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Go Back   SailNet Community > General Interest > General Discussion (sailing related)
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  #11  
Old 05-19-2008
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Flares are legally required and are useful in some situations. However, don't assume that they will be seen or, if seen, acted upon. Many boaters are clueless and will just assume someone's shooting off fireworks.

I have personally seen one situation which made me very distrustful of flares...even very bright ones.

One dark night a Mayday was broadcast by two older gentlemen who had run their sailboat aground when entering the Rappahannoc River in the Chesapeake Bay. They were in 4' of water, the wind was blowing 15 knots or so, it was cold, and they were very scared. They had a handheld VHF and a bunch of flares.

They said they could "see the bridge", i.e., the big highway bridge over the river, but didn't have an exact location. The Coast Guard ran their 41-footer all the way from the river entrance to the bridge and back again. Several times. They also overflew the area with a chopper. A commercial towing service also did the same track. Nothing. The old guys shot off several flares. Coast Guard didn't see anything.

Finally, the Coast Guard said, "OK, we're gonna shoot off a flare which will light up the whole East Coast. Tell us when you see it." They did. The old guys saw nothing. Clear night. Distances were small. Yet no one saw anything.

Coast Guard began to think this was a hoax. I was anchored in a neighboring river just to the south, and had heard the whole thing. I told the Coast Guard I could hear the guys clearly, and they sounded scared.

After almost 3 hours of searching, a Navy SAR team in a chopper from the Norfolk area found them....they had run aground on a prominent sandbar on the north side of the river, about halfway between the river's entrance and the bridge. Just where you'd expect them to be. Yet, no one saw them for upwards of 3 hours, despite having considerable resources on site.

Moral: flares are good, but don't assume they'll save your bacon. Handheld VHF's are mandatory. Keep them charged and, if possible, have extra batteries. And, in these days and times, have a working battery-powered GPS so you can report your exact position. By the way, some new handheld VHF's have built-in GPS receivers. Neat!

Bill

Last edited by btrayfors; 05-19-2008 at 11:15 AM.
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  #12  
Old 05-19-2008
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One more device to have that I just bought is a satellite emergency messenger. EPIRBs exist but are expensive and, other than in emergency (which IS a big deal) don't do anything.

I just got the SPOT satellite messenger. It tracks your position by GPS, can send tracking messages that show up on the map (Google maps) so anyone can track your progress. They also have an emergency button which will send emergency request through their center which will contact appropriate authorities (USCG for boats), very much like EPIRB. It uses Globalstar satellites, and needs clear view of the sky (so works so-so in the city) - works perfect on a boat, though, as I tested it this weekend. Every message got through.

Spot Messenger > Home is where they are. It requires annual service (at either $100 for basic emergency + on demand OK messages) or $150 for tracking. This must be good when all else fails, for the cost of good hand held radio, and has other uses too.
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  #13  
Old 05-19-2008
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There was something in Practical Sailor recently (or maybe Ocean Navigator) on the SPOT system that made me think it wasn't ideal...I'll try to look it up.
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Old 05-19-2008
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Coverage is somewhat limited in certain parts of the world.
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  #15  
Old 05-19-2008
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Quote:
Originally Posted by sailingdog View Post
Coverage is somewhat limited in certain parts of the world.
Sure, middle of the Pacific isn't great. I think someone venturing that far would do well to get a real EPIRB. Globalstar network has two bands - the duplex band used for phone service is not doing great (who knows, they are working on it - they are the only financially viable option anyway, Iridium is just out of this world in terms of pricing). The simplex band which this messenger is using is actually in good shape - they've been using it for remote telemetry and such, and just figured out the messenger idea (amazing, took them what - 10 years? ).

Coverage is certainly available anywhere vast majority of boaters would ever be - even across Atlantic in most places and certainly hundreds of miles offshore. These guys on Chesapeake would have benefitted from the device for sure.

It is a bit picky about sky view (though it turned out to be a non-issue on the boat, as I hoped it would). The good thing is, you get to test the connection all the time, using tracking messages so there is an easy way to know the system is working end to end. And if you send a distress signal, it also goes to a list of emails or phones so presumably if the guy at emergency response center is asleep - someone else would intervene.

Lack of these options is what always worried me about EPIRB. There is no way to test them now, as there is no "test window" or anything, so when the time comes, you push a button for the first time really and hope that it works. As a "computer guy" I don't trust systems whose first use is when it can't fail.
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I discovered the Spot a few weeks ago. I'm getting one for the kids to keep in the car. Finally an affordable sat safety device. If they lie to me about where they are I can make them ping the sattelite. heh heh heh
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  #17  
Old 05-19-2008
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Originally Posted by retclt View Post
If they lie to me about where they are I can make them ping the sattelite. heh heh heh
I love it!!!
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Old 05-19-2008
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Or just leave put a GPS in the car and have it save the track.
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  #19  
Old 05-19-2008
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Quote:
Originally Posted by retclt View Post
I discovered the Spot a few weeks ago. I'm getting one for the kids to keep in the car. Finally an affordable sat safety device. If they lie to me about where they are I can make them ping the sattelite. heh heh heh
I tested it in the car, in the city and in a few other places (parks, stores etc). The bottom line is - it needs just as much clear sky as GPS and more. So, if it is in the car - it has a high chance of not working or taking a very long time to send a message. In my car it worked reasonably well as long as it was on the dashboard right under the windshield, looking up. If it is moved even a bit under the metal roof of the car - it won't be able to send any messages. It also does not work very well under trees - no messages got through at all when I was in a park with medium density tree cover.

So, personally, I would use it on a boat (and I plan to keep it on board and operational at all times) but on land it's usefullness is limited, in my opinion.
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  #20  
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Good point.

My GPS didn't do a darn bit of good in the cities of Rome, Munich, Naples. That's where I needed it the most. I was constantly lost.

I'll make them go out in the middle of the yard and ping it.
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