Education Report: by John Tiller, Director
Emergency Signaling Devices
Last month, this
column was intended to be the first of a series of articles
on emergency signaling. Now understanding that an article
may be longer than I supposed, this month’s column addresses
the entire span of devices at once, including a repeat of
last month’s material.
summarizes an article in the February/March edition of
BoatU.S. Magazine which identified seven different devices
for communication in an emergency to request a
search-and-rescue (SAR) mission. Each device has advantages
and disadvantages, as outlined below.
A cell phone is
easy to use and most of us have at least one. In an
emergency, simply talk directly with the appropriate SAR
entity, using your cell phone and its GPS to give precise
location, problems, and conditions.
A cell phone is
simple to use and reliable under most conditions, but there
are concerns. Are you in range of a tower with a clear
signal? Are the batteries in good shape and charged? Can
you ensure the dryness of the cell phone? A practical
matter is that a cell phone can only call one number at a
time and not put out a general call/signal to all in the
area. Very importantly, the Coast Guard does not want
information via text or email; and the Coast Guard phone
number varies locally. A cell phone may be adequate for
harbor or coastal boating, but not primary emergency device
in more advanced situations.
VHF radio with DSC
The VHF radio is
commonly installed, easy to use, and allows two-way direct
conversations. Adding a digital selective calling version
can be a good idea. Just hit the designated button and if
the Coast Guard is in range it will automatically recognize
your individualized distress signal, your exact position,
and the boat you are on. Such a VHF is relatively
inexpensive, easy to install, and ruggedly reliable.
But, like a cell
phone, its effectiveness depends on the distance. The
maximum range is about 20 miles, maybe less, depending on
the height of your antenna and the atmospheric conditions.
Power may be a problem, as most VHF devices depend on the
boat’s power or batteries; the device may not be of much use
if the batteries are incapacitated or you are in a life
raft. If you rely on one, ensure that the it is properly
interfaced with your GPS (amazingly, about 80% of boaters
fail to do this) or has its own GPS. Also, register with a
Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI) number. Backup
hand-held devices may be a good idea for coastal and harbor
boating, but their range is only about one mile.
position-indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) is currently the
most desired device for sending emergency signals to SAR
personnel. EPIRBs interface with SAR satellites (the
Cospas-Sarsat system, for you techies) that can calculate
your position almost everywhere on the globe. An EPRIB will
have a manually or automatically activated strobe light,
will float, and will be waterproof. Some have integrated
GPS signaling and a homing signal. If you purchase one,
register it along with information about the boat, your
medical conditions, and contact details. EPIRBs have been
around about 30 years and are credited with assistance in
over 35,000 rescues.
right? Well, there are drawbacks. The costs range from
$500 to over $1,000, and lower priced models do not have the
GPS feature. Batteries need to be serviced by the
manufacturer, but generally only every five years or so.
Most importantly, there devices are limited communication.
They do not allow two-way conversations about emergency
repairs, medical needs, and such.
locator beacon (PLB) is similar to a EPIRB, but in a smaller
package for individual use. PLBs use the same satellite
system as EPIRBs, and are cheaper, starting under $300.
Some have strobe lights. Each crewmember can carry one.
On the negative side, the battery life
of a PLB is rated at less than half that of an EPIRB and
manual activation is required. And, PLBs suffer from the
limited communication as EPIRBs.
messengers are only about five years old and are adding
features and refinements quickly. They operate as text
devices using the same satellites as the EPIRB and generally
include a pre-coded distress message when an SOS button is
pushed. Some allow for return texts or use Bluetooth to
allow use of your cell phone; others have no keyboard or
Bluetooth, only the pre-coded feature. Relatively cheap at
$120 and up, they are reliable and small.
On the negative
side, you have to have a contract to access the satellite
system. Perhaps of more concern, your message does not go
to the Coast Guard immediately. Rather it goes to the GEOS
Emergency Response Coordination Center which relays the
message to the proper authority. The track record is good
(over 3,500 individuals have been rescued at least partly
due to these devices in five years), but this process does
add steps and time to responses.
radio (HF) is useful for trips out of cell phone and VHF
range. These single sideband or ham radios allow for
two-way conversations over large distances, providing direct
communication with rescuers hundreds of miles away. Newer
models have push-button emergency signals like many of the
devices discussed above.
The purchase of a
good HF radio, an appropriate antenna, ground planes, and
installation can be $2,000 or more. Ham radios require that
an operator obtain a license; SSB devices while requiring no
license cost $3,000 and up, installed. The quality of
transmissions and frequency reliability varies significantly
with atmospheric conditions and solar activity. Lastly, HF
devices require significant electrical power and are useless
of your batteries are drained.
are not limited for direct two-way conversations with SAR
personnel, or anyone else. Coverage is global. Obtain a
portable marine model which will be rugged and waterproof,
with extra batteries and the device goes with you and is
reliable if you have to abandon ship.
$1,000 to much more and are pricey to use, generally a $1
per minute or more and possibly requiring a contract.
Devices can be rented from Boat US and others. You need to
have the local Coast Guard numbers available or even
pre-coded, as there is not a single national hotline for
SAR. While portable models are reliable and useful, their
battery life is short, so get those extra batteries.
Remember, Safety on the
Water is No Accident
Cruising News: by Joe Preece,
Ralph Steele led a great lunch
cruise to Bert’s at Matlacha on Pine Island the last week of
April. Nice smooth boating, a beautiful day to sit outside,
good food and great company.
A few days later the overnight
cruise to Palm Island got underway. JR (Bob) Clark fell
victim to the flu the evening before the trip and RJ (Bob) Hiebner became Cruise Leader (de facto). Nine boats made the
trip and all reportedly had a good time. The Roussel’s won a
night’s free dockage donated by the Marina and Dormans won a
$25 gift certificate donated by Rum Bay Restaurant.
Afternoons around the pool were enhanced by the Leaverocks'
guitar player while evening we enjoyed music provided by our
own Mike Slattery and Bob Dorman. Capt. Bob the water taxi
topped off the return trip after dinner by coaxing some of
his best dolphin to perform from us. Good
time.. Saturday is free beer day and Sunday AM is free
doughnuts. What more could one ask?
Four boats attended a
lovely raftup lead by Andy & Sandy Nikitich on May 11th
at the Myakka River Bridge.
The Boca Grande Marina cruise took
place May 20-22 lead by Harry Ensley, details later. Mike
Slattery will be leading an overnight cruise to Cape Harbor
Marina on Friday June 17 and 18th returning home
on the 19th. Cape Harbor has all of the amenities
we look for in a cruise such as pool and top class food at
the nearby Rumrunners Restaurant. At the time of the writing
of this article there are 8 boats signed up out of a
possible 15, so get to the internet and join. An overnight
cruise in July is in the planning stage so watch the
calendar for more info.
TO SIGN UP FOR ANY OF THE
FOLLOWING EVENTS, CLICK HERE TO GO TO THE CALENDAR (be sure pop-up blocker is off)
Cape Harbour Marina Cruise
June 17 - 19