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Old 18-05-2015, 09:43   #106
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Re: Are EPIRBs dead?

If you haven't explored the SSB options and/or cost is an issue, you should look at Ham Radio. Ham's use the same general frequency range as Marine SSB. It's not officially legal to use a Ham radio on the marine frequencies except in an emergency but there is plenty of people to talk with, nefer the less. Almost all Ham radios can be 'opened up' easily to transmit on the marine frequencies and expect prohibition against using those channels is honored more in the breach. There are world wide Maritime Mobile nets for checking in, gettting information, meeting other sailors, and even talkin directly with weather, chandlers and service suppliers. Often there are local nets for boats in specific areas so you can find out exactly what's happening in the next bay, island or country from someone who is actually there.

With judicious shopping, you could get a Ham radio up and running for around a boat unit. Contrast that with an ICOM 802 SSB rig alone selling for 2 boat units. You do need to pass the test for the General License to use voice but it's not that hard to pass the test. There are many test prep sites on tbe internet that can get you exam ready with as little as a day of serious effort. You will not be an HF radio genius when you are done but will pick up a lot of useful information besides the FCC regulations.

Not meaning to high jack the thread, just wanted to make people aware of a much cheaper way to get into HF SSB radio.
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Old 18-05-2015, 09:43   #107
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Re: Are EPIRBs dead?

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Originally Posted by CarlF View Post
I figured the title would get some attention. I actually do have an EPIRB (and a PLB) but they are now the backup. But after a year with my Delorme Inreach it is my primary offshore communications system (I believe the Yellowbrick is very similiar).

When the EPIRB's batteries reach EOL I may just get a 2nd InReach instead of replacing the EPIRB. I won't go offshore without an Inreach -- even on someone else's boat.

As a distress communication it beats the EPIRB hands down as it provides two way communication with a staffed 24/7 rescue center or anyone with an email address - like your family. The EPIRB just blinks. Waterproof and 4 day battery in a package the size of most PLBs can be clipped to the life jacket on the way to the liferaft. And it worries me that my EPIRB can't really be tested until I'm in a liferaft. I know the InReach works.

As a global offshore communicator, mine is always turned on (it works fine sitting on the chart table sending through the fiberglass overhead). If someone sends me a message, it beeps until I read it. An end to checking for traffic. And an end to coordinating once a day Ham or SSB schedules. While each email can only be 160 characters long, anyone under age 30 will tell you that's plenty.

In my experience it is far more reliable than Ham, SSB, or Sat phone. So far, the InReach has always found an Iridium satellite and sent the message within two minutes - regardless of weather, time of day, traffic, etc - No propagation worries. No dropped calls. No "try again later".

The only thing I miss are GRIB files. But it's easy to have a shore side friend send you abbreviated weather as needed in 160 character pieces - and Ocens will do it for $8 a month.

The Delorme costs $300 and the service starts at $15 a month and $0.10 a message with no contract. As I mentioned, I believe the Yellowbrick is very similiar.

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Hey Carl,

Are EPIRB's dead? Absolutely not.

Your question can be expanded to whether one wants to rely on a single technology and only use one emergency reporting device/system. That is a personal choice...

If we all can agree that a prudent navigator should never rely on a single aid to navigation, why would we rely on a single aid to rescue in a life threatening situation?

This thread has discussed devices quite thoroughly, but what about who listens to and acts upon signals received from those devices?

EPIRBs and PLBs are all monitored by COSPAS-SARSAT, satellite comm devices by GEOS [a private company that also offers additional services for a fee.]

Both have outstanding records.

We have devices registered with both agencies. Multiple devices, multiple service agencies. Are we going to pick and choose which device and/or agency to use in a life threatening emergency? H--- No! We are going to set-off SOS signals from devices in both groups. Interagency coordination/cooperation is not our concern in that moment...

Isn't it wonderful to have such cost-effective choices?

