information and determine the position of vessels through dead reckoning.” The computer produced a “Surface Picture” or “SURPIC” of a specific ocean area, indicating all AMVER-participating ships in the vicinity.