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Old 17-03-2020, 07:22   #1
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Visual Distress Beacons

I've been looking into electric beacons (some call them electronic flares). I guess I was annoyed when I went to buy flares and found they were near 50% out of date. And yes, they are bright, but they only burn for 3 minutes.



  • Both the USCG and manufacturers interviewed numerous boaters and landsman regarding precondition of the Morse code signal SOS. Apparently only 15% of boaters knew the pattern and only 2% of landsman. Surprising?
  • SOS vs. mayday vs. pan-pan. In the latter cases, the distinction is clear; Mayday is for very immediate and serious danger, and pan-pan is for other help. Is SOS a general distress call, or does it imply serious danger (risk to life or sinking)?
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Old 17-03-2020, 12:26   #2
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Re: Visual Distress Beacons

Quote:
Originally Posted by thinwater View Post
SOS vs. mayday vs. pan-pan. In the latter cases, the distinction is clear; Mayday is for very immediate and serious danger, and pan-pan is for other help. Is SOS a general distress call, or does it imply serious danger (risk to life or sinking)?
Any distress call does imply serious danger (pan-pan is not a distress call). The COLREGS list the internationally recognised distress signals ... including:
Quote:
(d) a signal made by radiotelegraphy or by any other signalling method consisting of the group . . . - - - . . . (SOS) in the Morse Code;
(e) a signal sent by radiotelephony consisting of the spoken word “Mayday”;
So yes, "...---..." should carry the same implications as "mayday" ... but as to getting the message across to the uninitiated, perhaps we need a distress emoji we can text them.
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Old 17-03-2020, 15:39   #3
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Re: Visual Distress Beacons

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Originally Posted by Kelkara View Post
Any distress call does imply serious danger (pan-pan is not a distress call). The COLREGS list the internationally recognised distress signals ... including:
So yes, "...---..." should carry the same implications as "mayday" ... but as to getting the message across to the uninitiated, perhaps we need a distress emoji we can text them.

https://www.fastemoji.com/43901.html
SOS Button was approved as part of Unicode 6.0 in 2010 under the name “Squared SOS” and added to Emoji 1.0 in 2015.

Unicode Character U+1F198:
🆘
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Old 17-03-2020, 15:56   #4
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Re: Visual Distress Beacons

Quote:
Originally Posted by thinwater View Post
I've been looking into electric beacons (some call them electronic flares). I guess I was annoyed when I went to buy flares and found they were near 50% out of date. And yes, they are bright, but they only burn for 3 minutes.



  • Both the USCG and manufacturers interviewed numerous boaters and landsman regarding precondition of the Morse code signal SOS. Apparently only 15% of boaters knew the pattern and only 2% of landsman. Surprising?

    Gobsmacking but maybe it is a generational thing!

  • SOS vs. mayday vs. pan-pan. In the latter cases, the distinction is clear; Mayday is for very immediate and serious danger, and pan-pan is for other help. Is SOS a general distress call, or does it imply serious danger (risk to life or sinking)?
I always understood that there were no subsections of a distress call - that it is binary thing.

Grave and imminent threat requiring immediate assistance = distress (AKA Mayday / SOS)

Anything else is not distress/mayday/SOS.
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Old 18-03-2020, 05:59   #5
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Re: Visual Distress Beacons

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I always understood that there were no subsections of a distress call - that it is binary thing.

Grave and imminent threat requiring immediate assistance = distress (AKA Mayday / SOS)

Anything else is not distress/mayday/SOS.

A better way to describe the May Day alert is when you feel that you or your vessel are in danger

Alway best to send a mayday early , not when the situation has gotten out of control

There is no penalty for sending a mayday when you are tired, confused or feel the situation may be beyond your skill level

MRCC are trained to deal with all situations

The earlier you notify them , the more time they have to interpret the situation and prepare
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Old 19-03-2020, 05:02   #6
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Re: Visual Distress Beacons

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A better way to describe the May Day alert is when you feel that you or your vessel are in danger

Alway best to send a mayday early , not when the situation has gotten out of control

There is no penalty for sending a mayday when you are tired, confused or feel the situation may be beyond your skill level

MRCC are trained to deal with all situations

The earlier you notify them , the more time they have to interpret the situation and prepare
Interesting opinion and as far as I know it is not one shared by ITU which is the governing body.

