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Old 21-05-2015, 14:39   #1
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EPIRB's are NOT dead! / EPIRB Activation? What happens/How to improve rescue odds!!

Hello to all,
I have no interest in getting into long discussions about EPIRB's being useless [sic], but thought some here might actually need/want some facts about EPIRB's, Rescue Assets, etc...

So, instead of getting bogged down in the arguments in another thread, and rather than just posting something here with opinion, etc...thinking that some here would appreciate some actual facts about EPIRB's....I thought I'd take a few minutes and post this..

Please understand that these facts are from COSPAS-SARSAT (the int'l organization that runs the EPIRB system), the USCG, etc. as well as from learned authors and seasoned mariners....these are not my opinions here!!

{One opinion here from me...
If you all can take just one thing from this thread, I hope it would be this:
Whatever distress satellite beacon you decide on, PLEASE understand that unless you're in the Chesapeake, Biscayne Bay, San Fran, etc. this is NOT like calling 911 (or 999) on your cellphone!!!
Response takes time!!
Even finding out who you are, where you are at, and what you need will take time!!!
And then figure in the distances needed to be covered, rescue assets determined and assigned, etc.....this all takes time!!
So, don't expect any beacon to bring you an "instant rescue"!!! }


With more than 1.2 Million distress beacons currently registered, here is one initial fact that some might find interesting, but not surprising...
Quote:
As of December 2013 the Cospas-Sarsat System had provided assistance in rescuing over 37,000 persons in over 10,000 incidents.




Two years ago, on the SSCA Discussion Board, I posted significant details about EPIRB's, how they work, what happens when you activate one, how to improve your odds of getting assistance/rescue, etc.....
And, I've referenced that thread many times since....(but just recently checked/updated the links in it, so they DO work!!)

And, I thought that some here might find the information / facts presented there to be VERY helpful...(but, as I found over the years, many will not read much on a link....if you want 'em to read it, ya' better post it here...)

So, with that in mind....here is what I posted:



EVERYONE, PLEASE PROPERLY REGISTER YOUR EPIRB!!!
And once registered, please renew (and update) this information every two years, as required!!!
(making sure that all shoreside contact info is up-to-date, AND that they will ALL know approx. where you are sailing...i.e. what ocean you're in, and/or what area you are in...)

And everyone, please read this thread....and follow and READ THE LINKS PROVIDED in it, as the information here (and in those links) may just save your life someday, of the life of someone you love!!!
Now, how's that for an easy way to save your life...just spend a few minutes reading/learning!!!

..............

Fortunately nowadays vessels sailing off and never being heard from again, is a rare occurrence....as most are equipped with Distress signaling devices such as an EPIRB (a 406mhz EPIRB using the Cospas-Sarsat system), especially a GPS-enabled one with a built-in GPS receiver, etc. and many also have MF/HF-DSC signaling (and a few also have INMARSAT-C)....all parts of the GMDSS....as well as many modern sailors having access to better weather data/forecasts, than in days of yore.....

But, with some recent occurrences (such as s/v Grain de Soleil, etc.) being debated on-line, I thought maybe someone should post some information on how the Cospas-Sarsat system works, how your EPIRB works (and how-to make it work properly/better), and how to increase/improve your odds of rescue, etc.

So, that is what this posting is intended for....the posting of helpful information about distress signaling and the effectiveness of various approaches...

{Please understand that I'm a self-sufficient sailor/voyager, and I sail by the concept that myself and crew are alone out there and whatever we encounter we should be prepared to handle ourselves....but, part of that is realizing that there may be a rare instance/occurrence that is outside of my control and my ability to solve, and that if all else fails, I still think I'd rather be alive on the deck of a container ship or in a USCG helo, than "going down with my ship".....so, I have elected to equip my boat with distress signaling devices, including an up-to-date registered, and GPS-equipped EPIRB and full VHF and MF/HF-DSC transceivers and antennas (including emerg antennas)....
In my mind/opinion, these are the "last line of defense" against death, and are not designed to be an "easy 911 call" for those sailors that are careless and/or unprepared....
So, this post is not intended to say that "anyone can sail offshore, and when you get in over-your-head, you just need to push a few buttons and you'll be fine"!!! But rather to inform all of you what you can do to improve your rescue odds, should the fhit really hit the san!!! }



1) First off, I will not endeavor to re-write things that have been already well-written and widely published...I will simply post the links to those pages....
But, what I will attempt to do is briefly break things down to some basic concepts and make things understandable to non-tech folks...



2) So, to start off with for details of what the Cospas-Sarsat system is and how it and your EPIRB works, please read over their pages...
International Cospas-Sarsat Programme - International COSPAS-SARSAT

If the above links don't work....please try these!!!


Cospas-Sarsat System - International COSPAS-SARSAT

http://www.cospas-sarsat.int/en/system- ... escription

http://www.cospas-sarsat.int/en/system- ... uick-stats



The USCG has a nice powerpoint presentation which explains things easily...
http://www.uscg.mil/hq/cg5/cg534/.../EP ... y_Work.ppt

And, if that link doesn't work, please try this one...
https://encrypted.google.com/url?sa=t&r ... bs.1,d.eXY



And, for well-written pieces describing things better for the average sailor, please read over Beth Leonard's excellent articles (from Nov 2011 Cruising World)...
http://www.cruisingworld.com/how-to/sea ... -the-epirb
http://www.cruisingworld.com/how-to/sea ... r-scenario


And, for a brief glossary of terms and some links to resources...
http://www.cruisingworld.com/how-to/sea ... esources-0



~~~
Onto the nitty-gritty!!!
~~~
3) You MUST register your EPIRB!!!
And the registration must be renewed every two years!!!

{EDIT:
For clarification, it is a Cospas-Sarsat requirement to register and renew every two years, not my opinion here... }

Although obvious to anyone that understands the system and how it works, many EPIRB owners either forget to do so, or some just ignore this requirement out of ignorance...

Without proper registration, even in the very best circumstances/scenarios, the search and rescue (SAR) operations will be seriously delayed!!! (and in some situations, particularly in 3rd world regions, there may not be any SAR operations at all, until/unless someone can "verify" that this is a "real" distress!!!)
Do you really want to be floating in the icy N. Atlantic for an extra 6 hours??? Or, treading water for days in the middle of some remote part of an ocean??? Just because you couldn't spend < 5 minutes registering your EPIRB!!

Also, unless/until you've established a voice contact with a rescuer, without a proper registration anyone looking for you / trying to assist you in your distress has no idea what type of vessel you're on, nor what color it is, nor its size, nor whether you have liferafts/lifeboats, nor what communications equipment you have, etc... NOT even the name of your boat....
All they know is that a beacon has gone off!!!
Have you ever tried calling a "nameless boat in distress" on the radio, and not even knowing if he has a radio????

EPIRB registration is free, and you can do it on-line, so PLEASE do it!! and keep it up-to-date!!!
And, there is plenty of room on the forms to include many phone numbers of "shore-side emergency contact"....I currently have EIGHT (8) phone numbers and THREE (3) different people listed on my EPIRB registration (not including my own name and numbers), so the RCC should be able to find someone that can confirm where I was sailing!!!

{EDIT:
Having just renewed mine a couple weeks ago, I found the name and phone numbers of an old girlfriend of mine still listed there as some of my secondary contact numbers....haven't spoken to her in > 2 years, and I wonder if she's just tell the USCG to "let him drown!!"
Okay, she wouldn't do that, but she's certainly NOT someone that would have any up-to-date information about me / my voyage, so I corrected/updated the names/numbers for my emergency contact, so now all is good!! }




4) Understand that even with a new (or newly serviced and recertified) and properly registered EPIRB, a Search and Rescue (SAR) response to your EPIRB activation is NOT instantaneous!!! (read Beth's article for more details...)
In a nutshell, the RCC (Recue Coordination Center) is first going to be looking for a "confirmation" that this is a real distress....such as an MF/HF-DSC Distress signal, or an INMARSAT-C Distress signal... or in many 1st world ocean regions, secondarily a 'shore-side emergency contact" who can "confirm" approx. where you are at and that you may in fact be in distress....

