Install a hydrostatic release in a GME EPIRB

If you need to replace the hydrostatic release in a GME Category I EPIRB, here are the steps.

  1. Install the bolt and yellow curved plastic piece with its “buttons” pointing down.
    step1
  2. Next place the hydrostatic release with the top label pointing down over the bolt and curved yellow piece. Remember to date the release prior to installing it- the date should be two (2) years from the date you install the release. Then place the yellow top piece over the release. Note the position of the “button”.
    step2
  3. Finally pull the stainless steel spring down over the release. Thread the stainless nut over the plastic bolt and tighten until it is snug. You are now finished.
    step3

We have hydrostatic release kits in stock for GME EPIRBs. The come with a new Hammar H20E release, special bolt and stainless steel nut.

End of the year savings on EPIRBs and Switlik X-Back vests

We have special pricing on several of the items we offer:

GME Category I EPIRBs for only $499.00 (subject to stock on hand). These beacons have integral GPS and use the inexpensive to replace Hammar hydrostatic release.

Switlik X-Back with Molle constant wear crew vest. Switlik will not let us advertise the price, you will need to call Rollie at (800) 343-5826.

Switlik’s X-Back Basic constant wear vest. This is the economy version of the X-Back with Molle but still has the most popular features at a lower price. Again, Switlik will not allow us to advertise our price, you will need to call Rollie at (800) 343-5826.

EPIRB and PLB Registration

Beacon-Registration

If you own an EPIRB or PLB (Personal Locator Beacon) you need to register the device. In the United States NOAA is the agency that keeps the registration database. After you have registered the beacon, NOAA will send you a Proof Of Registration like the one shown above and it should be affixed to your device.

The Proof Of Registration shows the registration expiry date, the Hexadecimal (HEX) ID of the beacon (the ADCD…. number) and in the case of an EPIRB the vessel name, PLB registrations show the owners name.

Why does the registration expire? NOAA wants to make sure that the data is current so they require you to update it every 2 years. The registration expiry IS NOT the same as the battery expiry. That information is printed on the beacon by the manufacturer and is not part of the NOAA registration process.

So how do you register your unit? There are 3 ways but the easiest (and since you are reading this I assume you like to do things online) is by going to the Beacon Registration web site, setting up an account and filling out a form. You can also fill out the form that should have come with your new unit and either FAX or mail it to NOAA. If you do this online there is absolutely no cost, by FAX just the cost of a fax call and by mail the cost of a first class stamp. There is no fee for registration with NOAA!

If you have an EPIRB and your vessel is registered in Canada, you need to have the unit programmed for Canada and you need to register it with Canadian authorities. Every country is required to maintain their own database, although a few have agreements with others to do the work for them. The internet will quickly lead you to your countries’ site.

What does registering the unit get you? Better response should you need to activate it. That alone is worth the time it takes to do the registration. For commercial vessels there is a USCG requirement that one must register their beacon, failure to do so would result in a trip back to the dock.

Where was the EPIRB?

Two fishermen spent the better part of a day in their life raft after their lobster boat sank. Lucky, you bet, but where was their EPIRB? Most commercial fishing vessels are required to carry an EPIRB but in the report from Maine’s Department of Natural Resources there is no mention of one being deployed. I am sure we will hear more but my guess is that the crew were not able to grab the beacon prior to abandoning the vessel. If the water was not deep enough the EPIRB would not have self-deployed.

This shows why it is important to have an EPIRB or PLB packed in your life raft. PLB’s make the most sense, they are small and will pack in any raft and costing less than $250.00, very affordable. Add one the next time you have your life raft serviced.

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EPIRB Battery Replacement

 

Ocean Signal Replacement Battery For EPIRBs

I get calls all the time from customers who need to get the battery in their EPIRB replaced. When they learn the price the general reaction is shock, how can a battery cost so much? Can’t I run down to the battery store and get the cells to make my own? Why can’t I replace my own? Here are the answers.

