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Florida Sport Fishing Article | Safe Boating
As seen in the September/October 2007 issue of Florida Sport Fishing.

EPIRBs Save Lives! Itís That Simple!

If you had to pick a single item from all of the optional pieces of safety equipment that one could purchase and install on a powerboat, what would it be? The only criteria are that the option has to be highly recommended by federal, state or local maritime authorities and equally as important, not be handicapped by distance limitations. Would it be a VHF radioÖa radar systemÖmaybe an EPIRB? Letís take a quick look at each of these choices and see which piece of equipment meets our parameters.

A VHF radio, while a mandatory piece of communication equipment on any vessel, can generally reach another VHF radio station up to 20-miles away. On a chamber of commerce, blue bird day, maybe twice that. Why such a limited range? Because, VHF radio signals work primarily on Ďline of sight,í and if the antenna canít see the other antenna, it wonít be able to hear it.

In the recreational boating sector, radar is becoming an increasingly popular safety device primarily used to help with safe navigation and collision avoidance. In varying circumstances, radar reception can typically reach 24 to 36-miles depending on the type of unit, the frequency level, how high above the surface of the water the radar antenna is mounted and precisely how level the antenna is to the distant horizon. Again, an invaluable tool, but somewhat limited.

An EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) on the other hand, communicates directly with satellites in orbit. There are no distance limitations. EPIRB signals are detectable not only by COSPAS-SARSAT satellites, which are polar orbiting, but also by geostationary (GOES) weather satellites. EPIRB signals detected by the GEOSTAR system, consisting of GOES and other geostationary satellites, send maritime rescue authorities an instant alert that something is amiss. Other satellite systems also receive EPIRB signals but with different degrees of timeliness and information. This makes EPRIBs a MUST HAVE for anglers and boaters who venture far and wide across open seas in search of their angling thrills.

[Editorís note] When choosing an EPIRB be sure to look for one that operates at 406 MHZ. There are still a few 121.5 MHZ EPIRBs (Category B) out there for purchase, however, the International COPSAS-SARSAT Program to phase out satellite alerting February 1, 2009. This means that if you own 121.5 MHZ EPIRB you will need to make the switch to a 406 MHZ by that date.

Purchasing an EPIRB

[Editorís note] When purchasing a 406 MHZ EPIRB you will run into two categories. Category I EPIRBs are designed to release either automatically or manually. The automatic release is triggered when the device is 3-10 feet under the water. As a result of this feature, Category I EPIRBS need to be mounted outside of the vessel's cabin so that it can float to the surface after it is activated. Category II EPIRBs are only equipped with a manual release. These should be stored in an area that will be easy to access in an emergency.

[Editorís Note] iboats.com carries multiple models of EPIRBs, with prices ranging from $492.00 to $549.99 for Category I units from ACR and McMurdo without a built in GPS receiver, and $849.99 to $1105.35 for Category II units with a built in GPS receiver from the same manufacturers.

Why do you need to register your EPIRB?

Every EPIRB must be registered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as required by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Your registration is entered into the U.S. 406 Beacon Registration Database maintained by NOAA/NESDIS. If your EPIRB is ever activated, the unitís precise location along with the information you provided would be sent to the appropriate United States Coast Guard Search And Rescue (SAR) Coordination Center for response.

If youíve listed a phone number, the Coordination Centerís watch-standers will first attempt to contact the owner/operator via phone. This is done to determine if the vessel is underway. If the vessel is at dock, then a false alarm/malfunction becomes the primary suspect.

If the vessel is underway, the watch-standers will try to ascertain the intended route of the vessel, the number of passengers on board, and a host of other information from a family member. A rescue plan will then be established and quickly put into action.

Safe boaters must not forget that they may face a fine for false activation of an unregistered EPIRB. The U.S. Coast Guard routinely refers cases involving unregistered EPIRBs and non-distress activations (e.g., as a hoax, through gross negligence, carelessness or improper storage and handling) to the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC will prosecute cases based upon evidence provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, and will issue warning letters or notices of apparent liability for fines up to $10,000. However, the U.S. Coast Guard has suspended forwarding non-distress activations of properly registered 406 MHz EPIRBs to the FCC, unless activation was due to hoax or gross negligence.

After purchasing a new or pre-owned 406 MHz EPIRB and registering it with NOAA, if you change your boat, address, or your primary phone number, you must re-register your EPIRB with the updated information. If you sell your EPIRB, make sure the purchaser re-registers the unit, or the U.S. Coast Guard may call you if it later becomes activated.

You can register by visiting the SARSAT Beacon Registration page at www.sarsat.noaa.gov. There is no charge for this service and it may save your life!

So whatís your next purchase?

If youíre not quite sold on the importance of an EPRIB, read your local papers or scan the headlines on the Internet. Day in and day out vessels of all sizes get caught in unexpected situations that require rescue. EPIRBs save lives. Itís that simple! Boating education also saves lives, as do free Vessel Safety Checks offered by the USCG Auxiliary and other safety partners. Remember, the best safety equipment doesnít work if you donít wear it, maintain it, or know precisely how to use it!

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