{Note that even though it IS part of the GMDSS (and is a VERY useful and robust system, which also provides FREE weather info/forecasts worldwide) VERY few small/mid-size private vessels have INMARSAT-C.....and until recently even though it is also part of the GMDSS, few have had MF/HF-DSC signaling capabilities, so unless you have this equipment and it is properly set-up and working well at the time of your distress, your "shore-side emergency contacts" are the only way the RCC can confirm your distress, and they should not only be available / reachable 24/7, but also should have a fairly good idea of WHERE you are sailing at, and as many details about your vessel and current voyage as possible....they should be someone that can be available 24/7 to provide the necessary info, not just "some guy I know" ....}

As an example, in Beth's article the "Best-Case SAR Scenario", a lengthy 3 - 5 hours went by between EPIRB activation and before rescue options were evaluated and AMVER alerts went out, and it was 5+ hours before any SAR assets were directed / deployed....(that means that some ship may have been steaming AWAY from you, or on an unfavorable course from you, for the past 5 hours...making them now as far as 5 hours farther away from you than they were when you activated your EPIRB!!)
And, remember this is a "BEST-CASE" scenario....most will not have such "good luck"...

In addition to providing a distress "confirmation" to an EPIRB activation, which can speed up the process in the best case scenario (and actually start / motivate the process in worse-case scenarios), a MF/HF-DSC Distress signal (and/or an INMARSAT-C Distress signal) also alerts other vessels in your area (directly) that you are in distress, and includes your current GPS position as well as instructions for establishing two-way voice contact (via a specified MF/HF-SSB radio channel).....
This is one reason why there is a second "S" in GMDSS, it stands for "System"....
Using just one part of the system might get you a response, but using two parts (or more) of the system is MUCH more likely to get you a quick and effective response...
Myself, if it came down to needing rescue and I was going to activate my EPIRB I would also send out VHF-DSC and MF/HF-DSC Distress messages in the hope that I'd get a response quickly from a vessel close-by, as well as using both a Cospas-Sarsat EPIRB signal and a MF/HF-DSC signal to confirm each other and enhance the chances of a more rapid SAR response from shore.....


FYI, once you are beyond USCG helo range (typically anything further than 150 - 200 miles off the coast of the US), or beyond the range of coastal UK Coast Guard, or beyond the range of the very few other 1st world nations coastal rescue / coast guards, any assistance / rescue is going to come from other vessels IN YOUR AREA!! These are typically merchant ships, plying the high seas as their business, not the USCG!!!
So, for most ocean crossings and other long passages, getting a Distress message directly to those who can/will render assistance and/or provide rescue as quickly as possible, is always a good idea!!!





5) Now, while many of you may think this is a "belt and suspenders" approach, it is actually how the GMDSS (Global Marine Distress and Safety System) was designed....as a "System".....if you use it as a "system" it works very well....

And, some may be wondering: "why can't they just get my position from my "G-PIRB" (GPS-enable EPIRB) and come and get me??"
Well, the answer is multi-fold:
a) It does take a few minutes for your EPIRB (G-PIRB) to attain a GPS-fix and then it takes a minute or two for it to pass on this info to the geo-stationary Cospas-Sarsat satellites (GEOSAR satellites), assuming it can connect to one...

b) The Cospas-Sarsat system uses two types of satellites, and it is only the geo-stationary satellites, GEOSAR satellites (22,300 miles above the equator) that can receive your EPIRB's GPS position, and getting the beacon's registration number and GPS position sent up to these satellites using these small beacons and small antennas is not easy....(PLB's are even worse in this application)
In order for this information/data to get thru, EPIRB's must be in the open, with a clear view / line-of-sight to the geo-stationary satellite (similar to using an INMARSAT ISatPhonePro), and usually floating as well....but they cannot get thru to the GEOSAR satellites from below decks or under a wet liferaft canopy (at best, they are very intermittent under a wet liferaft canopy, and both the EPIRB manufacturers and Cospas-Sarsat strictly recommend leaving your EPIRB floating alongside your liferaft (tied securely to your raft, of course!!), NOT inside the raft!!!
Further the strobes that are on/in the beacons are hard for SAR assets to see, if they're in the raft!!


Quote:
Cospas-Sarsat has demonstrated that the GEOSAR and LEOSAR system search and rescue capabilities are complementary.


(This poorly understood part of the system, is also the main reason why PLB's used offshore /in a raft is a less-than-optimal approach.....and unfortunately the smaller and less effective antennas on PLB's vs. EPIRB's means that they must be physically held up fairly well in order for their GPS data to get thru to the GEOSAR sats....)


c) The LEOSAR satellites (Low-Earth-Orbiting Search And Rescue satellites), orbit only a few hundred miles above the earth and receive signals as much as 30db stronger than the GEOSAR satellites receive.....
But, they do NOT receive the GPS-position data from your beacon, they only use the Doppler-effect and signal processing to approximate your position (within a few miles)....
Since these satellites are much closer and are constantly moving, the EPIRB has a MUCH better chance of being received by them....and while it is still not recommended, LEOSAR sats can receive your beacon's signal even with it below decks and/or inside your raft....(BUT, understand that there is NO GPS data from your beacon received by these LEOSAR sats...)
Quote:
The Cospas-Sarsat LEOSAR system uses polar-orbiting satellites and, therefore, operates with basic constraints which result from non-continuous coverage provided by LEOSAR satellites. The use of low-altitude orbiting satellites provides for a strong Doppler effect in the up-link signal thereby enabling the use of Doppler positioning techniques.
LEOSAR's can calculate the location of distress events using Doppler processing techniques; and are less susceptible to obstructions which may block a beacon signal in a given direction because the satellite is continuously moving with respect to the beacon.

Also, understand that these are polar orbiting satellites and it takes about an hour between satellite passes in mid-latitude areas (less at the poles, and longer at the equator)....and also understand that the initial position fixes from the Doppler-processing of the LEOSAR satellites can be VERY inaccurate....
A quote from Beth's article illustrates that...
Quote:
“Initial LEOSAR positions can differ by 50 to 60 miles and sometimes cross rescue areas,” said U.S. Coast Guard Captain Dave McBride. “I’ve seen cases where the first two positions calculated by the LEOSAR have been in different oceans.”



d) Further, it is always strictly recommended that an EPIRB be left ON at all times after activation (i.e. do NOT cycle it on/off to save the battery), and as you can see above, there are specific technical reasons for this requirement....
--- It can take quite a while for the data to get thru to the GEOSAR sats if your EPIRB is not out in the clear, and you have NO WAY to know if that GPS data got thru or not....even if it's out in the clear, it's not an absolute that the GPS data will get thru....
--- You have NO WAY to know when a LEOSAR satellite will be within view of your beacon, so turning in on/off you may never get your signal thru to one....

Bottom line:
If you need to activate your EPIRB, get it out in the clear, turn it on, and leave it on!!




6) In addition most EPIRB's also have a very low-power 121.5mhz "homing signal" to allow SAR aircraft and helos, when approaching close (< a mile or so), to home-in on the beacon's position...
I'm not sure how long PLB's (with smaller batteries) will allow this 121.5mhz homing signal to transmit....nor if your PLB will still have any battery power left to run it, if/when a rescue aircraft is out there looking for you.....




7) There has also been some discussion (and some grumbling) about the high cost of EPIRB battery replacement / service / re-certification....
This is required every 5 years, and typically costs about $300...(as I was stuck at the dock, I allowed mine to slide to 6 years, but if I was heading offshore, I would adhere to the 5 year requirement)

Yeah, there are some that will buy the batteries ($50 - $75) and replace 'em themselves...but, I'd rather have a professional actually test my EPIRB after they replaced the batteries, and provide a new certification / test results sheet to me....

I would also want to be sure that whatever batteries I used, were not just the "proper" ones, but also NEW and ready to be sealed up in my EPIRB for the next 5 years, and ready to send out my distress message for at least 48 hours (or more)!!!