Why do they cost so much?
First you are not buying a single battery cell but a battery pack consisting of a number of cells. They are connected in a way to prevent short circuits and often the battery pack contains additional electronic components. Part of the EPIRB’s approval is the battery pack, a third party can not decide to produce a battery pack for a beacon without going through the approval process. Needless to say that is not practical so the only source of battery packs is directly from the original manufacturer. There is not a large market for replacement batteries so production runs are small so that the end user gets a fresh battery. Finally lithium cells are expensive to begin with and there are not many suppliers that the beacon manufacturers can choose from.

Can I make my own battery pack?
I guess so, but will it work?

Why can’t I replace my own?
It depends on the model beacon you own. Ocean Signal and some Kannad models have user replaceable batteries (SOLAS class vessels are required to have an approved facility replace batteries in any model) so if you own one of these you can buy the proper battery pack and do your own installation. What you don’t get is testing the unit  for power output, signal and water-tightness. You would also be responsible for proper disposal of the old lithium battery, you can’t just throw it away since it is hazardous material. Disposal protocols vary from state to state and sometimes even within specific cities within a state.

 

Emergency Signalling Options

Boat US just published an article in their Seaworthy magazine titled “Emergency Signalling Options”. While the majority of the article provides good information there are several discrepancies in the EPIRB and PLB sections (the only sections I am technically knowledgeable enough to comment on).

First to the ‘pros’ of EPIRBs:

  • I agree with what Boat US says.

‘Cons’ of EPIRBs:

  • Boat US states that “EPIRBs can not be taken from vessel to vessel. They must be registered to a specific vessel, so you can’t legitimately use one unit for multiple vessels”. With the online registration process you can change the vessel information for a beacon as long as it is done 24 hours prior to sailing. While this is not something you can or should do on a daily basis plenty of vessel operators do move from vessel to vessel and change the registration information.
  • The cost figures stated are inflated. I sell the GME brand and the least expensive Category 2 model is $449.00 and the most expensive Category 1 unit with GPS is $765.00.

‘Pros’ of PLBs:sinopsis film

  • Boat US implies that PLBs are a Crew Overboard location device. The vast majority of vessels do not have the capability to receive the 121.5 MHz homing beacon that a PLB transmits. If you are considering to use a PLB in this manner you must deal with your onboard equipment. There are better devices such as the Kannad R-10 AIS Survivor Recovery System which utilize electronics you probably already own.

‘Cons’ of PLBs:

  • Boat US says “not only do they suffer from the same limited-data constraints of the EPIRB, they actually transmit even less data, since they don’t include vessel information.”  Sorry to say this is flat out incorrect. EPIRBs do not transmit vessel information, ELTs (the aircraft version) do not transmit aircraft information, and PLBs do not transmit personal information. What they all transmit is a set of unique identifying information. In the United States that is the Country Code and a serial number. When a signal is received, SAR staff know which countries data base contains the full data and turn to that for their information. When one registers an EPIRB or PLB there is a field for “additional information”, so with a PLB it is possible to enter the data about your vessel should you so desire.
  • Boat US missed the biggest ‘con’ regarding PLBs in marine use. They are not required to float! Some units do but they are not the tiny form factor ones popular in most stores. Others come with a flotation pouch and some require you to purchase a device to keep the PLB afloat. Even the ones that float, will not float with the antenna out of the water like an EPIRB will.
  • The statement that “they have half the guaranteed battery life” is misleading. There is no guarantee on how long either device will work. There are standards the units must be designed to and tested against. For and EPIRB it is transmitting for a minimum of 48 hours at -20 degrees, PLBs must transmit for 24 hours at the same cold temperature. Depending on the age of the battery pack and the operating temperature you will see major differences from the design standard.

EPIRBs and PLBs are the correct choice for your primary life saving package. Even if you buy a new PLB rather than having the battery replaced the cost works out to $3.56 per month.  A top end EPIRB works out to $13.41 per month and that includes replacing the hydrostatic release every two years. It is pretty inexpensive insurance for a system that has been proven to save lives.

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.

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.

EPIRB or PLB?

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.

GME EPIRB

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.