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Old 12-04-2010, 14:46   #1
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Safety Precautions

I was asked by another member of this forum to talk about what boaters can do to assist rescue efforts should they ever find themselves in need of help. First, let me introduce myself-

My name is Jeff Daigle and I am a USCG helicopter pilot. I grew up sailing in Long Island Sound and went to Texas Maritime Academy for college. I graduated there with a degree in Marine Transportation along with an International Unlimited Tonnage Third Mate’s License. Rather than working as a Merchant Marine, I received a commission in the Coast Guard. I’m currently stationed in Atlantic City, NJ flying the HH and MH65C helicopters. I own and race a J22, I’m working on restoring a 1967 16’ Boston Whaler, and I should be taking possession of a 1980 Cape Dory 33 this week.

Please note that everything I say here is my opinion- I don’t speak for the USCG. My thoughts come from being both a sailor and a search and rescue (SAR) pilot. I’m happy to entertain discourse, so throw your doubts at me as you’d like.

Nobody ever plans on needing to be rescued, but there are things that everyone can do to prior to getting underway to set themselves up for success. Most of these are simple, and in this post I’ll address them. I’ll write another post that addresses the appropriate actions during a rescue.

First, lifejackets are a must. In my mind, nothing is more important when buying a lifejacket than its comfort. My wife and I both have PFDs that are comfortable enough to be worn every time we get underway. Kayak/paddling PFDs are the best in my opinion because they are slim fitting and allow unencumbered movement- others might have more flotation, but they do you no good if they are so uncomfortable that you don’t wear them. I absolutely HATE seeing kids in Type 1 Yoke style jackets- they are so uncomfortable that it only teaches the child to despise PFDs. They do float great, and they always turn you face up, but very few people would ever wear one unless it was absolutely necessary. If you have a child, PLEASE let them choose their own lifejacket. My niece screams bloody murder when she’s forced to wear a PFD, unless of course it’s her Dora the Explorer jacket in which case she’ll happily wear it all day. Kids are too funny to let drown. Bright colored lifejackets with reflective tape are great, but it won’t make much of a difference since the majority of the lifejacket will be underwater. Avoid dark colors, but don’t assume a fluorescent PFD is all you need to be found. The first thing you should do in any emergency situation is have ALL crew members don their lifejackets if they aren’t already being worn. If one crewmember gets hurt, everybody puts on their lifejackets - it’s as simple as that. You’ve just eliminated a certain element of risk since people tend to get anxious and clumsy when things go wrong.

Please consider using brightly colored bottom paint, even if you only use it on the keel. In a single day last summer I responded to two capsized boats. The weather was absolutely perfect, the sun was up, and the boats were 25 and 38 feet long. They both had the typical blue bottom paint, and I could not see either of them until I was within a quarter mile or so. Blue bottom paint is camouflage, and camouflage is not helpful when you want to be found.

Have a back up VHF.

Cell phones are actually great signaling devices- the cellular network is far larger than we often like to give it credit for. If you can call the Coast Guard on a cell phone, we now have a dedicated line of communication with you without tying up Channel 16. Don’t consider your cell phone to be your back up VHF.

Know how to use your GPS. This one seems obvious, but you’d be surprised how many times we show up to at the coordinates a distressed vessel passes to find that they sent us a waypoint, not their current position. Make sure your crew and passengers know how to view your current position in case they are the ones who need to pass it. Maybe a post-it note or plaque near your GPS that says “Push (whatever button) to view current position” would help- work out your own system, but be sure you’re not wasting critical time by sending us to your favorite anchorage vice directly to your side.

Register your EPIRBs! We really do query this information during SAR cases. EPIRBs that are registered also get a lot more attention on our end after hours and hours of searching because we know it actually belongs to somebody and isn’t going to end up being found in a FedEx truck.

ELTs are not useless. I’ve seen several posts on the internet about how 121.5MHz transmitters are no longer useful, and some posts even directed readers to throw them away! Crazy. Any signaling method you have is better than nothing. The much-publicized phase out of 121.5 transmitters is in regards to activating SAR assets, not in regards to listening for the signal. If we are looking for somebody and we suddenly detect a 121.5 broadcast, we will use our direction finding equipment to home in on it. I don’t know a single CG pilot that doesn’t listen to 121.5 every flight (training flights, law enforcement, search and rescue- all flights). I wear a watch with an incorporated 121.5 transmitter every time I fly, sail, or paddle. Don’t be talked out of using a 121.5 transmitter. New purchases would be better directed towards EPIRBs and PLBs, but that’s more a function of capability- obviously it’s better to broadcast a position than a homing signal.