I will close by reminding us all of a couple of ironies:

We, too, really like [and own some of] the new sat comm devices [e.g., InReach, Iridium Extreme, Iridium Go, etc.] but they all rely on the Iridium satellite system which is decades old... [and hopefully being replaced within the next 2 years per the Iridium website...] [We sail in northern latitudes, so Iridium is our only reliable choice at the moment...]

The latest [Iridium dependent] devices all rely upon a very dated infrastructure...

And we all need to keep some perspective: this thread- and much of the logic shared therein- will become as antiquated as the devices (and to a lesser extent, the services) we are discussing age and are obsoleted. Therefore we should continue, as individuals, to access our options (and choices) as a part of our personal routine preventative 'rescue maintenance'.

Here's hoping none of us ever need to use our SOS device(s) in an emergency.

Cheers!
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Old 18-05-2015, 11:53   #108
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Re: Are EPIRBs dead?

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Originally Posted by socaldmax View Post
YMMV, but my experience with HF comms is: it's very hit or miss, not something I'd hang my hopes on. The sub fleet now uses satcomms almost exclusively for normal traffic, partially to remain undetected.

Satellite radio signals do not penetrate more than a cm in sea water. Submerged submarines use a variety of comms from laser beams to VLF. But for stealth they rely heavily on VLF. Some countries have ELF but not the U.S.

I would suggest that something is wrong with your HF setup if you can't hear boats. The shore stations you hear can obviously copy the boats. Maybe you could compare how the shore stations near you do it.
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Old 18-05-2015, 12:24   #109
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Re: Are EPIRBs dead?

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Satellite radio signals do not penetrate more than a cm in sea water. Submerged submarines use a variety of comms from laser beams to VLF. But for stealth they rely heavily on VLF. Some countries have ELF but not the U.S.

I would suggest that something is wrong with your HF setup if you can't hear boats. The shore stations you hear can obviously copy the boats. Maybe you could compare how the shore stations near you do it.
As a 10 yr veteran of the sub fleet, I can assure you that very little comms are through VLF. They'll bring an antenna or periscope to the surface and copy SSIXS broadcasts whenever they're not vulnerable to enemy satellites. Emergency messages or EAMS may be transmitted via VLF, but those are very rare, not the bulk of message traffic. To clarify, I'm a fast attack sailor, boomers probably use VLF a lot more, but they are the minority of the sub fleet.

I'm using an inverted V about 25ft above the ground. From what I've heard, the guy in WA that I can hear uses a very tall, expensive directional antenna, far more than I want to spend at the moment.

The fact that I can easily hear 150w Chinese and Cuban broadcasters indicates to me that all 3 of my receivers and antennas are working OK for what they are, it's just cruisers that I can't hear. I'm obviously in a skip zone, but it's more often than anyone ever talks about.
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Old 18-05-2015, 12:46   #110
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Re: Are EPIRBs dead?

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Originally Posted by socaldmax View Post
I'm not convinced that HF is all that great. I routinely listen to the Pacific and ham nets and I have never been able to hear a transmission from any boats, and I'm only 20 mi from the coast. I am in a valley, but I have 3 different receivers using 3 different antennas. I can hear the shore stations clearly, but I've never heard who they're talking to.

The same goes for the ham nets, I can hear the near side of the conversation, but I can't hear the ham at the other end. These guys are using 500 - 1,000 watts, most of the time 800 - 1,000 watts. I don't think it's a power issue, I think it's more of a skip zone issue. You have to really know what frequency to use at what time of day to have the bounced wave hit the shore. At night, I can hear radio Havana loud and clear, and transmitters from China fairly well, but still have never heard a single cruiser transmission.

