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Seamanship & Navigation Forum devoted to seamanship and navigation topics, including paper and electronic charting tools.


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  #1  
Old 11-25-2012
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Do I Need an EPIRB?

My Mum-in-Law is nervous about her daughter going out an such a large ocean in a small boat and wants to buy me an EPIRB. I'm not sure she knows how much they cost ($700US and up), but let's assume she does. I have a Catalina 25 and don't see myself going much larger; I intend to daysail and overnight out of Portsmouth Harbor (NH, USA) with cruising trips once or twice a year up the Maine coast for a week or two at a time.

Obviously, if my boat disappears beneath the waves and I find myself doing an inventory of my buoyant gear, an EPIRB would be a great comfort (as would a few packets of saltines and a romance novel); but I wonder if that is the best use of $700+ for safety gear. Do other sailors doing what I do have them?

In my reading, it seems like the most likely fate to befall a 'squared away' sailor close to the coast is being run down by a 'less squared away' sailor or a merchant ship. I don't wish to tempt fate, but let's assume that I don't blow my boat up, burn it down, end up as an MOB, or hit a marked reef. I know that is assuming a lot, bear with me. That leaves 3 fates:

1. Massive or multiple gear failure that leaves me with the Westerlies pushing me further and further out to sea.

2. Hitting a shipping container. (a favorite of many paranoids)

3. Being run over by a 'yahoo'.

Since the automatic EPIRBs are even more expensive, I'd be getting one that is manually deployed; if someone on board is able to that, it seems like a VHF with the new AIS capability would be nearly as good. I understand they have a 'mayday' button of some sort that transmits your coordinates. Then again, that requires that the boat is in more or less one piece after the incident. And now I've gone and talked myself back into an EPIRB.

So I guess the question is, "What's the best use of a $700 safety budget for a coastal cruising boat?."

1. EPIRB
2. Chartplotter and AIS VHF
3. Assortment of jack lines, tethers and good PFDs

Thanks,

Ken
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  #2  
Old 11-25-2012
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Re: Do I Need an EPIRB?

Soinds like you acceptable leve of risk is different from mom's. that's pretty normal.

However I'd say that #3 (jack lines, tethers, etc) are not an option at all, you need those regardless of what else you choose.
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Old 11-25-2012
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Re: Do I Need an EPIRB?

A lot of people assume that hitting the EPIRB emergency button is a "Get Out Of Jail Free" type of automatic rescue. While off the coastlines of the USA the chances of initiating a rescue attempt are good I consider my EPIRB more of a "tell mum I won't be coming home" signal. That having been said, one never knows when one might get lucky in a disastrous situation and get rescued from the liferaft after setting of the beacon; but one of my premises when going offshore is that I've got to rely on myself and not on any outside assistance.

The DSC capable radio will send out a digital MAYDAY with accompanying digital GPS coordinates in the message. This will only go out to DSC radios (which commercial ships have) and it won't get lost if the operator happens to be on elsewhere when the emergency signal gets sent out - it triggers a very loud alarm on all DSC equipped radios and needs to be shut off manually. Unfortunately the standard limitations of VHF comunications apply and the other ship will have to be relatively close - plus your antenna still needs to be attached to the boat.

The tethers & jacklines are a given for any boat and any budget so we should just taken those out of the list.

I believe that $700 of disposable income when deciding between an AIS transceiver and an EPIRB is a difficult decision. If your boat has lots of crew that are watchstanders then AIS is less of a safety matter and an EPIRB is a better choice. With less crew an AIS transmitter/receiver will help avoid going "bump" in the night against commercial vessel.

It is difficult to argue about safety and the value of life in terms of dollars; but there is always a point where additional items of safety insurance need to stop, otherwise one would need a bigger boat to hold everything - start with flares, inflatable lifevests, jacklines, portable VHF, ISAF Flares / flaregun, liferaft, emergency hand-powered watermaker, additional VHF, EPIRB, personal SART, SSB, AIS, the list just goes on and on (i.e. spare VHF antenna for dismasting, extra VHF in grab-bags, etc.).
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Old 11-25-2012
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Re: Do I Need an EPIRB?

A few thoughts come to mind.

