The final three-day weekend is here!

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 31, 2003

Special to the News-Herald

It is the final three-day weekend before the kids go back to school. Moms are happy, kids are sad and the whole family is looking at two more days of fun. Many sailors will look at this as one more opportunity to get off shore for an overnight sail, or finish planning for an offshore event for the next three-day weekend in October.

I have found in the past three years that most recreational readers know that certain safety equipment is required to be onboard a vessel, regardless of its main mode of propulsion. This is federal law. The type of equipment required is based on several factors that we have discussed off and on in other columns. Factors for the type of equipment required include: the length of your vessel, what distance you are operating from shore and how your vessel is powered.

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If your mode of travel on the water is anything larger than a canoe or a rowboat, there are two additional pieces of safety equipment you should consider carrying aboard before you ever leave the dock. With all but the smallest vessels, you should always carry a VHF radio or other radio communications equipment.

And I would strongly recommend you carry another type of electronic distress signaling device, such as an Emergency Locator Transmitter (ELT) or an Electronic Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB), especially offshore.

VHF Radios

A lot of recreational boaters consider a cell phone to be adequate communications while underway. There is no doubt that cell phones are incredible and provide all of us a freedom that many didn’t have just 20 years ago. With new communications systems going up, and the advent of digital calling, the ability to call someone from the middle of a forest or at sea is significantly enhanced. However, cell phones should NEVER be considered a substitute for VHF radios.

VHF radios continue to be the best communication method in the event of an emergency. Coast Guard Groups and stations and other emergency authorities keep a &uot;radio guard&uot; on VHF Channel 16 and are always listening in to respond to emergencies close to shore.

In addition, MF and HF radios can be incredibly effective when offshore.

Even more importantly, communications by radio are heard; not just by one source, but by all boaters tuned to that channel.

When a boater makes a broadcast on Channel 16, other boaters close by can hear that transmission as well, often enabling Good Samaritans to arrive first in an emergency.

Radio communications also provide responders with a very general location based on the signal strength at the receiving low and high site antennas, which can be useful if the boater is unable to determine his or her position at the time of the emergency.


A second piece of safety equipment I recommend if you are going offshore is a distress position indicator, such as an ELT or EPIRB. An ELT or EPIRB is a beacon designed to quickly and effectively provide rescue forces an accurate position of a vessel or aircraft in an emergency. The Coast Guard’s &uot;Federal Requirements and Safety Tips For Recreational Boaters&uot; puts it this way, &uot;Satellite EPIRBs, operate as part of a worldwide distress system. An international satellite constellation maintains a vigilant, global &uot;listening&uot; watch for satellite EPIRB distress signals. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) operates the satellites, ground stations and an alert distribution system serving the U.S. and a wide segment of the international community.&uot;

There are two types of EPIRBs in use today. One, usually called an ELT or Emergency Location Transmitter, emits a signal at 121.5 MHz for non-military vessels and aircraft.

The other, usually called a 406 EPIRB for Emergency Position Indicator Radio Beacon, emits a signal at 406 MHz. 121.5 ELT signals cannot provide information on the specific vessel or aircraft sending the signal.

EPIRBs provide not only a position, but, when properly registered specific information on the owner, name, type and length of the vessel, homeport and call sign or other communication info, and info on who to contact if the EPIRB is activated.

The contact info on the registration should ALWAYS be a person (s) familiar with the vessel and the travel intentions of those onboard. Another great reason to file a DETAILED Float plan that we will review next week!

The contact info should NOT include persons most likely to be onboard – that sort of defeats the purpose! 406-EPIRBs have another advantage over ELTs – in the event the satellite doesn’t receive enough information to provide a location for the signal, a report will still be generated in the Command Center with the EPIRB registration information. From there Controllers can starting working backward to determine if there is a problem.

If you are going offshore or sailing in unfamiliar waters, you may want to consider renting a 406 EPIRB, available for a very modest fee from Boat/US Foundation. For more information on renting EPIRBs, go to

If you do purchase or rent an ELT or EPIRB, mount it where you can get to it quickly. NEVER place the ELT or EPIRB inside the cabin or in a compartment. They are designed to float free to the surface if submerged.

Signals may not transmit if the transmitter remains below the surface. In addition take the time to carefully register all pertinent information with NOAA. Provide as much contact information as possible, and keep your registration card up-to-date.

Until then remember to Boat Safe, Boat Smart and enjoy the remainder of the three-day weekend!