File float plans. Tell someone you trust where you are going and when you expect to be there. Once you reach your destination, let them know you made it safely. Coordinate with them how long to wait after you should have arrived before they contact the Coast Guard.

Leave your pride at the dock. Please remember that those of us in the helicopters and boats have families too. If you are too prideful to ask for our assistance early, I assure you that come nighttime your pride will have vanished. All emergencies seem worse at night for a good reason- they typically are. Don’t forget that your rescue is more difficult at night and that subjects your rescuers to a much higher risk. We all want to help you make it home to your families- you can help us do the same by asking for help as soon as you need it, not once the situation escalates out of control.

Get educated. Safety at Sea seminars are worth your time. Safe boating classes are held everywhere. Sign up for these events- I know it’s easy to say “I’m more experienced than the guy teaching the class” or “I just did a class like that a couple years back”, but resist that urge. You might learn one thing that will save your life (or more importantly to some people- your boat)! Or, if you actually are that experienced, maybe you’ll have something worthwhile to add to the class that will safe someone else’s life.

Take some time to think about what you can do to protect yourself and your crew. A little foresight goes a long way. I hope you find this helpful. I’ll post again with what you can do during the rescue efforts. That’s where all the excitement is!
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Old 12-04-2010, 14:56   #2
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It might be just your opinion, but it is certainly opinion based on a great deal of real world experience and thought. Thanks for sharing your very good points. It certainly inspires me to take another look at things.
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Old 12-04-2010, 16:41   #3
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G'Day Jeff,

First, thank you for your interesting and expert posting. One part of it was particularly timely -- your comments
about 121.5 MHz locator beacons. I had just finished reading a publication, widely distributed here in Australia, in
which an advertisement from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) stated that from 1 Feb 2010 it will be
ILLEGAL to use a 121.5 MHz distress beacon FOR ANY PURPOSE!

I found this to be fairly astonishing! So, without your permission (hopefully granted anfter the fact), I e-mailed
them a copy of your posting with the following cover letter:

************
Sirs,

As a visiting Yank cruising yottie I was somewhat surprised to see the ad on p.47 of the March Afloat, in which I was
advised that it was illegal to use a 121.5 MHz epirb for any purpose. While I recognise the superiority of the 406
MHz epirb system, this Draconian practise seems short sighted.

Below please find attached a copy of a very informative posting on the Cruisers Forum (an Internet forum addressing
cruising sailors interests). Written by an active USCG SAR helicopter pilot, it is full of front-line advice for
sailors. Please note in particular his comments about the usefulness of 121.5 MHz locator beacons in SAR operations.

In view of this informed and expert opinion, and in view of the fact that many 406 epirbs incorporate a built-in 121.5
MHz homing beacon, I strongly believe that AMSA should reconsider their legislation criminalising the use of such
beacons.

Respectfully,

Jim Cate s/v Insatiable II lying Lake Macquarie, NSW, Australia
*********
It will be interesting to see what they say (if anything!)


Cheers, and thanks again

Jim
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Old 12-04-2010, 19:35   #4
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Jeff,

Fantastic post; appreciate all the great tips. I like your idea of calling the USCG on a cell phone when possible rather than tying up Channel 16 on the VHF, but wasn't sure where to obtain the appropriate phone number(s). There is only one NC number listed here -- is this the number everyone boating in NC should call?

http://www.uscg.mil/top/news/phonebook.pdf

Thanks!
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Old 12-04-2010, 20:01   #5
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elf- Typically it is best to initially contact the CG via VHF and have them pass you a good phone number. That way CG surface assets (boats and cutters) and good samaritans in your area will also hear your call. That NC number will certainly work though. It is for the CG Sector in your state. Sectors coordinate all the SAR assets in your area- They create search plans and assign surface, ground, and air assets.