The analogy with a website only goes so far. Sure, anybody can hear you, but also a lot of people can't hear you. Out of the billions of people on the internet, how many are answering this thread. Only a handful, who are specifically looking for this type of info. I was on a sub west of HI and we tried to contact COMSUBPAC in Pearl Harbor on HF open comms. We ended up talking to the sub base in Pt. Loma, San Diego, nobody in HI could hear us, even though they were the closest land. The sub base relayed the message via phone, but it was a big hassle.

YMMV, but my experience with HF comms is: it's very hit or miss, not something I'd hang my hopes on. The sub fleet now uses satcomms almost exclusively for normal traffic, partially to remain undetected.

From a cost/benefit ratio: if the boat already has HF, I'd keep it. If it doesn't, I don't think I'd spend $5,000 to install the whole shebang with a Pactor modem when the satellites seem to be a lot easier to raise. It seems to me that's why the EPIRBs use satellites.
I agree that it is probably not the best bang for the buck to install HF radio just for distress signalling.

But if you already have it, or if you have other reasons to install it, and if it is well installed, AND you know how to use it (all big IF's, I admit), then it's a powerful tool.

Remember that DSC signals get through much better than voice ones do.

HF DSC and EPIRB are certified, official distress signals which go directly to SAR services and which evoke a precisely defined response according to a precisely defined protocol.

Informal systems like calling someone on a sat phone or sending a SPOT or InReach message go through commercial services or other intermediaries which may or may not work, with unknown response time.

Someone above assumed that the SAR guys flying in the rescue helicopter will be receiving, in real time, your InReach messages together with your up to the minute GPS coordinates, but this is unlikely to be the case. The messages will get passed from the commercial service to the SAR headquarters to the helo with -- how much lag time? No one knows, since this procedure is not regulated by GMDSS. In no way is this a substitute for the 121mhz homing signal which is regulated by GMDSS protocol and which is emitted by a real EPIRB. The rescue helo WILL have a 121mhz homing signal receiver in it, but may or may not have some means to receive satellite messages.

Nothing against InReach, which I think is a fantastic device, but it is NOT a substitute for a real EPIRB.
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Old 18-05-2015, 13:47   #111
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Re: Are EPIRBs dead?

"I am in a valley, but I have 3 different receivers using 3 different antennas."
I would guess your failure to hear the boats is terrain-related. You may be getting ground-wave or NVIS-type signal reception from a "local" (within a hundred miles?) shore station, while the conventional sky wave signals from long distance stations are skipping right over your valley. Coupla ranges of hills or mountains would make that very possible. Radio Havana and whatnot, all part of the random nature of HF and the way different signals skip around.


There are plenty of incidents documented over the years where a 911-operator has gotten an odd long distance call from a ham thousands of miles away, forwarding an emergency call from someone who couldn't reach anyone local--but reached that one ham, thousands of miles away.


If your antennas don't clear the ridges...(G)....


You can take one receiver to the shore and try again, use a wire antenna if yours isn't portable. Or you can find smartphone apps like "ScannerRadio" which carry rebroadcasts for some marine nets (with varying quality issues as well) or one of the PC apps that allows you to network in with HF stations.


HF is somewhat like Schrodinger's Cat. You know there's something in the box, but it is a rash assumption to even think it still might be a cat.(G)
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Old 18-05-2015, 14:41   #112
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Re: Are EPIRBs dead?

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Originally Posted by Dockhead View Post
I agree that it is probably not the best bang for the buck to install HF radio just for distress signalling.

But if you already have it, or if you have other reasons to install it, and if it is well installed, AND you know how to use it (all big IF's, I admit), then it's a powerful tool.

Remember that DSC signals get through much better than voice ones do.

HF DSC and EPIRB are certified, official distress signals which go directly to SAR services and which evoke a precisely defined response according to a precisely defined protocol.

Informal systems like calling someone on a sat phone or sending a SPOT or InReach message go through commercial services or other intermediaries which may or may not work, with unknown response time.