Yes, this last part here is mostly opinion / personal recommendation, but I feel secure in that I'm also doing what Cospas-Sarsat recommends, not just following blindly the EPIRB manufactures' recommendations to spend money with them....[/b]




There is more info / details available on the links provided above...
(and I suppose that we could use all of this info to further speculate on those rare occurrences of vessels never heard from again and/or those vessels who have activated their EPIRB, but still have never been located or heard from again..)


Fair winds..

John




I do hope that these facts will help clarify things for many here...

John
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Old 22-05-2015, 05:32   #2
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Re: EPIRB's are NOT dead! / EPIRB Activation? What happens/How to improve rescue odds

John,

As usual from you this is well written and accurate post however I must disagree with the information in item 6. All EPRIBs are dual frequency, it is a requirement under COSPAS SARSAT system. As well, the range (under average conditions) is certainly greater than a mile, probably more like 5 miles. You can work out the air path loss (I can't recall the numbers) - the Tx power is 25 mW and antenna gain is unity.

All the EPRIB units I'm familiar with, the 406 Tx is turned off after 48 hours but the 121.5 Tx is allowed to run until complete battery exhaustion. The KTI is an exception, it will Tx the 406 for 72 hours. PLBs are the same except the 406 Tx is turned off after 24 hours.
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Old 22-05-2015, 05:50   #3
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Re: EPIRB's are NOT dead! / EPIRB Activation? What happens/How to improve rescue odds

Whew.....thanks for that, guys. Glad to know EPIRBs aren't dead, 'cuz I just bought a new one yesterday to replace my 7-year old ACR!

And, yes, the 121.5 beacon signal has a greater range, particularly since it can be utilized by search aircraft as well as boats.

A USCG C130 SAR team once told me in Bermuda, "Forget the raft and flares and all that; just jump in clutching your EPIRB and we'll find you."

That's why I'll keep the old (registered) EPIRB as well....the battery is probably still marginally good for another few years :-)

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Old 22-05-2015, 06:08   #4
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Re: EPIRB's are NOT dead! / EPIRB Activation? What happens/How to improve rescue odds

Quote:
Originally Posted by ka4wja View Post
Hello to all,
I have no interest in getting into long discussions about EPIRB's being useless [sic], but thought some here might actually need/want some facts about EPIRB's, Rescue Assets, etc...

So, instead of getting bogged down in the arguments in another thread, and rather than just posting something here with opinion, etc...thinking that some here would appreciate some actual facts about EPIRB's....I thought I'd take a few minutes and post this..

Please understand that these facts are from COSPAS-SARSAT (the int'l organization that runs the EPIRB system), the USCG, etc. as well as from learned authors and seasoned mariners....these are not my opinions here!!

{One opinion here from me...
If you all can take just one thing from this thread, I hope it would be this:
Whatever distress satellite beacon you decide on, PLEASE understand that unless you're in the Chesapeake, Biscayne Bay, San Fran, etc. this is NOT like calling 911 (or 999) on your cellphone!!!
Response takes time!!
Even finding out who you are, where you are at, and what you need will take time!!!
And then figure in the distances needed to be covered, rescue assets determined and assigned, etc.....this all takes time!!
So, don't expect any beacon to bring you an "instant rescue"!!! }


With more than 1.2 Million distress beacons currently registered, here is one initial fact that some might find interesting, but not surprising...




Two years ago, on the SSCA Discussion Board, I posted significant details about EPIRB's, how they work, what happens when you activate one, how to improve your odds of getting assistance/rescue, etc.....
And, I've referenced that thread many times since....(but just recently checked/updated the links in it, so they DO work!!)

And, I thought that some here might find the information / facts presented there to be VERY helpful...(but, as I found over the years, many will not read much on a link....if you want 'em to read it, ya' better post it here...)

So, with that in mind....here is what I posted:



EVERYONE, PLEASE PROPERLY REGISTER YOUR EPIRB!!!
And once registered, please renew (and update) this information every two years, as required!!!
(making sure that all shoreside contact info is up-to-date, AND that they will ALL know approx. where you are sailing...i.e. what ocean you're in, and/or what area you are in...)

And everyone, please read this thread....and follow and READ THE LINKS PROVIDED in it, as the information here (and in those links) may just save your life someday, of the life of someone you love!!!
Now, how's that for an easy way to save your life...just spend a few minutes reading/learning!!!

..............

Fortunately nowadays vessels sailing off and never being heard from again, is a rare occurrence....as most are equipped with Distress signaling devices such as an EPIRB (a 406mhz EPIRB using the Cospas-Sarsat system), especially a GPS-enabled one with a built-in GPS receiver, etc. and many also have MF/HF-DSC signaling (and a few also have INMARSAT-C)....all parts of the GMDSS....as well as many modern sailors having access to better weather data/forecasts, than in days of yore.....

But, with some recent occurrences (such as s/v Grain de Soleil, etc.) being debated on-line, I thought maybe someone should post some information on how the Cospas-Sarsat system works, how your EPIRB works (and how-to make it work properly/better), and how to increase/improve your odds of rescue, etc.

So, that is what this posting is intended for....the posting of helpful information about distress signaling and the effectiveness of various approaches...

{Please understand that I'm a self-sufficient sailor/voyager, and I sail by the concept that myself and crew are alone out there and whatever we encounter we should be prepared to handle ourselves....but, part of that is realizing that there may be a rare instance/occurrence that is outside of my control and my ability to solve, and that if all else fails, I still think I'd rather be alive on the deck of a container ship or in a USCG helo, than "going down with my ship".....so, I have elected to equip my boat with distress signaling devices, including an up-to-date registered, and GPS-equipped EPIRB and full VHF and MF/HF-DSC transceivers and antennas (including emerg antennas)....
In my mind/opinion, these are the "last line of defense" against death, and are not designed to be an "easy 911 call" for those sailors that are careless and/or unprepared....
So, this post is not intended to say that "anyone can sail offshore, and when you get in over-your-head, you just need to push a few buttons and you'll be fine"!!! But rather to inform all of you what you can do to improve your rescue odds, should the fhit really hit the san!!! }



1) First off, I will not endeavor to re-write things that have been already well-written and widely published...I will simply post the links to those pages....
But, what I will attempt to do is briefly break things down to some basic concepts and make things understandable to non-tech folks...



2) So, to start off with for details of what the Cospas-Sarsat system is and how it and your EPIRB works, please read over their pages...
International Cospas-Sarsat Programme - International COSPAS-SARSAT

If the above links don't work....please try these!!!


Cospas-Sarsat System - International COSPAS-SARSAT

http://www.cospas-sarsat.int/en/system- ... escription

http://www.cospas-sarsat.int/en/system- ... uick-stats



The USCG has a nice powerpoint presentation which explains things easily...
http://www.uscg.mil/hq/cg5/cg534/.../EP ... y_Work.ppt

And, if that link doesn't work, please try this one...
https://encrypted.google.com/url?sa=t&r ... bs.1,d.eXY



And, for well-written pieces describing things better for the average sailor, please read over Beth Leonard's excellent articles (from Nov 2011 Cruising World)...
http://www.cruisingworld.com/how-to/sea ... -the-epirb
http://www.cruisingworld.com/how-to/sea ... r-scenario


And, for a brief glossary of terms and some links to resources...
http://www.cruisingworld.com/how-to/sea ... esources-0



~~~
Onto the nitty-gritty!!!
~~~
3) You MUST register your EPIRB!!!
And the registration must be renewed every two years!!!

{EDIT:
For clarification, it is a Cospas-Sarsat requirement to register and renew every two years, not my opinion here... }

Although obvious to anyone that understands the system and how it works, many EPIRB owners either forget to do so, or some just ignore this requirement out of ignorance...

Without proper registration, even in the very best circumstances/scenarios, the search and rescue (SAR) operations will be seriously delayed!!! (and in some situations, particularly in 3rd world regions, there may not be any SAR operations at all, until/unless someone can "verify" that this is a "real" distress!!!)
Do you really want to be floating in the icy N. Atlantic for an extra 6 hours??? Or, treading water for days in the middle of some remote part of an ocean??? Just because you couldn't spend < 5 minutes registering your EPIRB!!