If you don't require immediate assistance, the appropriate message is Urgency (pan pan). MRCC are trained to deal with this as well.

The more common definition of Distress is a condition of being threatened by serious and/or imminent danger and of requiring immediate assistance.

Where as Urgency is a condition concerning the security of a ship, aircraft or other vehicle, or of some person on board or within sight, but which does not require immediate assistance.

From Sailonline VHF Radio Basics

Note: If you are NOT in a life-threatening situation but still are in real need of assistance, use the same procedure as above, EXCEPT that in step 2, you replace the word MAYDAY by the the words "Pan Pan" (pronounce PAHNN PAHNN).

And Transport Canada uses a similar definition
https://web.archive.org/web/20120331.../HR/TP9878.PDF
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Old 19-03-2020, 06:40   #7
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Re: Visual Distress Beacons

I understand what you are saying, really I do or I would not have started this thread. Please watch this video, specifically the dialog starting at 1:00. The "emergency" is the engine not starting in dead calm conditions, in the summer, on a river within 1-mile of shore.


https://youtu.be/gIkDlpB60YM


This is an inconvenience, not an emergency. They don't try other means to start the engine. They don't try VHF or cell phone, although they are clearly in range. Straight to the visual SOS beacon.


Let's discuss that. Under what circumstances would you use a visual SOS beacon? Let's assume you are not an idiot and you tried calling first. Waiting out the night in a dead powerboat is not a reasonable expectation for most people, and as we know, situations can get worse. For example, just drifting into the main shipping channel at night, with no lights (let's assume power failure) is no joke.
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Old 19-03-2020, 06:56   #8
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Re: Visual Distress Beacons

Quote:
Originally Posted by Wotname View Post
.

From Sailonline VHF Radio Basics

Note: If you are NOT in a life-threatening situation but still are in real need of assistance, use the same procedure as above, EXCEPT that in step 2, you replace the word MAYDAY by the the words "Pan Pan" (pronounce PAHNN PAHNN).
Agree with what Wot said. Mayday is for situations where life is at risk. Just for interest, it comes from the French m'aidez, literally 'help me'. Pan pan also comes from French - the word panne, which translates as 'breakdown'. Perhaps this will help make it clear where to use each.
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Old 19-03-2020, 07:58   #9
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Re: Visual Distress Beacons

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Originally Posted by Wotname View Post
Interesting opinion and as far as I know it is not one shared by ITU which is the governing body.

If you don't require immediate assistance, the appropriate message is Urgency (pan pan). MRCC are trained to deal with this as well.

The more common definition of Distress is a condition of being threatened by serious and/or imminent danger and of requiring immediate assistance.

Where as Urgency is a condition concerning the security of a ship, aircraft or other vehicle, or of some person on board or within sight, but which does not require immediate assistance.

From Sailonline VHF Radio Basics

Note: If you are NOT in a life-threatening situation but still are in real need of assistance, use the same procedure as above, EXCEPT that in step 2, you replace the word MAYDAY by the the words "Pan Pan" (pronounce PAHNN PAHNN).

And Transport Canada uses a similar definition
https://web.archive.org/web/20120331.../HR/TP9878.PDF


I’m British Licensed

What I said is straight out of maritime college

If MRCC receives a mayday from you that they feel was frivolous, they will contact you directly

This communication will state the law

To avoid prosecution , You will be required to respond in writing, explaining why you issued a false distress and what procedures you will take in future to a prevent false transmission

Never overthink a distress situation

Issue the alert when you feel you life or your ship is in danger

The textbook case is you and your crew are exhausted

The weather forecast is Force 10 imminent

Mayday
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Old 19-03-2020, 19:16   #10
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Re: Visual Distress Beacons

Quote:
Originally Posted by thinwater View Post
I understand what you are saying, really I do or I would not have started this thread. Please watch this video, specifically the dialog starting at 1:00. The "emergency" is the engine not starting in dead calm conditions, in the summer, on a river within 1-mile of shore.


https://youtu.be/gIkDlpB60YM


This is an inconvenience, not an emergency. They don't try other means to start the engine. They don't try VHF or cell phone, although they are clearly in range. Straight to the visual SOS beacon.


