After careful consideration, it has come to our attention that many boaters put too much reliance on life jackets and inflatable life rafts. Without a doubt, these essential flotation devices save lives by extending one’s time in the water while praying for rescue. However, if you ever find yourself in an emergency scenario floating at sea, how long do you want to hang around before you get rescued? Survival rafts packed with a safety valise offer rations of food and water to get you by for a couple of days, but we don’t know about you…we certainly don’t want to float around in a fish-eat-fish world for any length of time. We want to be rescued ASAP and take all measures to ensure that this will be the case in the event of an emergency.
Fortunately, modern technology provides boaters a host of advanced electronics that can help search and rescue crews find you fast. While every situation is different and there’s no way to plan for a catastrophe, you may have adequate time to make one last call for help. However if your radio is broken and you’re forced to get wet, there are tools that can help narrow your position to search and rescue teams who, with your quick actions, will soon be on the hunt.
…according to the USCG approximately 90% of DSC distress alerts received lack position information. Furthermore, approximately 60% lack a registered MMSI number.
First things first, advanced VHFs are extremely powerful tools that can greatly help in any rescue situation. Capable of transmitting your exact position, DSC equipped VHFs are essential for safety conscious boaters. Standard Horizon’s recently released Explorer GX1700 is the industry’s first DSC equipped VHF to feature built-in GPS. For those unfamiliar with DSC, this standalone unit means you no longer have to wire your VHF to a NMEA integrated GPS. While we highly recommend traditional transmissions on VHF channel 16, VHFs aren’t the saving grace.
If your radio is out of range or not functioning at all, there are some nifty communication devices that can also transmit your position. DeLorme’s inReach satellite communicator is a unique device that can send pre-loaded text messages and trigger SOS alerts utilizing the wide-reaching Iridium satellite network. Iridium’s coverage far surpasses that of other satellite systems, enabling two-way messaging, delivery confirmation, and pole-to-pole global connectivity. Furthermore, a high-sensitivity GPS chipset will reveal your location with accuracy to within five meters.
If you’ve been forced off a vessel in a hurry without a chance to call for help, you better activate a PLB (personal locator beacon) or EPIRB (emergency position indicating radio beacon). If you own an offshore boat you should have a registered EPIRB–no questions asked. EPIRBs provide twice the battery life of PLBs, are required to float, and feature a strobe light to help reveal your position during low light conditions. However, if you often fish on other boats or your boat is not yet equipped with an EPIRB, you may want to invest in a portable PLB. You can toss one in your backpack, tackle bag, or keep one clipped to your belt loop. You just never know when it might come in handy.
The newest PLBs feature integrated GPS that offer even greater positional accuracy. Instead of a two or three mile range typical with outdated beacons, modern pocket-size units equipped with GPS can bring search crews within 100 meters of your transmit location. In the event of an emergency, it’s important users securely fasten their PLB to the collarbone area of their life vest to keep the antenna out of the water. For freelance anglers unfamiliar with the safety equipment on different boats, we also recommend outfitting yourself with a compact inflatable life vest. And before you head offshore it’s important to open the life vest casing and fasten a piece of Velcro close to where your collarbone would be. Now attach the other piece of Velcro to your PLB and you are ready for anything.
Unless you’re a trained swimmer, you probably won’t be able to tread water without a life vest for more than 12 hours. None of the aforementioned safety devices will be of much benefit if you can’t float long enough for rescue crews to find you. In the event of an emergency situation you should have donned your life vest way before the situation becomes life threatening. Don’t think about how you’ll look or how big your ego is. Think about surviving. Ditch bags and life rafts are even more safety measures worth considering, but beyond the scope of this editorial.
Randy Boone spent 23 years in the U.S. Coast Guard and was a Senior Chief Aviation Survivalman. With years of experience and many hours logged searching for lost mariners, he tells us that survival is not about how long you can stay alive. It’s a matter of how quickly you can be found. Without the will to survive and the tools to transmit your location you don’t stand much of a chance, as the elements will soon take their toll. Invest in advanced safety devices and be sure you have a game plan in case something goes wrong when you least expect it.
Register to be Rescued
Rescue 21 is The Unites States Coast Guard’s advanced maritime computing, command, control and communications system that utilizes leading edge VHF-FM technology. Currently covering approximately 39,685 miles of coastline, Rescue 21 provides the USCG with upgraded tools and technologies to help find and rescue mariners in distress. However, according to the USCG approximately 90% of DSC distress alerts received lack position information. Furthermore, approximately 60% lack a registered MMSI number. In order for the USCG to effectively respond to your alert you need a registered id number.
BOATUS (boatus.com/mmsi), Sea Tow (seatow.com/mmsi), and the U.S. Power Squadrons (usps.org/php/mmsi) offer free MMSI registration and info on how to set up and test your VHF. In addition, EPIRBs and PLBs must also be registered with NOAA (beaconregistration.noaa.gov/rgdb)
to reap the full rewards.