Also, unless/until you've established a voice contact with a rescuer, without a proper registration anyone looking for you / trying to assist you in your distress has no idea what type of vessel you're on, nor what color it is, nor its size, nor whether you have liferafts/lifeboats, nor what communications equipment you have, etc... NOT even the name of your boat....
All they know is that a beacon has gone off!!!
Have you ever tried calling a "nameless boat in distress" on the radio, and not even knowing if he has a radio????

EPIRB registration is free, and you can do it on-line, so PLEASE do it!! and keep it up-to-date!!!
And, there is plenty of room on the forms to include many phone numbers of "shore-side emergency contact"....I currently have EIGHT (8) phone numbers and THREE (3) different people listed on my EPIRB registration (not including my own name and numbers), so the RCC should be able to find someone that can confirm where I was sailing!!!

{EDIT:
Having just renewed mine a couple weeks ago, I found the name and phone numbers of an old girlfriend of mine still listed there as some of my secondary contact numbers....haven't spoken to her in > 2 years, and I wonder if she's just tell the USCG to "let him drown!!"
Okay, she wouldn't do that, but she's certainly NOT someone that would have any up-to-date information about me / my voyage, so I corrected/updated the names/numbers for my emergency contact, so now all is good!! }




4) Understand that even with a new (or newly serviced and recertified) and properly registered EPIRB, a Search and Rescue (SAR) response to your EPIRB activation is NOT instantaneous!!! (read Beth's article for more details...)
In a nutshell, the RCC (Recue Coordination Center) is first going to be looking for a "confirmation" that this is a real distress....such as an MF/HF-DSC Distress signal, or an INMARSAT-C Distress signal... or in many 1st world ocean regions, secondarily a 'shore-side emergency contact" who can "confirm" approx. where you are at and that you may in fact be in distress....

{Note that even though it IS part of the GMDSS (and is a VERY useful and robust system, which also provides FREE weather info/forecasts worldwide) VERY few small/mid-size private vessels have INMARSAT-C.....and until recently even though it is also part of the GMDSS, few have had MF/HF-DSC signaling capabilities, so unless you have this equipment and it is properly set-up and working well at the time of your distress, your "shore-side emergency contacts" are the only way the RCC can confirm your distress, and they should not only be available / reachable 24/7, but also should have a fairly good idea of WHERE you are sailing at, and as many details about your vessel and current voyage as possible....they should be someone that can be available 24/7 to provide the necessary info, not just "some guy I know" ....}

As an example, in Beth's article the "Best-Case SAR Scenario", a lengthy 3 - 5 hours went by between EPIRB activation and before rescue options were evaluated and AMVER alerts went out, and it was 5+ hours before any SAR assets were directed / deployed....(that means that some ship may have been steaming AWAY from you, or on an unfavorable course from you, for the past 5 hours...making them now as far as 5 hours farther away from you than they were when you activated your EPIRB!!)
And, remember this is a "BEST-CASE" scenario....most will not have such "good luck"...

In addition to providing a distress "confirmation" to an EPIRB activation, which can speed up the process in the best case scenario (and actually start / motivate the process in worse-case scenarios), a MF/HF-DSC Distress signal (and/or an INMARSAT-C Distress signal) also alerts other vessels in your area (directly) that you are in distress, and includes your current GPS position as well as instructions for establishing two-way voice contact (via a specified MF/HF-SSB radio channel).....
This is one reason why there is a second "S" in GMDSS, it stands for "System"....
Using just one part of the system might get you a response, but using two parts (or more) of the system is MUCH more likely to get you a quick and effective response...
Myself, if it came down to needing rescue and I was going to activate my EPIRB I would also send out VHF-DSC and MF/HF-DSC Distress messages in the hope that I'd get a response quickly from a vessel close-by, as well as using both a Cospas-Sarsat EPIRB signal and a MF/HF-DSC signal to confirm each other and enhance the chances of a more rapid SAR response from shore.....


FYI, once you are beyond USCG helo range (typically anything further than 150 - 200 miles off the coast of the US), or beyond the range of coastal UK Coast Guard, or beyond the range of the very few other 1st world nations coastal rescue / coast guards, any assistance / rescue is going to come from other vessels IN YOUR AREA!! These are typically merchant ships, plying the high seas as their business, not the USCG!!!
So, for most ocean crossings and other long passages, getting a Distress message directly to those who can/will render assistance and/or provide rescue as quickly as possible, is always a good idea!!!





5) Now, while many of you may think this is a "belt and suspenders" approach, it is actually how the GMDSS (Global Marine Distress and Safety System) was designed....as a "System".....if you use it as a "system" it works very well....

And, some may be wondering: "why can't they just get my position from my "G-PIRB" (GPS-enable EPIRB) and come and get me??"
Well, the answer is multi-fold:
a) It does take a few minutes for your EPIRB (G-PIRB) to attain a GPS-fix and then it takes a minute or two for it to pass on this info to the geo-stationary Cospas-Sarsat satellites (GEOSAR satellites), assuming it can connect to one...

b) The Cospas-Sarsat system uses two types of satellites, and it is only the geo-stationary satellites, GEOSAR satellites (22,300 miles above the equator) that can receive your EPIRB's GPS position, and getting the beacon's registration number and GPS position sent up to these satellites using these small beacons and small antennas is not easy....(PLB's are even worse in this application)
In order for this information/data to get thru, EPIRB's must be in the open, with a clear view / line-of-sight to the geo-stationary satellite (similar to using an INMARSAT ISatPhonePro), and usually floating as well....but they cannot get thru to the GEOSAR satellites from below decks or under a wet liferaft canopy (at best, they are very intermittent under a wet liferaft canopy, and both the EPIRB manufacturers and Cospas-Sarsat strictly recommend leaving your EPIRB floating alongside your liferaft (tied securely to your raft, of course!!), NOT inside the raft!!!
Further the strobes that are on/in the beacons are hard for SAR assets to see, if they're in the raft!!




(This poorly understood part of the system, is also the main reason why PLB's used offshore /in a raft is a less-than-optimal approach.....and unfortunately the smaller and less effective antennas on PLB's vs. EPIRB's means that they must be physically held up fairly well in order for their GPS data to get thru to the GEOSAR sats....)


c) The LEOSAR satellites (Low-Earth-Orbiting Search And Rescue satellites), orbit only a few hundred miles above the earth and receive signals as much as 30db stronger than the GEOSAR satellites receive.....
But, they do NOT receive the GPS-position data from your beacon, they only use the Doppler-effect and signal processing to approximate your position (within a few miles)....
Since these satellites are much closer and are constantly moving, the EPIRB has a MUCH better chance of being received by them....and while it is still not recommended, LEOSAR sats can receive your beacon's signal even with it below decks and/or inside your raft....(BUT, understand that there is NO GPS data from your beacon received by these LEOSAR sats...)

Also, understand that these are polar orbiting satellites and it takes about an hour between satellite passes in mid-latitude areas (less at the poles, and longer at the equator)....and also understand that the initial position fixes from the Doppler-processing of the LEOSAR satellites can be VERY inaccurate....
A quote from Beth's article illustrates that...




d) Further, it is always strictly recommended that an EPIRB be left ON at all times after activation (i.e. do NOT cycle it on/off to save the battery), and as you can see above, there are specific technical reasons for this requirement....
--- It can take quite a while for the data to get thru to the GEOSAR sats if your EPIRB is not out in the clear, and you have NO WAY to know if that GPS data got thru or not....even if it's out in the clear, it's not an absolute that the GPS data will get thru....
--- You have NO WAY to know when a LEOSAR satellite will be within view of your beacon, so turning in on/off you may never get your signal thru to one....

Bottom line:
If you need to activate your EPIRB, get it out in the clear, turn it on, and leave it on!!




6) In addition most EPIRB's also have a very low-power 121.5mhz "homing signal" to allow SAR aircraft and helos, when approaching close (< a mile or so), to home-in on the beacon's position...
I'm not sure how long PLB's (with smaller batteries) will allow this 121.5mhz homing signal to transmit....nor if your PLB will still have any battery power left to run it, if/when a rescue aircraft is out there looking for you.....