Someone above assumed that the SAR guys flying in the rescue helicopter will be receiving, in real time, your InReach messages together with your up to the minute GPS coordinates, but this is unlikely to be the case. The messages will get passed from the commercial service to the SAR headquarters to the helo with -- how much lag time? No one knows, since this procedure is not regulated by GMDSS. In no way is this a substitute for the 121mhz homing signal which is regulated by GMDSS protocol and which is emitted by a real EPIRB. The rescue helo WILL have a 121mhz homing signal receiver in it, but may or may not have some means to receive satellite messages.

Nothing against InReach, which I think is a fantastic device, but it is NOT a substitute for a real EPIRB.
From what I understand on the CG site and Wiki, 121 MHz has been phased out. From the NAVCEN site:

Quote:
Although these EPIRBs also include a low power 121.5 MHz homing signal, homing on the more powerful 406 MHz frequency has proven to be a significant aid to search and rescue aircraft. These are the only EPIRB types which can be sold in the United States.

A new type of 406 MHz EPIRB, having an integral GPS navigation receiver, became available in 1998. This EPIRB will send accurate location as well as identification information to rescue authorities immediately upon activation through both geostationary (GEOSAR) and polar orbiting satellites. These types of EPIRBs are the best you can buy.
From Wikipedia:

Quote:
Obsolete EPIRBs
There are also several older types of EPIRB devices which are no longer recommended for use.
Class A – A 121.5 MHz automatic activation unit. Due to limited signal coverage and possible lengthy delays in signal recognition, the U.S. Coast Guard no longer recommends use of this type.
Class C – Operates on VHF channel 15/16. Designed for small crafts operating close to shore, this type was only recognized in the United States. Use of these units was phased out in 1999.
Class S – A 121.5 MHz unit similar to Class B but is often included as an integral part of a lifeboat or survival suit. Their use is no longer recommended by the U.S. Coast Guard.
Inmarsat E – entered service in 1997. The unit is an automatic activation unit operating on 1646 MHz and detectable by the Inmarsat geostationary satellite system. This class of EPIRB was approved by the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS), but not by the United States. In September 2004, Inmarsat announced that it was terminating its Inmarsat E EPIRB service as of December 2006 due to a lack of interest in the maritime community.[25]
Furthermore, the U.S. Coast Guard recommend that no EPIRB of any type manufactured before 1989 be used.
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Old 18-05-2015, 14:44   #113
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Re: Are EPIRBs dead?

In a previous post, someone mentioned bringing a waterproof handheld VHF radio with them. It also sounds like a good idea to me. Does anyone know what channel or freq. a CG aircraft might be monitoring while it's searching? Do they monitor CH16?
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Old 18-05-2015, 15:52   #114
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Re: Are EPIRBs dead?

Well this has all worried me

I was planning on having a HF/ssb set installed in the next couple of years. But it's starting to sound like it's an expensive and ineffective toy. My boat must have had one once as it has a HF back stay Ariel on the mizzen.

Is it as useless as suggested?
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Old 18-05-2015, 16:00   #115
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Re: Are EPIRBs dead?

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Well this has all worried me

I was planning on having a HF/ssb set installed in the next couple of years. But it's starting to sound like it's an expensive and ineffective toy. My boat must have had one once as it has a HF back stay Ariel on the mizzen.

Is it as useless as suggested?
Not as useful for "I'm sinking'" as an epirb but definately worth having, IMHO.

An HF transreceiver on board... - Cruisers & Sailing Forums

And many other threads on this forum about SSB use.
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Old 18-05-2015, 16:14   #116
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Re: Are EPIRBs dead?

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Originally Posted by Rustic Charm View Post
Well this has all worried me

I was planning on having a HF/ssb set installed in the next couple of years. But it's starting to sound like it's an expensive and ineffective toy. My boat must have had one once as it has a HF back stay Ariel on the mizzen.

Is it as useless as suggested?
No, it is not useless. But if you don't do a proper installation or don't spend any time learning to properly operate the equipment it will not be a happy experience.

