Good news for all on Christmas Eve

Two sailors were rescued this morning in what appears to be a text book case of how the modern search and rescue system works.

  • They activated their EPIRB
  • Fixed wing aircraft located the stricken vessel
  • Helicopters attempted to rescue the pair
  • The final rescue was carried out by a merchant vessel
  • Everyone is safe

In the spirit of overspending at Christmas time, suppliers of marine life saving equipment must also be happy.

  • 6 life rafts were dropped by the search and rescue team, they will need to be replaced
  • The EPIRB used to notify search and rescue will need to be replaced, or at least serviced
  • Boat builders and equipment suppliers will be queuing up to replace the sailboat which appears to be lost

It is nice to have a safe ending to a disaster such as this, even better on Christmas Eve.

If you want to read more, click here for the Yachting World article.

Let’s all be safe out there

Two articles piqued my curiosity today, one on the sinking of the Bounty, the other about “two rival sailing organizations, each planning to travel from Hampton Roads to the Caribbean”. The common thread is leaving port when the expected weather conditions suggest staying tied Boyka: Undisputed IV film now

The article on the Bounty written by G. Anderson Chase is a good hard look at what did go wrong and what we can learn from the tragedy.  The idea that as a group we are smarter than any one individual but that the captain has to encourage the crew to participate in planning is not new but does go against the tradition of the captain being the boss.

There is also discussion regarding abandoning a vessel and why waiting until you can “step up in to the life raft” might not be the best course of action. Allowing enough time to have an organized, safe evacuation is important- but one does not want to abandon a vessel that is still seaworthy.

The second article by Mike Hixenbaugh talks about two groups heading to the Caribbean. Again bad weather was forecast and one group left early to get ahead of it. The other waited until their scheduled departure time and ended up in the middle of some nasty conditions giving the Coast Guard plenty of practice rescuing people.

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why organizers keep putting people in harms way. I also can’t figure out why those on board the vessels can’t make their own decision that the conditions are unsafe. Do we all want to have the Coast Guard dictate to us when we can use our boats? They have started doing just that, the recent America’s Cup regatta is a good example. We need to use good common sense so as Sergeant Phil Esterhaus used to say “let’s all be safe out there”.

I will be reading these articles again to see what more I can learn, with winter upon us there is time to think about what happened and improve on our safety procedures.

Sinking off of Florida

A couple of weeks ago I got a call from a friend whose brother was going to take a small boat from Miami to Bimini Island. He did not have an EPIRB and I was asked if we rented them. Since I don’t rent EPIRB’s I offered to loan my own PLB (Personal Locator Beacon), something I normally don’t do but it seemed right.

To make a long story short (here is the long story) the boat sank and the two occupants found themselves in the water. The PLB did its job and got the Coast Guard on site to make a helicopter rescue and the pair are now back on dry land enjoying the Ft. Lauderdale boat show.

Ocean Signal rescueME Personal Locator Beacon
Ocean Signal rescueME Personal Locator Beacon

We all learned from this disaster. The NOAA web site allowed me to change all the registration information when the PLB left my shop so the emergency calls went to the right people, not mine. The change was simple and only took a minute, registering your beacon online is the way to go. I also learned to be a bit more careful when loaning equipment and provide the proper accessories for the application. My beacon lives in my Camelback for bike riding. I cut the lanyard short and don’t have the flotation pouch installed (and hope I never need it when bike riding) just to make it a bit lighter and not get tangled up in everything.

Teaching the prospective user the proper operation is also importing. While I provided a demonstration I did not make the extra step to force the user to demonstrate his knowledge. We all learn differently, some by watching, some by reading and others by doing. I allowed for watching but not reading or doing.

Shakespeare said “all’s well that ends well” and I guess that applies here but with a little more thought the ending might have been a bit better.


Boaters ask me if they should purchase an EPIRB or PLB. In the past I have gone through the technical differences between the two beacons without highlighting the one important difference. Then I received an email from an individual who I had loaned my personal PLB and actually had to use it when his boat sank. His message said that at 10:30 the boat sank and they turned the beacon on. At 11:00 they remembered to ‘pull the antenna out which they had forgotten about’. The USCG did not receive notification of their distress until after the antenna had been deployed. At 12:00 they saw the Coast Guard helicopter that had been deployed to rescue them. The great news is they survived the ordeal but as with most disasters there are things we can learn.

Ocean Signal rescueME Personal Locator Beacon
Ocean Signal rescueME Personal Locator Beacon

The main thing I learned is the most important difference between and EPIRB’s and PLB’s. With an EPIRB when you put it in the water (after taking it out of its bracket) it starts transmitting. There are no other steps and the antenna is already deployed.


When we get in high stress situations it is easy to forget things. The military trains its troops until actions become second nature but we don’t have the time or patience to do that for all of our safety equipment. Simplicity becomes the key and in this case and EPIRB would have shaved 30 minutes off of the rescue time. If this sinking had happened in cold water, 30 minutes could be the difference between life and death.