7) There has also been some discussion (and some grumbling) about the high cost of EPIRB battery replacement / service / re-certification....
This is required every 5 years, and typically costs about $300...(as I was stuck at the dock, I allowed mine to slide to 6 years, but if I was heading offshore, I would adhere to the 5 year requirement)

Yeah, there are some that will buy the batteries ($50 - $75) and replace 'em themselves...but, I'd rather have a professional actually test my EPIRB after they replaced the batteries, and provide a new certification / test results sheet to me....

I would also want to be sure that whatever batteries I used, were not just the "proper" ones, but also NEW and ready to be sealed up in my EPIRB for the next 5 years, and ready to send out my distress message for at least 48 hours (or more)!!!

Yes, this last part here is mostly opinion / personal recommendation, but I feel secure in that I'm also doing what Cospas-Sarsat recommends, not just following blindly the EPIRB manufactures' recommendations to spend money with them....[/b]




There is more info / details available on the links provided above...
(and I suppose that we could use all of this info to further speculate on those rare occurrences of vessels never heard from again and/or those vessels who have activated their EPIRB, but still have never been located or heard from again..)


Fair winds..

John




I do hope that these facts will help clarify things for many here...

John
As usual, a masterful exposition of the subject


For the "last mile", which always makes me nervous when I go through these scenarios in my mind, you also want as many means of signalling as possible.

I wish someone made a really compact, waterproof DSC VHF handheld which could take a long-life lithium battery. I keep a battery tray and vacuum-packed AA batts for my SH handheld in my grab bag.

Flares and strobes.

To supplement the 121.5 mhz homing signal your EPIRB puts out.

The information in this thread about the great visibility of strobes from the air was news to me. I have ACR strobes on all of my life jackets, but maybe I will buy a big one for the grab bag.

Call me a dinosaur, but I would never want to lack a good supply of good old fashioned pyrotechnic flares in my grab bag. You bet I'd put on a fireworks show if I were in my liferaft on a moonless night, with a SAR helo looking for me and running out of fuel. Or a passing freighter.
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Old 22-05-2015, 06:52   #5
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Re: EPIRB's are NOT dead! / EPIRB Activation? What happens/How to improve rescue odds

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Originally Posted by Dockhead View Post
.......

Flares and strobes.

To supplement the 121.5 mhz homing signal your EPIRB puts out.

The information in this thread about the great visibility of strobes from the air was news to me. I have ACR strobes on all of my life jackets, but maybe I will buy a big one for the grab bag.

Call me a dinosaur, but I would never want to lack a good supply of good old fashioned pyrotechnic flares in my grab bag. You bet I'd put on a fireworks show if I were in my liferaft on a moonless night, with a SAR helo looking for me and running out of fuel. Or a passing freighter.
USCG SAR pilots use night-vision goggles at night. The SAR chief -- himself a pilot -- told my YC 2 years ago that "if you light a match, we'll see it".

FWIW,

Bill
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Old 22-05-2015, 07:00   #6
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Re: EPIRB's are NOT dead! / EPIRB Activation? What happens/How to improve rescue odds

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Originally Posted by btrayfors View Post
USCG SAR pilots use night-vision goggles at night. The SAR chief -- himself a pilot -- told my YC 2 years ago that "if you light a match, we'll see it".

FWIW,

Bill
But this would be affected by weather, wouldn't it? Especially if the sea is high, I would want to get the light show up as high as possible.

Also in case it is a passing freighter, rather than a helo, which is looking for me.
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Old 22-05-2015, 07:01   #7
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Re: EPIRB's are NOT dead! / EPIRB Activation? What happens/How to improve rescue odds

Quote:
Originally Posted by btrayfors View Post
USCG SAR pilots use night-vision goggles at night. The SAR chief -- himself a pilot -- told my YC 2 years ago that "if you light a match, we'll see it".

FWIW,

Bill
I concur, I have only used militarily grade NVG once and yes, you can see the an iPhone screen at 10+ miles in dark terrain. As reported on the "other" current EPIRB thread, one pilot reported seeing airborne strobes at 80 miles.
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Old 22-05-2015, 07:05   #8
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Re: EPIRB's are NOT dead! / EPIRB Activation? What happens/How to improve rescue odds

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But this would be affected by weather, wouldn't it? Especially if the sea is high, I would want to get the light show up as high as possible.

Also in case it is a passing freighter, rather than a helo, which is looking for me.
And cloud which also often associated with high seas
So I support the old fashioned flares but think laser fares may be a better option.
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Old 22-05-2015, 07:33   #9
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Re: EPIRB's are NOT dead! / EPIRB Activation? What happens/How to improve rescue odds

I think there is a handful of ways the existing EPIRBs could be improved but somehow I failed to see the powers that be interested in asking thinking implementing game.

E.g.

- All EPIRB owners should have an easy online access to viewing the hardcoded data and this data should be cross linked, within the same database to additional owners' info like our boats' safety equipment, comms, number of people onboard, itinerary, etc. I think the above could help in rescue. Maybe not. Maybe I am imagining things.

- New EPIRBs should have some method of receiving 'received/acknowledged' signal. It has been proven that 'they are searching for us' is a potent rescue drug.

- In fact, a one all-in-one EPIRB unit should be designed and marketed that would contain EPIRB capacity along with yellowbrick-like, two-ways comms capacity. Press the panic button then talk to the rescue center tell them your story.

Just ideas. Too bad the whole area is so very deeply commercialised and politicized. Maybe we should start up an Open Source EPIRB project to bring the goodies at the prices that reflect the price of a handful of mass purchased silicon chips made in China.

A smartphone USD 60, an EPIRB USD 600. Really.

b.
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Old 22-05-2015, 07:42   #10
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Re: EPIRB's are NOT dead! / EPIRB Activation? What happens/How to improve rescue odds

Quote:
Originally Posted by barnakiel View Post
I think there is a handful of ways the existing EPIRBs could be improved but somehow I failed to see the powers that be interested in asking thinking implementing game.

E.g.

- All EPIRB owners should have an easy online access to viewing the hardcoded data and this data should be cross linked, within the same database to additional owners' info like our boats' safety equipment, comms, number of people onboard, itinerary, etc. I think the above could help in rescue. Maybe not. Maybe I am imagining things.

- New EPIRBs should have some method of receiving 'received/acknowledged' signal. It has been proven that 'they are searching for us' is a potent rescue drug.

- In fact, a one all-in-one EPIRB unit should be designed and marketed that would contain EPIRB capacity along with yellowbrick-like, two-ways comms capacity. Press the panic button then talk to the rescue center tell them your story.

Just ideas. Too bad the whole area is so very deeply commercialised and politicized. Maybe we should start up an Open Source EPIRB project to bring the goodies at the prices that reflect the price of a handful of mass purchased silicon chips made in China.

A smartphone USD 60, an EPIRB USD 600. Really.

b.
This is a little like the IPad versus marina chart plotter question.

There may be different points of view, but I don't actually think that $500 is at all too much to pay for an EPIRB. This device has a number of 5 cent chips in it, for sure, but the amount of engineering and design which goes in to them is quite substantial. This is engineered to be an extremely robust system with very low risk of failure, and high resistance to water, shocks, etc. The high cost of all this engineering cannot be spread out over millions of units, like smart phones, because the market is much smaller than that.


My only gripe is about battery replacements. I realize that with battery replacement, you have to ensure the watertight integrity of the housing. But surely that could be achieved in a cheaper way. Use a standard lithium battery, with a gasket designed to be fool proof and maybe even a way to test it, so that the battery can be replaced by the user.
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Old 22-05-2015, 08:01   #11
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Re: EPIRB's are NOT dead! / EPIRB Activation? What happens/How to improve rescue odds

Thanks for the additional comments...

But you know, it was 2 years ago that I wrote all of that....and most probably late at night....and by the time I got down to item #6, I was pretty tired....yada yada...do I have enough excuses, yet?
I meant to write "~ a few miles or so"....
Quote:
Originally Posted by Wotname View Post
John,

As usual from you this is well written and accurate post however I must disagree with the information in item 6. All EPRIBs are dual frequency, it is a requirement under COSPAS SARSAT system. As well, the range (under average conditions) is certainly greater than a mile, probably more like 5 miles. .
Seriously, thanks for adding some clarifications!!