In this regard it is a lot like other aspects of cruising such as learning how to identify and deal with (avoid?) bad weather at sea, handle injury and illness, customs and immigration procedures, manage expenses, maintain boat systems, provision and plan meals and a host of other skills. IMO cruising is not a good pursuit for the instant gratification personality type. The gratification comes from learning and experiencing the entire process. If all you seek is to enjoy the destinations buy a plane ticket. It will be a lot cheaper and less time consuming.
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Old 18-05-2015, 16:15   #117
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Re: Are EPIRBs dead?

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In a previous post, someone mentioned bringing a waterproof handheld VHF radio with them. It also sounds like a good idea to me. Does anyone know what channel or freq. a CG aircraft might be monitoring while it's searching? Do they monitor CH16?
Buy a handheld with DSC calling. If an aircraft is looking for you they will have your MMSI number. They can call your radio using that number.
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Old 18-05-2015, 20:01   #118
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Re: Are EPIRBs dead?

While 121.5MHz is no longer used for marine distress operations, and it has been retired from aircraft emergency transmitters as well, the channel itself is still an aviation distress and "guard" frequency, set aside for the exclusive use of air traffic controllers broadcasting urgent messages and aircraft emergency communications.


I'd be very surprised if the USCG helos were no longer monitoring the international aviation GUARD CHANNELS, both military and civilian. Since the USCG is a dual-role agency, they may well be required to monitor both guard channels. (The military guard channel, at 243 MHz, is a UHF channel.)


Having a VHF that can contact them on 16 would be virtually the same as having a VHF that could also contact them on 121.5 so there's no need to add a 121.5 radio though. There are a number of inexpensive radios that also monitor 121.5 but that would generally be pointless on a boat.


But as to marine HF being useless...I know some folks who don't have a cell phone because it is just too complicated for them. If HF is too complicated and has no use for someone, then it is useless, and the price of buying and installing one could be better put into the price of four or five redundant EPIRBs.


Skipper goes overboard, you're going to hope someone else knows how to use the SSB radio? Or, is there a better chance they can turn on a EPIRB? (Although one should remember, in the words on Monty Python, something like "Thou shalt count to THREE, neither to one nor two but THREE, and then throw the holy hand grenade."


Technology is just SO confusing....
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Old 18-05-2015, 20:55   #119
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Re: Are EPIRBs dead?

HF radios are not difficult at all to operate or even understand, especially for an ESM operator/tech/instructor.

The real problem is HF propagation is based on earth's magnetic fields, solar activity and the ionosphere. You'll get a ground wave for a little over line of sight, but the sky wave will land - where? Well, that depends on solar activity, time of day, frequency, ionospheric conditions, transmitting antenna angle, receiving antenna angle, magnetic fields, weather conditions... and your location. Think of it just like ripples in a pond. At the peaks, they can hear you. In the troughs, they can't. Where exactly will your peaks end up?

So now you're in rough seas, high winds, lost your mast, water is pouring in, it's midnight...

go ahead, figure out where your sky wave is going to land.


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Old 18-05-2015, 21:50   #120
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Re: Are EPIRBs dead?

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From what I understand on the CG site and Wiki, 121 MHz has been phased out. From the NAVCEN site:



From Wikipedia:
You are confusing the beacon signals with homing signals. I guess a lot of people don't know exactly how EPIRBS work, leading to a lot of confusion like what we've seen in this thread.

Modern EPIRBS send their beacon signals including position data on 406 megahertz. This is what goes to the satellites.

But to guide SAR services in for the last few miles, EPIRBS (and PLBs) also send out a homing signal at 121.5 megahertz. This does not go through the satellites, but is directly received on board SAR vessels and aircraft. I actually have one of these homing receivers on board (long story).

Consumer non-GMDSS devices like the InReach do not send out these homing signals, which are a crucial part of rescue procedure.
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