From now on when a boating customer asks if they should purchase an EPIRB or PLB, my answer is going to be an EPIRB.

Personal Locator Beacons and hiking

A while back I wrote about how I carry a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) when riding my mountain bike. Last weekend my local newspaper ran an article on solo hiking and the writer suggests carrying a PLB. She talks about the cost and that some units have an annual fee. A true PLB does not have any annual fee. The satellite system it operates on is owned by the government so your only cost is the initial outlay and then seven years later, the cost of a new battery.

The Ocean Signal PLB is the smallest currently on the market. Selling for under $300.00 the cost works out to $3.56 per month, less than the cost of a McDonald’s Happy Meal. Actually it is also less than five hours of on-street parking here in Tacoma.

With winter coming don’t forget that a PLB would also be great if you have a snowmobile, cross country ski or even drive in areas without cell coverage. Maybe this is just the ticket to get us all outside more often this winter!

NTSB Safety Alert- plan in advance

The National Transportation Safety Board, NTSB, just published a safety alert advising that “good preparation and proper use of safety equipment is key” to improving your chances of survival when abandoning ship. I have said this for a long time, you need to understand your safety systems, plan on how you are going to use them and if possible train with/on them.

You can download the full safety alert to read the full document. The NTSB is an independent agency tasked with reducing the loss of life in all modes of transportation. Mostly we hear about them with aircraft accidents but they also deal with vehicles, vessels and pipelines. If you are ever in Washington, D.C. and can figure out a way to get a tour of the NTSB lab, take it. They do amazing things to analyze disasters, looking at gauges to see where the indicator needle dented the face when an aircraft impacted a mountain was one of the things I was show. That and learning why John Denver crashed, he was too short to reach the fuel switch.

The USCG on Boating Safety

The USCG has issued their 2012 Recreational Boating Statistics, a 79 page document telling us all about deaths and accidents. The good news is there were less deaths in 2012 than in 2011 but there are a number of other items that caught my attention.

  • Booze was the major contributing factor in accidents. It was a factor in 109 deaths and 227 injuries.
  • In my home state of Washington, there were twice as many deaths in 2012 compared to 2011.
  • Deaths offshore dropped from 7 in 2011 to 2 in 2012. I guess being offshore is a pretty safe place to be.
  • Of the 459 individuals who drowned, 379 were NOT wearing life jackets.

There is a lot of information in this report but if I was to take away two things they would be:

  1. Pay attention to what you are doing
  2. Wear your life jacket

It has been shown that most accidents are the result of a number of things going wrong at the same time. When we hear of a miraculous event where a disaster has been averted many times this is due to eliminating one or two minor issues by being attentive and thinking quickly and decisively.

Let’s hope that the 2013 report shows a positive trend with less accidents and less deaths.

Wear your damned life jacket!

I was reading our local newspaper this morning and noticed an article that stated a man had drowned in Spanaway Lake (just outside of Tacoma) who was not wearing a life jacket. He was riding an inner tube being pulled by a boat when the tube flipped according to the article:

SPANAWAY LAKE Man who drowned wasn’t wearing life vest

    A man presumed to have drowned Sunday in Spanaway Lake was not wearing a life vest as initially thought, Pierce County Sheriff’s spokesman Ed Troyer said Wednesday.

    Deputies initially said the three people riding the inner tube that flipped while being pulled by a powerboat were wearing life jackets, and that the third person, 55-yearold Salvador John Sanchez of Spanaway, slipped out of his and under the surface.

    Further investigation determined life vests were thrown to the three in the water from the boat after the tube flipped but were not worn at the time of the accident, Troyer said.

    The two women in the water grabbed onto the vests and were rescued, but the man slipped under the surface and has not yet been found, Troyer said.

    Deputies searched for more than two days with divers, sonar and remotely operated cameras, but were not able to find the man’s body. Others involved in the accident might be cited for not wearing life vests and not having improper equipment on the boat, he said.

I don’t know how many of these articles I have read in my lifetime but what they all seem to have in common is the lack of a life jacket. There does not seem to be any argument, wearing life jackets saves lives. Please if for no other reason than to save a tree by newspapers not having to write these articles, wear your life jacket!


Maybe a tether would have helped?

Latitude 38 has an article about a British sailor who fell overboard while crossing the Pacific from Japan. The report says that he was conscious and wearing a life jacket when he went overboard. His fiancee was on-board but unable to rescue him.

ISC Snap Hook
ISC Double Acting Snap Hook

I am a strong believer that you don’t want to get separated from your boat. Staying on-board is the obvious first solution but there are situations when the elements just conspire against you and you get swept overboard. Then having a good tether attached to the vessel and your safety harness is your best bet. We offer a number of harnesses and tethers which meet most needs. A double acting snap hook is your best bet, the less expensive carabiners can get disconnected when twisted in just the right manner.