The familiar deep wail of the lighthouse foghorn that coastal residents hear when fog socks in the coast is not going to change, but Maine foghorns will no longer automatically be activated by fog when new equipment is installed by the end of this year, according to the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG).

Instead, mariners will get on the marine radio to remotely activate nearby foghorns.

The conversion started in Maine and New Hampshire in 2009, after the USCG Northern New England Sector made a public announcement on its website. Seven lighthouse foghorns were converted (including Wood Island Light in Biddeford, Ram Island Ledge Light in Cape Elizabeth, Cuckolds Light near Boothbay, Pond Island Light near Phippsburg, and Moose Peak Light in Jonesport), with the rest scheduled for conversion in 2014.

The process was temporarily put on hold after protests by area residents who were surprised at the change after the conversion at Goat Island Light near Kennebunkport last summer.

The USCG temporarily reinstalled the old system at Goat Island and delayed converting the rest of the foghorns in Maine until the end of 2015 to allow more time for public outreach.
The fog-activated sound signals that are currently in use, known as the VM-100, were installed in foghorns in the 1980s, according to Lt. Scott McCann of the USCG Northern New England Sector in Portland. The company that made the VM-100 has since gone out of business, he said, leaving the Coast Guard scavenging for spare parts when repairs were needed,

"The number-one reason for the change is safety," said McCann. "The old systems have a lot more parts than the new ones and are prone to failure. When they fail, the sound signal isn't activated at all."

The repairs are also expensive, requiring two staff members for service calls.

The old systems are being replaced with a MRASS device, the Marine Radio Activation Sound Signal, that will be turned on remotely by mariners who tune into Marine Radio Channel 83 Alpha and click the receiver five times. The click-start will keep area foghorns operating for 45 minutes.

The conversion from the old VM-100 to the new MRASS activators is complete in the Great Lakes shipping areas and has a perfect safety record as a warning device, said McCann. All Maine foghorns will be converted by the end of 2015, he said.

The sound and pattern will remain the same, he said. It just won't be a continuous sound on foggy days.