Play it Safe When Leaving Port

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Posted by: Captain Woody - Comments Off on Play it Safe When Leaving Port

Three simple things that might save your life.

In actuality, on the water life insurance comes from money spent on things like VHF radios, life rafts, first aid equipment, navigation equipment and EPIRB’S (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon).

Many times when fishing offshore you’re out there alone. While this is not necessarily a good idea it does happen and being miles offshore can result in tragedy or death should the weather turn bad. Recently, we lost several anglers to just this situation and with the proper planning and equipment it might have been avoided. Remember, just because you fish inshore you still need proper planning and safety equipment.

VHF Radio – Although recreational vessels less than 65 ½ feet in length are not required to have VHF radios it still should be your first purchase before anything else. Also mobile satellite telephones provide easier and clearer communications if you plan to travel more than a few miles offshore and are becoming more common and less costly. You should strongly consider purchasing mobile satellite telephone, an EPIRB (emergency position indicating radio beacon), and a second VHF radio or cellular telephone as backup. If you frequently boat of fish offshore you might consider having an HF radiotelephone, simply because they will receive high seas marine weather warnings.

Cellular phone or Marine Radio – While the Coast Guard does not advocate cellular phones as a substitute for the regular maritime radio distress and safety systems they do understand that cellular phones can have a place on board as an added measure of safety. Never rely exclusively on a cellular phone as there is no comparison between cellular phones and a VHF marine radio. If you have a portable or hand-held cellular telephone, by all means take it aboard. If you are boating far off shore, a cellular phone is no substituteeprib-1 for a VHF radio. But, if you are within cellular range, it may provide an additional means of communication.

Cellular phones have limitations during an emergency. Generally they cannot provide ship to ship communications or communications with other rescue vessels. If you make a distress call on a cellular phone, only the party you call will be able to hear you. Since cellular phones are designed for a land-based service, their limited offshore coverage could create a communications problem in the event of an emergency.

On the other hand, VHF marine radios were designed with safety in mind and can be used anywhere in the United States or around the world. If you are in distress, calls can be received not only by the Coast Guard but by ships or other vessels which may be in position to give immediate assistance. A VHF marine radio also helps ensure that storm warnings announced by the Coast Guard on VHF channel 16 are received. The timely receipt of such information may save your life.

EPIRB’s – A small battery-powered transmitting device that is carried on board and as the name implies, it is used only in case of a true emergency when your marine radio is inoperable or out of range.

There are several types of EPIRB’s. If disaster strikes, some float free and automatically activate; others must be activated manually. All EPIRB’s will float and send out a continual signal for 48 hours. Once you activate the EPIRB leave it on to make sure the signal is available for detection by passing satellites and for purposes of homing in on your location.

EPIRB’s that operate on 121.5/243 MHz (Category II) are the least expensive and least capable of saving your life. They cost around $400.00 and were designed in the 1970’s to alert passing aircraft. Often, multiple passes by satellites are required to identify the signal, which can definitely delay any rescue attempt. (I do not recommend this unit.)

On the other hand the 406 MHz EPIRB (Category I) which includes a 121.5 MHz signal which is mainly used for homing and cost around $1400.00. I know what you’re thinking, $1400.00… think of all the tackle I could buy for that much money.  My question to you; what is your life worth? And remember, you could have your family, the most precious thing in the world, onboard when tragedy strikes and that’s when you need immediate emergency response.
Response time to the 406 EPIRB is significantly reduced and the position information it provides is much more precise. In a recent test of the 406 MHz model, a Naval Academy midshipman found out how effective it was. The test signal was identified within four minutes and pinpointed within 15 minutes. This should help convince you that when trying to vhfsave a few dollars you could be betting against your life

When you purchase a 406 EPIRB’s can register your it and part of the coded signal will include your name, address, phone number, vessel description, and an emergency contact onshore who should know your plans and capabilities. Once the satellite picks up the signal and transmits it back, the search and rescue team knows where you are and who you are.

A Float Plan could save your life… always leave a float plan and give it to a friend or relative. Tell them where you’re boating or fishing, who’s with you and when you expect to return. Give a detailed description of you vessel – including the name, year, make, model, hull color and registration numbers and any other identifying markings. Also indicate whether you trailer your boat or keep it at a marina. If you trailer, leave the information about where you launched giving the color, make, model, and license plate number of your tow vehicle. If you keep the vessel at a marina give the phone number and address of the marina.

A good float plan details what safety, communications, and survival equipment you have onboard. It tells how many passengers, their names, addresses, and contact information. It also details the destination, departure date, departure time, departure location and expected time of arrival.
Here are a few ideas that might also be helpful: If you go out alone and do not have friends or family members nearby, you can still file a float plan. If you trailer your boat and launch from a boat ramp, leave the information in your vehicle. If you keep your boat in a marina, file a float plan with a fellow boater or with the dock-master.

When a person or vessel is reported as overdue, be prepared to give as much information as possible. The Coast Guard and rescue workers need to know as much information as possible. If you’re not prepared to relay pertinent enough information it could result in an ineffective search and possibly in the wrong direction or location. After being reported overdue and you’re fortunate enough to return safely call to the Coast Guard, so they can close the case and bring their rescue crews home.

We are often our own worst enemy’s and not being prepared could cost you, a loved one or your friend their life.

This article is owned by Capt. Woody Gore and is copyright protected. Permission to republish this article in print or online must be granted by Capt. Gore. wgore@ix.netcom.com