Not to start a long discussion on "rescue", 'cause I still believe the best "rescue" is the one that you never need!! (do everything you can as for weather, seamanship, vessel maintenance, etc. and your need of any rescue goes down considerably!!)

But, as for strobes, flares, etc...
Quote:
Originally Posted by Dockhead View Post
For the "last mile", which always makes me nervous when I go through these scenarios in my mind, you also want as many means of signalling as possible.
Personally talking with USCG SAR pilots (on more than a couple occasions over the past 10 years), this is what I get from them...
--- Strobes, lights, matches, flares, etc. all work well at night..
--- the 121.5mhz homing beacon WILL get them directly to you, no matter the weather!!! (Do NOT ever turn off your EPIRB, until you are safely rescued!)
--- Most commercial ship's crews are trained to "look" out, but don't expect them to see your raft, flares, strobes, etc. during the daytime, unless they are VERY close....
--- use a radio, handheld VHF, (w/ DSC, nowadays), to signal ship's passing within line-of-sight, etc...

These above will get 'em the last mile...


I wish someone made a really compact, waterproof DSC VHF handheld which could take a long-life lithium battery.
If I'm not mistaken, you can buy a GMDSS handheld that is designed just as you describe!!
They're pricey, and a bit bulky, and designed for liferaft packing (or in a "survival kit", ditch bag, etc.), not to fit in your pocket....but they are available...

I keep a battery tray and vacuum-packed AA batts for my SH handheld in my grab bag.

Flares and strobes.

To supplement the 121.5 mhz homing signal your EPIRB puts out.

The information in this thread about the great visibility of strobes from the air was news to me. I have ACR strobes on all of my life jackets, but maybe I will buy a big one for the grab bag.
I too have strobes on all PFD's, as well as a big one on the stern rail w/ MOB pole, and lifering, etc. and another big one in the ditch bag...


Call me a dinosaur, but I would never want to lack a good supply of good old fashioned pyrotechnic flares in my grab bag. You bet I'd put on a fireworks show if I were in my liferaft on a moonless night, with a SAR helo looking for me and running out of fuel. Or a passing freighter.
no worries about being a dinosaur, just be aware of the limitations of some flares....(see below)

--- Bill is right about the SAR pilots night vision gear (and their FLIR gear).....but their night vision gear doesn't do you any good during the day...and the field-of-view of the "goggles" is pretty tight, so the SAR crew needs to keep their heads on a swivel, as well as use their other sensors on-board...

--- Strobes can be noticed in the daytime, even though the flash isn't as bright as the sun, the "flash" itself is what's noticeable....so using a strobe during the daytime is also good...
But, flares???

--- I've played with / tested flares quite a bit...
And, while I do have plenty on-board (and in my ditch bag and liferaft), I have a bit of eye-opening news for those that haven't used 'em much...
SOLAS-grade 25mm (or larger) parachute flares are good....they can reach a good height and hand long enough for a regular ship's bridge crew to see/notice....(I think the Chezc 28mm or 30mm were the best of the bunch, but even our US standard SOLAS-grade 25mm parachute flares are good!)
BUT...

But, the 12 gauge flares....well, sorry to say, but in my experience they don't go very high and don't stay up very long, and are not likely to be noticed by a ship's crew....a trained SAR team, yes...but during the daytime I doubt any ship's crew would notice them...

And, yes handheld flares are only really useful in close quarters at night....


--- Dye Markers work GREAT for being noticed from the air....it is surprising to most that have never seen them, but they DO work very well...
Only problem is when to deploy it, as they do dissipate in the sea, and eventually fade out...




All-in-all, EPIRB's work great!
But, when away from easy rescue from a "1st world, seafaring nation", you will almost assuredly want some additional means of signaling for help in a distress situation...(which was the original point of my original post, 2 years ago...)
Whether this is INMARSAT-C, DSC radio, SSB Voice Radio (ham or marine), sat phone, sat data device, etc. It must be reliable, easy to use by everyone on-board, and be able to get thru to the RCC as quickly and accurately as possible (which is why INMARSAT-C, and DSC radio, are part of the GMDSS, right along with EPIRB's!)


Again, thanks to you all for adding some more info / context...
Fair winds..

John
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Old 22-05-2015, 12:12   #12
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Re: EPIRB's are NOT dead! / EPIRB Activation? What happens/How to improve rescue odds

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Hello to all,
I have no interest in getting into long discussions about EPIRB's being useless [sic], but thought some here might actually need/want some facts about EPIRB's, Rescue Assets, etc...

So, instead of getting bogged down in the arguments in another thread, and rather than just posting something here with opinion, etc...thinking that some here would appreciate some actual facts about EPIRB's....I thought I'd take a few minutes and post this..

Please understand that these facts are from COSPAS-SARSAT (the int'l organization that runs the EPIRB system), the USCG, etc. as well as from learned authors and seasoned mariners....these are not my opinions here!!

{One opinion here from me...
If you all can take just one thing from this thread, I hope it would be this:
Whatever distress satellite beacon you decide on, PLEASE understand that unless you're in the Chesapeake, Biscayne Bay, San Fran, etc. this is NOT like calling 911 (or 999) on your cellphone!!!
Response takes time!!
Even finding out who you are, where you are at, and what you need will take time!!!
And then figure in the distances needed to be covered, rescue assets determined and assigned, etc.....this all takes time!!
So, don't expect any beacon to bring you an "instant rescue"!!! }


With more than 1.2 Million distress beacons currently registered, here is one initial fact that some might find interesting, but not surprising...




Two years ago, on the SSCA Discussion Board, I posted significant details about EPIRB's, how they work, what happens when you activate one, how to improve your odds of getting assistance/rescue, etc.....
And, I've referenced that thread many times since....(but just recently checked/updated the links in it, so they DO work!!)

And, I thought that some here might find the information / facts presented there to be VERY helpful...(but, as I found over the years, many will not read much on a link....if you want 'em to read it, ya' better post it here...)

So, with that in mind....here is what I posted:



EVERYONE, PLEASE PROPERLY REGISTER YOUR EPIRB!!!
And once registered, please renew (and update) this information every two years, as required!!!
(making sure that all shoreside contact info is up-to-date, AND that they will ALL know approx. where you are sailing...i.e. what ocean you're in, and/or what area you are in...)

And everyone, please read this thread....and follow and READ THE LINKS PROVIDED in it, as the information here (and in those links) may just save your life someday, of the life of someone you love!!!
Now, how's that for an easy way to save your life...just spend a few minutes reading/learning!!!

..............

Fortunately nowadays vessels sailing off and never being heard from again, is a rare occurrence....as most are equipped with Distress signaling devices such as an EPIRB (a 406mhz EPIRB using the Cospas-Sarsat system), especially a GPS-enabled one with a built-in GPS receiver, etc. and many also have MF/HF-DSC signaling (and a few also have INMARSAT-C)....all parts of the GMDSS....as well as many modern sailors having access to better weather data/forecasts, than in days of yore.....

But, with some recent occurrences (such as s/v Grain de Soleil, etc.) being debated on-line, I thought maybe someone should post some information on how the Cospas-Sarsat system works, how your EPIRB works (and how-to make it work properly/better), and how to increase/improve your odds of rescue, etc.

So, that is what this posting is intended for....the posting of helpful information about distress signaling and the effectiveness of various approaches...