Jim- no problem forwarding my post along as long as you included the part about it being my opinion and not neccesarily that of the USCG. I don't want to pit the USCG against Australia!
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Old 12-04-2010, 23:58   #6
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Thanks Jeff.

Great information! Its really important for us to hear from people like yourself. Please feel free to drop your advice in on any of the threads becuase we can either learn a bit, or be comforted that we are doing the best thing.

Mark
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Old 13-04-2010, 01:00   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Prerequisite View Post
I was asked by another member of this forum to talk about what boaters can do to assist rescue efforts should they ever find themselves in need of help. First, let me introduce myself-......
Thanks Jeff for taking the time to post this
Quote:
Originally Posted by Prerequisite View Post
Get educated. Safety at Sea seminars are worth your time. Safe boating classes are held everywhere. Sign up for these events- I know it’s easy to say “I’m more experienced than the guy teaching the class” or “I just did a class like that a couple years back”, but resist that urge. You might learn one thing that will save your life (or more importantly to some people- your boat)! Or, if you actually are that experienced, maybe you’ll have something worthwhile to add to the class that will safe someone else’s life.[/FONT]
Very very true. I was reminded of this when I recently undertook some HUET training (helicopter underwater evacuation training) - I am typically the one "who already knows it" - and I found out that new techniques and information was available that I had not kept up to date with. I heartily endorse you message here.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim Cate View Post
...... I had just finished reading a publication, widely distributed here in Australia, in
which an advertisement from the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) stated that from 1 Feb 2010 it will be
ILLEGAL to use a 121.5 MHz distress beacon FOR ANY PURPOSE!
Jim,

Not sure where you read the article but I am 99.99999% sure it (the article) was WRONG.

1. AMSA does not control the radio spectrum in Australia, freq.use comes under the Radio Communications Act (1992) and AFAIK there has been no change to the act. Also the proviso in the act that any freq. may be used in an emergency remains.

2. AMSA website advises that after 1 Feb, 2010, older analogue 121.5 EPIRBs and PLBs will no longer be LICENCED for use. http://beacons.amsa.gov.au/essential_info.html

My reading of this is:
1. 121.5 MHz remains a valid distress frequency.
2. An old analogue 121.5 MHz EPIB or PLB can't be licenced.
3. The use of such a transmitter in a genuine distress situation remains legal (under the controlling act).

It seems to me that there is an increasing amount of mis-information dished up in semi official publications every year - or perhaps I am just a cranky pedantic old bastard .

Jeff,

What is your take on the USCG press release re the illegal use of 121.5 beacons in the USA that can be found near the middle of this page
NOAA SARSAT
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Old 13-04-2010, 05:15   #8
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As of 1 February 2009, the 121.5MHz signal is no longer processed by the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite system.
Your EPIRB may "work" (broadcast); but nobody's listening.

121.5/243 MHz EPIRB devices have been phased out by the FCC, and may no longer be used, marketed or sold in the U.S..

The International Cospas-Sarsat System ceased satellite processing of 121.5/243 MHz beacons on 1 February 2009. Although Emergency Locator Transmitters used by aircraft may still be used, alerts from these devices or from 121.5/243 MHz EPIRBs will no longer be acted upon unless detected by an overflying aircraft.

From Australia ➥ ACMA - Radiocommunications (121.5 MHz and 243.0 MHz EPIRBs) Standard
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Old 13-04-2010, 05:40   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by GordMay View Post
As of 1 February 2009, the 121.5MHz signal is no longer processed by the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite system.
Your EPIRB may "work" (broadcast); but nobody's listening....
my emphasis!

Perhaps more accurate to say that the COSPAS-SARSAT satellites aren't listening; sounds like prerequisite might be listening along with many other aircraft

Point is taken that the only sensible beacon to have is a registered 406 jobby.

There is always a distinction between common sense, legal aspects and misinformation.
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Old 13-04-2010, 05:53   #10
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It is guys like Prerequisite that makes forums like this so invaluable.

I'd love to hear more from someone with his experience and engaging writing style.

Simon
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Old 13-04-2010, 05:53   #11
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Jeff,

Thanks so much for taking the time to post such important and valuable information. Boaters would be wise to make a safety checklist from it. Do you have any comments about the various signaling devices--hand-held flares, parachute flares, smoke, mirrors, strobes, etc.?

