Without safety gear the Coast Guard’s job is just that much more difficult

The United States Coast Guard recently came to the rescue of two sailboats off of the Washington coast.  All four people rescued are in good shape but one of the vessels was not equipped with immersion (survival) suits so the Coast Guard helicopter crew had to leave the rescue to obtain survival suits to lower to the crew.

For around $300.00 you can purchase a new immersion (survival) suit and greatly increase your chance of survival should you need to abandon your vessel. These suits last between 10 and 15 years with minimal service which you can do yourself. You can easily take them from boat to boat should you be the crew on a number of vessels. Forgo a cup of coffee at McDonalds one a month and you have covered the cost of an immersion suit.

Here is the full news release from the United States Coast Guard:


USCG can’t use the best equipment

The USCG is banned from using “essential night-vision technology” because they are part of Homeland Security, not the Department of Defense. Hopefully they can get this straightened out and get on with their marine safety mission.

Coast Guard banned from necessary technology because it is not part of DoD

Ever since the Coast Guard was moved over to Homeland Security their marine safety mission has taken a back seat to pushing paper. This has to be frustrating for all involved and dangerous for those who depend on their services.

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.

Rescue in the Southern Ocean

A French sailor survived three days in his life raft after dismasting in the Southern Ocean south-west of Tasmania. Full details have not yet been published but local news has an interesting video interview with the Captain of the rescue ship. He could only see the life raft for 1/2 mile and without outside assistance from aircraft would have had extreme difficulty in finding the raft.

We do not know yet why a dismasting forced the sailor in to his life raft nor how he contacted search and rescue, if by SSB or EPIRB. What this rescue does show is that the system works even if you are in the far reaches of the globe.

Thanks Crowley- training pays off!

Over the years I have thanked Crowley Maritime for their business but now we have another reason to thank them. On January 15, 2013 one of their crews rescued a man out of the water in Tampa Bay. Their web site has the full story which shows how important training is. Many in the marine safety industry feel that training is more important than equipment and my experience supports that feeling.

The problem is often where to get trained. You can pay to attend classes or safety at sea seminars which is the easiest solution. The Red Cross and local fire departments often provide first aid courses and sometimes provide the opportunity to train with fire extinguishers. Yacht Clubs have seminars as do boat shows. Finally if you own a life raft ask if your service facility provides training, especially hands on with your own raft.

Here at Westpac we do offer training for those who are having their life rafts serviced. We start by sinking your boat (mentally at least), go through deploying the raft, boarding, life on board and finally rescue. This normally takes around two (2) hours and customers leave with a thorough understanding of how their life raft works. Sometimes we wander into the subjects of EPIRB’s, crew overboard recovery, fire extinguishers or ditch kits. The breadth is controlled by our customer and the amount of time they wish to spend.

Another rescue, but why?

Another rescue but why was it necessary? A US man was rescued after his tow line snapped. he had drifted for eight days on a disabled yacht off of Vietnam.

A couple of questions come to mind. What happened to the vessel that was towing him and how much sooner would he have been rescued if he had an EPIRB? Still this is a good example of why staying with a disabled boat is a better option than getting in to a life raft.

AMVER comes to the rescue

The Automated Mutual Assistance Vessel Rescue System, AMVER, came to the aid of another sailor on December 15, 2012. Quoting the AMVER web site: “Amver, sponsored by the United States Coast Guard, is a unique, computer-based, and voluntary global ship reporting system used worldwide by search and rescue authorities to arrange for assistance to persons in distress at sea.”

This is a great asset many are not aware of. AMVER helps when you are away from helicopter rescue since there always seem to be merchant vessels somewhere around. On December 4, 2012 the combination of an EPIRB and AMVER rescued another sailor in the Pacific.

At a time when many things seem to be going wrong, it is nice to find something that is working and saving lives.