{Please understand that I'm a self-sufficient sailor/voyager, and I sail by the concept that myself and crew are alone out there and whatever we encounter we should be prepared to handle ourselves....but, part of that is realizing that there may be a rare instance/occurrence that is outside of my control and my ability to solve, and that if all else fails, I still think I'd rather be alive on the deck of a container ship or in a USCG helo, than "going down with my ship".....so, I have elected to equip my boat with distress signaling devices, including an up-to-date registered, and GPS-equipped EPIRB and full VHF and MF/HF-DSC transceivers and antennas (including emerg antennas)....
In my mind/opinion, these are the "last line of defense" against death, and are not designed to be an "easy 911 call" for those sailors that are careless and/or unprepared....
So, this post is not intended to say that "anyone can sail offshore, and when you get in over-your-head, you just need to push a few buttons and you'll be fine"!!! But rather to inform all of you what you can do to improve your rescue odds, should the fhit really hit the san!!! }



1) First off, I will not endeavor to re-write things that have been already well-written and widely published...I will simply post the links to those pages....
But, what I will attempt to do is briefly break things down to some basic concepts and make things understandable to non-tech folks...



2) So, to start off with for details of what the Cospas-Sarsat system is and how it and your EPIRB works, please read over their pages...
International Cospas-Sarsat Programme - International COSPAS-SARSAT

If the above links don't work....please try these!!!


Cospas-Sarsat System - International COSPAS-SARSAT

http://www.cospas-sarsat.int/en/system- ... escription

http://www.cospas-sarsat.int/en/system- ... uick-stats



The USCG has a nice powerpoint presentation which explains things easily...
http://www.uscg.mil/hq/cg5/cg534/.../EP ... y_Work.ppt

And, if that link doesn't work, please try this one...
https://encrypted.google.com/url?sa=t&r ... bs.1,d.eXY



And, for well-written pieces describing things better for the average sailor, please read over Beth Leonard's excellent articles (from Nov 2011 Cruising World)...
http://www.cruisingworld.com/how-to/sea ... -the-epirb
http://www.cruisingworld.com/how-to/sea ... r-scenario


And, for a brief glossary of terms and some links to resources...
http://www.cruisingworld.com/how-to/sea ... esources-0



~~~
Onto the nitty-gritty!!!
~~~
3) You MUST register your EPIRB!!!
And the registration must be renewed every two years!!!

{EDIT:
For clarification, it is a Cospas-Sarsat requirement to register and renew every two years, not my opinion here... }

Although obvious to anyone that understands the system and how it works, many EPIRB owners either forget to do so, or some just ignore this requirement out of ignorance...

Without proper registration, even in the very best circumstances/scenarios, the search and rescue (SAR) operations will be seriously delayed!!! (and in some situations, particularly in 3rd world regions, there may not be any SAR operations at all, until/unless someone can "verify" that this is a "real" distress!!!)
Do you really want to be floating in the icy N. Atlantic for an extra 6 hours??? Or, treading water for days in the middle of some remote part of an ocean??? Just because you couldn't spend < 5 minutes registering your EPIRB!!

Also, unless/until you've established a voice contact with a rescuer, without a proper registration anyone looking for you / trying to assist you in your distress has no idea what type of vessel you're on, nor what color it is, nor its size, nor whether you have liferafts/lifeboats, nor what communications equipment you have, etc... NOT even the name of your boat....
All they know is that a beacon has gone off!!!
Have you ever tried calling a "nameless boat in distress" on the radio, and not even knowing if he has a radio????

EPIRB registration is free, and you can do it on-line, so PLEASE do it!! and keep it up-to-date!!!
And, there is plenty of room on the forms to include many phone numbers of "shore-side emergency contact"....I currently have EIGHT (8) phone numbers and THREE (3) different people listed on my EPIRB registration (not including my own name and numbers), so the RCC should be able to find someone that can confirm where I was sailing!!!

{EDIT:
Having just renewed mine a couple weeks ago, I found the name and phone numbers of an old girlfriend of mine still listed there as some of my secondary contact numbers....haven't spoken to her in > 2 years, and I wonder if she's just tell the USCG to "let him drown!!"
Okay, she wouldn't do that, but she's certainly NOT someone that would have any up-to-date information about me / my voyage, so I corrected/updated the names/numbers for my emergency contact, so now all is good!! }




4) Understand that even with a new (or newly serviced and recertified) and properly registered EPIRB, a Search and Rescue (SAR) response to your EPIRB activation is NOT instantaneous!!! (read Beth's article for more details...)
In a nutshell, the RCC (Recue Coordination Center) is first going to be looking for a "confirmation" that this is a real distress....such as an MF/HF-DSC Distress signal, or an INMARSAT-C Distress signal... or in many 1st world ocean regions, secondarily a 'shore-side emergency contact" who can "confirm" approx. where you are at and that you may in fact be in distress....

{Note that even though it IS part of the GMDSS (and is a VERY useful and robust system, which also provides FREE weather info/forecasts worldwide) VERY few small/mid-size private vessels have INMARSAT-C.....and until recently even though it is also part of the GMDSS, few have had MF/HF-DSC signaling capabilities, so unless you have this equipment and it is properly set-up and working well at the time of your distress, your "shore-side emergency contacts" are the only way the RCC can confirm your distress, and they should not only be available / reachable 24/7, but also should have a fairly good idea of WHERE you are sailing at, and as many details about your vessel and current voyage as possible....they should be someone that can be available 24/7 to provide the necessary info, not just "some guy I know" ....}

As an example, in Beth's article the "Best-Case SAR Scenario", a lengthy 3 - 5 hours went by between EPIRB activation and before rescue options were evaluated and AMVER alerts went out, and it was 5+ hours before any SAR assets were directed / deployed....(that means that some ship may have been steaming AWAY from you, or on an unfavorable course from you, for the past 5 hours...making them now as far as 5 hours farther away from you than they were when you activated your EPIRB!!)
And, remember this is a "BEST-CASE" scenario....most will not have such "good luck"...

In addition to providing a distress "confirmation" to an EPIRB activation, which can speed up the process in the best case scenario (and actually start / motivate the process in worse-case scenarios), a MF/HF-DSC Distress signal (and/or an INMARSAT-C Distress signal) also alerts other vessels in your area (directly) that you are in distress, and includes your current GPS position as well as instructions for establishing two-way voice contact (via a specified MF/HF-SSB radio channel).....
This is one reason why there is a second "S" in GMDSS, it stands for "System"....
Using just one part of the system might get you a response, but using two parts (or more) of the system is MUCH more likely to get you a quick and effective response...
Myself, if it came down to needing rescue and I was going to activate my EPIRB I would also send out VHF-DSC and MF/HF-DSC Distress messages in the hope that I'd get a response quickly from a vessel close-by, as well as using both a Cospas-Sarsat EPIRB signal and a MF/HF-DSC signal to confirm each other and enhance the chances of a more rapid SAR response from shore.....


FYI, once you are beyond USCG helo range (typically anything further than 150 - 200 miles off the coast of the US), or beyond the range of coastal UK Coast Guard, or beyond the range of the very few other 1st world nations coastal rescue / coast guards, any assistance / rescue is going to come from other vessels IN YOUR AREA!! These are typically merchant ships, plying the high seas as their business, not the USCG!!!
So, for most ocean crossings and other long passages, getting a Distress message directly to those who can/will render assistance and/or provide rescue as quickly as possible, is always a good idea!!!





<B>5) Now, while many of you may think this is a "belt and suspenders" approach, it is actually how the GMDSS (Global Marine Distress and Safety System) was designed....as a "System".....if you use it as a "system" it works very well....

And, some may be wondering: "why can't they just get my position from my "G-PIRB" (GPS-enable EPIRB) and come and get me??"
Well, the answer is multi-fold:
a) It does take a few minutes for your EPIRB (G-PIRB) to attain a GPS-fix and then it takes a minute or two for it to pass on this info to the geo-stationary Cospas-Sarsat satellites (GEOSAR satellites), assuming it can connect to one...

b) The Cospas-Sarsat system uses two types of satellites, and it is only the geo-stationary satellites, GEOSAR satellites (22,300 miles above the equator) that can receive your EPIRB's GPS position, and getting the beacon's registration number and GPS position sent up to these satellites using these small beacons and small antennas is not easy....(PLB's are even worse in this application)
In order for this information/data to get thru, EPIRB's must be in the open, with a clear view / line-of-sight to the geo-stationary satellite (similar to using an INMARSAT ISatPhonePro), and usually floating as well....but they cannot get thru to the GEOSAR satellites from below decks or under a wet liferaft canopy (at best, they are very intermittent under a wet liferaft canopy, and both the EPIRB manufacturers and Cospas-Sarsat strictly recommend leaving your EPIRB floating alongside your liferaft (tied securely to your raft, of course!!), NOT inside the raft!!!
Further the strobes that are on/in the beacons are hard for SAR assets to see, if they're in the raft!!