We're all looking forward to the next installment!
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Old 13-04-2010, 06:24   #12
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VHF first, EPIRB second, cell phone last.

Jeff, great post. I too am in the SAR business, currently going into my 19th season as a commercial marine assistance captain (TowBoat/US kind of stuff). One point I would like to re-enforce: a cell phone should always be considered a back-up to the primary boater's communication device: the VHF radio.

A) A cell phone is a private conversation. If you are really in need of help, using the VHF radio lets every boat within listening range know that there is someone out there in distress. Calling on the phone only lets ONE person know. Rather than worrying about "tying up CH16", we want folks in trouble to use CH16! That's the whole point. Moving non-urgent comms to a working frequency should be the SOP, and off to cell phone as the last resort. But the initial calls should be on VHF whenever possible, not cell phone. The USCG SAR policy continues to be that a cell phone is not a reliable means of communication.

B) There are thousands of boats equipped with radio direction finding equipment that can home in on a VHF signal. These include most marine assistance boats, local police and lifeguards. Practically none of those potential rescuers have the ability to home in on a cell phone signal.

C) Assuming that rescue assets arrive, you will not be able to talk to them with your cell phone. The ability to speak directly with the helo pilot is vital during a helo rescue, and you will only be able to do that by radio.

D) Cell phones are very low wattage transmitters, so even if only a few miles offshore, their reliability is lousy. Dropped calls are common, and dead phone batteries drive us crazy. How many cell phones are water resistant? The VHF radio is a robust, high power transmitter, and will often work even on a practically dead boat battery.

In our industry we are seeing more and more boaters using cell phones only as a means of communicating, and it is becoming harder to find them and help them. As you pointed out Jeff, too many folks don't even know how to use their GPS. Those folks never know exactly where they are. But if I can talk to them on the radio, I can find them faster than I can explain how to turn on their GPS.

Please join our efforts to remind everyone that cell phones make lousy MAYDAY devices.
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Old 13-04-2010, 06:34   #13
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Wotname,
The important part of that release is "All mariners, aviators, and individuals using emergency beacons on those frequencies will need to switch to those operating on the newer, more reliable, digital 406 MHz frequency if they want to be detected by satellites." The key words are "by satellites". Please understand I'm not telling anybody to rush out and buy a 121.5MHz transmitter, but if you have one, and are in a survival situation, by all means activate it! 406s are far better, but you shouldn't throw away your flares because they don't transmit your GPS coordinates, so why throw away the 121?

I'll post about signal devices and what to do during hoists today and tomorrow. Hope all is well and thanks for the positive feedback!

Jeff
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Old 13-04-2010, 06:38   #14
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I agree with Doug completely. My comments about cell phones could have been more clear- use VHF first, but don't be surprised if the CG gives you a phone number to call once they've established comms with you. Also, the cell phone option will probably be used only if you are very near the shore- not if you are out to sea. We obviously won't be able to talk to you over the phone from the helicopter either, so don't turn off your VHF just because you are using the phone.

Sorry for the confusion, and Doug, thanks for making a great point.
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Old 13-04-2010, 07:58   #15
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Found this in my e-mail this morning.

FYI...more "marine" oriented devices...simple kite design...for open air/water application...Keith

Safety

Sky-Alert Parafoil Rescue Kite


If you think this product is a little silly at first glance, well, we did too -- until we realized that its real purpose is to send aloft a radar reflector or personal strobe, attached to the kite. Imagine how far a little strobe can be seen when it's 300 feet in the air! Requires only 8 knots of wind to carry strobe or radar reflector aloft.

Certified to meet USCG requirements of 46 CFR 160.072 as an orange flag distress signal, the parafoil measures 28" wide by 38" long (70 cm x 1 m) and comes with a 12" (3.7 m) five-strand tail. Sky-Alert launches easily in breezes from 5-25 knots. Does not absorb water; simply shake off excess if flying when wet. Orange kite carries the circle-and-square distress signal. Comes complete with parafoil, tail, nylon storage pouch and spool with over 300" (91 m) of 150# test line. No assembly required before flight. An inexpensive addition to your abandon ship bag.



Sky Alert Parafoil Rescue Kite
#SKITEList Price $65.95Only $52.95

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