Let's discuss that. Under what circumstances would you use a visual SOS beacon? Let's assume you are not an idiot and you tried calling first. Waiting out the night in a dead powerboat is not a reasonable expectation for most people, and as we know, situations can get worse. For example, just drifting into the main shipping channel at night, with no lights (let's assume power failure) is no joke.
Me - I would use the visual SOS beacon if/when a genuine distress condition existed.

In the situation as presented in the video, there is clearly no distress/emergency.

There is some urgency (or uncertainly) however the app and beacon does not have provision for such situations.

The skipper still has options.
Anchoring would be the prime one!
Weather appears to be stable and surely there is suitable clothing aboard for the children.
Highly likely the wife at home will raise some urgency communications with local police or whoever when hubby and her children aren't home at the appointed time.

Should the anchor fail and the boat drifts into main shipping channel with no lights at night would be a suitable time to activate a distress signal (in this case the SOS visual beacon).

The beacon as presented is one suitable backup method of transmitting a distress situation but certainly not the best way. The app isn't much better, clearly needs a mobile connection and in that instance, the cell phone would be better. Still as a backup, it is OK and it encourages the creation of a float plan. That in itself is a good thing.
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Old 19-03-2020, 20:25   #11
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Re: Visual Distress Beacons

I carry one of the electronic flares - but only to be compliant with CG regulations without the cost, hazard and hassle of flares. It's almost impossible now in the US to dispose of outdated pyrotechnics correctly or legally.

I don't kid myself that the electronic flarewould actually result in a rescue.

As I'm sure Thinwater knows, flares are rarely correctly interpreted. Multiple officers on the Californian watched and discussed the Titanic's distress rockets without feeling it urgent enough to wake their Captain.

If I was in trouble and thought there was a boat close enough to see my distress signal -- but I couldn't raise anyone on VHF -- I'd trigger my AIS MOB.

Panbo accidentally had am AIS MOB go off in the cabin of his boat in Camden a few years ago. My chart plotter started beeping six miles away off North Haven showing a drowning man in the middle of the harbor. The CG came up on 16 in less than a minute asking for any sightings. At least a dozen boats responded to the CG.

And if all else fails, a powerful flashlight and loud horn or firing a shotgun works better than a little blinking light.
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Old 19-03-2020, 21:17   #12
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Re: Visual Distress Beacons

The main purpose of distress signals isn't to alert other people of your distress, it's to help SAR already out looking for you to find you.
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Old 20-03-2020, 11:39   #13
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Re: Visual Distress Beacons

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...And if all else fails, a powerful flashlight and loud horn or firing a shotgun works better than a little blinking light.

Around here they would assume you were hunting. Same with three blasts. And only hunters carry shotguns! So pretty much pointless. The rest would assume it was a military exercise.
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Old 20-03-2020, 13:11   #14
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Re: Visual Distress Beacons

The inland rules (#37) says a regular flashing light at 50-70/minute is a distress signal, although this does not meet carriage requirements.


a. It would be simple to rig to the anchor light circuit. Some do.


b. I wonder if anyone pays attention to flashers on the water anymore. Around here they are common on fishing nets. SOS is recognizable, but I'd tend to ignor a regular flash unless I was well off shore.
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Old 21-03-2020, 08:10   #15
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Re: Visual Distress Beacons

The Morse code signal was originally CQD ( come quick disaster ) it was changed in 1908 to SOS to make the transmission shorter and more easily transmitted.The first recorded use was from the Titanic who sent not only CQD but SOS. This puts SOS in the same category as May Day immediate and serious danger. If a less urgent call was needed say for ship safety or safety of a person XXX would be sent which would be equivalent to a PAN PAN.
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