(This poorly understood part of the system, is also the main reason why PLB's used offshore /in a raft is a less-than-optimal approach.....and unfortunately the smaller and less effective antennas on PLB's vs. EPIRB's means that they must be physically held up fairly well in order for their GPS data to get thru to the GEOSAR sats....)


c) The LEOSAR satellites (Low-Earth-Orbiting Search And Rescue satellites), orbit only a few hundred miles above the earth and receive signals as much as 30db stronger than the GEOSAR satellites receive.....
But, they do NOT receive the GPS-position data from your beacon, they only use the Doppler-effect and signal processing to approximate your position (within a few miles)....
Since these satellites are much closer and are constantly moving, the EPIRB has a MUCH better chance of being received by them....and while it is still not recommended, LEOSAR sats can receive your beacon's signal even with it below decks and/or inside your raft....(BUT, understand that there is NO GPS data from your beacon received by these LEOSAR sats...) Also, understand that these are polar orbiting satellites and it takes about an hour between satellite passes in mid-latitude areas (less at the poles, and longer at the equator)....and also understand that the initial position fixes from the Doppler-processing of the LEOSAR satellites can be VERY inaccurate....
A quote from Beth's article illustrates that... </B>


d) Further, it is always strictly recommended that an EPIRB be left ON at all times after activation (i.e. do NOT cycle it on/off to save the battery), and as you can see above, there are specific technical reasons for this requirement....
--- It can take quite a while for the data to get thru to the GEOSAR sats if your EPIRB is not out in the clear, and you have NO WAY to know if that GPS data got thru or not....even if it's out in the clear, it's not an absolute that the GPS data will get thru....
--- You have NO WAY to know when a LEOSAR satellite will be within view of your beacon, so turning in on/off you may never get your signal thru to one....

Bottom line:
If you need to activate your EPIRB, get it out in the clear, turn it on, and leave it on!!




6) In addition most EPIRB's also have a very low-power 121.5mhz "homing signal" to allow SAR aircraft and helos, when approaching close (< a mile or so), to home-in on the beacon's position...
I'm not sure how long PLB's (with smaller batteries) will allow this 121.5mhz homing signal to transmit....nor if your PLB will still have any battery power left to run it, if/when a rescue aircraft is out there looking for you.....




7) There has also been some discussion (and some grumbling) about the high cost of EPIRB battery replacement / service / re-certification....
This is required every 5 years, and typically costs about $300...(as I was stuck at the dock, I allowed mine to slide to 6 years, but if I was heading offshore, I would adhere to the 5 year requirement)

Yeah, there are some that will buy the batteries ($50 - $75) and replace 'em themselves...but, I'd rather have a professional actually test my EPIRB after they replaced the batteries, and provide a new certification / test results sheet to me....

I would also want to be sure that whatever batteries I used, were not just the "proper" ones, but also NEW and ready to be sealed up in my EPIRB for the next 5 years, and ready to send out my distress message for at least 48 hours (or more)!!!

Yes, this last part here is mostly opinion / personal recommendation, but I feel secure in that I'm also doing what Cospas-Sarsat recommends, not just following blindly the EPIRB manufactures' recommendations to spend money with them....[/b]




There is more info / details available on the links provided above...
(and I suppose that we could use all of this info to further speculate on those rare occurrences of vessels never heard from again and/or those vessels who have activated their EPIRB, but still have never been located or heard from again..)


Fair winds..

John




I do hope that these facts will help clarify things for many here...

John
An if you are not using it, deregister it. There is not point a in trying to find the basement in your house when it is accidentally gets activated.
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Old 22-05-2015, 16:15   #13
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Re: EPIRB's are NOT dead! / EPIRB Activation? What happens/How to improve rescue odds

Quote:
Originally Posted by barnakiel View Post
I think there is a handful of ways the existing EPIRBs could be improved but somehow I failed to see the powers that be interested in asking thinking implementing game.

E.g.

- All EPIRB owners should have an easy online access to viewing the hardcoded data and this data should be cross linked, within the same database to additional owners' info like our boats' safety equipment, comms, number of people onboard, itinerary, etc. I think the above could help in rescue. Maybe not. Maybe I am imagining things.

- New EPIRBs should have some method of receiving 'received/acknowledged' signal. It has been proven that 'they are searching for us' is a potent rescue drug.

- In fact, a one all-in-one EPIRB unit should be designed and marketed that would contain EPIRB capacity along with yellowbrick-like, two-ways comms capacity. Press the panic button then talk to the rescue center tell them your story.

Just ideas. Too bad the whole area is so very deeply commercialised and politicized. Maybe we should start up an Open Source EPIRB project to bring the goodies at the prices that reflect the price of a handful of mass purchased silicon chips made in China.

A smartphone USD 60, an EPIRB USD 600. Really.

b.
Just an LED that lights up confirming signal received will be the next big step.

Adding two way Comms at this point of time would defeat the intent of the whole system, which is to get Epirbs out to every vessel that's off shore and in Australia to get all bush walkers and 4wd's in remote areas to carry them.

As it is now, a lot of amature boaters still buy the cheapest they can get.
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Old 22-05-2015, 16:48   #14
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Re: EPIRB's are NOT dead! / EPIRB Activation? What happens/How to improve rescue odds

Cadence,
I wish to be polite here, but huh?
Your comment seems both way off topic, and sorry to say very bad advice!!!
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cadence View Post
An if you are not using it, deregister it. There is not point a in trying to find the basement in your house when it is accidentally gets activated.
--- If you are not using the EPIRB, but will be soon...such as seasonal sailors, etc. there is NO need at all to "deregister" it!!!
This is obvious to all of us...


--- If you are not using the EPIRB, but "might" use it in the future...such as you sold the boat and are looking for a new boat, and for some reason you kept the EPIRB rather than selling it with the boat....then you would EDIT the registration (not "de-register" it), as there is no longer any boat to register it to...but you would still want owner / contact information to be kept by the authorities (here in the US, that is NOAA), so that should you accidentally activate it, the RCC would have someone to contact to "verify" if there was an actual distress or not!!
This is also obvious to all of us...

Would you want a full-on SAR attempt, with a USCG helo hovering over your house....with all the stress and danger these honorable coasties will be put through, as well as all the expense of what this cost???
My tax $$$$$ being wasted!!
All because you had some odd thought that you should "de-register" it???
Why in the world would you give this advice??


--- If you are not using the EPIRB, and are selling it (such as with the sale of the boat, or on ebay, etc.), then yes...you would "de-register" it....and instruct the new owner to register it ASAP!!
But, this has nothing at all to do with your basement....nor anything to with the topic of this thread...




Again, sorry if I sound rude here....that is not my intent at all....I'm just hoping that my strident words here will be taken in good turn...

Fair winds..

John
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Old 22-05-2015, 16:49   #15
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Re: EPIRB's are NOT dead! / EPIRB Activation? What happens/How to improve rescue odds

John,

Thanks for reposting this. Very helpful reading.

Can you answer or offer an opinion on the difference between epirbs sold in the US and thise sold in say Australia. Being Australian (oi oi oi), I had not realised there was any significant differences until this week. But it 'seems' that 'non water activated' epirbs are not sold in the US, where as they seem to be the most common types sold here in Australia. Is this the case?

I've also noticed that epirbs are cheaper in Australia than the US, which is odd. Most things are far cheaper in the US which is why us Aussies tend to by a lot of stuff over the Internet from elswhere. Freight is often dearer from the US than the items.

Are there restrictions on the type of epirbs sold in the Europe, Asia, SAmerica etc?

And as for changing batteries, if it costs $300 to have batteries changed professionally, then I'd rather just buy a new Epirb ($289) each five years. There is a unit that now extends batteries to ten years, which is a free battery change after five years.
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