A lone fisherman fell off his boat between Block Island and Point Judith this past summer and had no way to signal he was in the water. His boat ran ashore, which is the only way anyone knew to look. He treaded water for something like 10 hours before he was found and this is a heavily trafficked area, with water temps over 70 degrees. If you were in the 50 deg water off Maine, you would not live more than a few hours, even wearing a PFD. So, for starters, you always clip in. But, if you had to abandon ship, you just can't tread long in 50 deg water.

For a coastal passage, within VHF range of the USCG, I would probably choose a liferaft and ditchbag over an EPIRB, if I was forced to choose. Acknowledging this is even more expensive. The ditchbag should have a GPS enabled VHF radio with spare batteries and plenty of signal devices. Even with the EPIRB, you would probably die treading water before the system confirmed it wasn't a false alarm and actually got a rescue boat to you. You need to be in a raft.

Beyond hitting something, you may lose the boat to an electrical fire or a thru hull letting go. Maybe you could deal with these before you abandoned ship. Maybe not.

Despite the in-law's concern, you need something. I was sure to have all the above when we did our Maine trip.
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Last edited by Minnewaska; 11-25-2012 at 08:33 AM.
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Old 11-25-2012
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Re: Do I Need an EPIRB?

A PLB would be a cheaper alternative (300 or less) and will send an emergency signal. However, it is registered to you, not to the boat.
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Re: Do I Need an EPIRB?

Quote:
Originally Posted by CarbonSink62 View Post
My Mum-in-Law is nervous about her daughter going out an such a large ocean in a small boat and wants to buy me an EPIRB.
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Old 11-25-2012
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Re: Do I Need an EPIRB?

Quote:
Originally Posted by CarbonSink62 View Post

So I guess the question is, "What's the best use of a $700 safety budget for a coastal cruising boat?."

1. EPIRB
2. Chartplotter and AIS VHF
3. Assortment of jack lines, tethers and good PFDs

Thanks,

Ken
Number 3 is the answer, plus the following:

a. Inspect and replace as necessary all hoses below the waterline;
b. Inspect and repair electrical system to avoid accidental fire;
c. Inspect and replace as necessary all running lights;
d. Test and repair as necessary manual and automatic bilge pumps;
e. Buy paper charts for your area and proper navigation/piloting tools - learn how to navigate without electronics;
f. Buy handheld VHF and handheld GPS;
g. Buy storm jib and possibly trisail;
h. Buy and install any materiel to ensure your reefing equipment works properly;
i. Tow inflatable dinghy; and
j. Equip and ready ditch bag.

There, I just saved you thousands of $$$ in unnecessary electronics and toys. AIS, chartplotters and EPIRB are not necessary for coastal cruising on a 25' boat, although, of the three, the EPIRB would be the first I would spend money on.
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Last edited by jameswilson29; 11-25-2012 at 09:52 AM.
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Old 11-25-2012
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Re: Do I Need an EPIRB?

Quote:
Originally Posted by jameswilson29 View Post
Number 3 is the answer, plus the following:

a. Inspect and replace as necessary all hoses below the waterline;
b. Inspect and repair electrical system to avoid accidental fire;
c. Inspect and replace as necessary all running lights;
d. Test and repair as necessary manual and automatic bilge pumps;
e. Buy paper charts for your area and proper navigation/piloting tools - learn how to navigate without electronics;
f. Buy handheld VHF and handheld GPS;
g. Buy storm jib and possibly trisail;
h. Buy and install any materiel to ensure your reefing equipment works properly;
i. Tow inflatable dinghy; and
j. Equip and ready ditch bag.

There, I just saved you thousands of $$$ in unnecessary electronics and toys. AIS, chartplotters and EPIRB are not necessary for coastal cruising on a 25' boat, although, of the three, the EPIRB would be the first I would spend money on.
I would agree that prepping well would substantially reduce the possibility of abandoning ship. However, it happens.

If it did, what good with the EPIRB be in 50 degree water? I suppose, if you were able to stay in the dinghy, you would live. However, you would have to limit the passages to fairly calm seas.
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Old 11-25-2012
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Re: Do I Need an EPIRB?

Your pricing is wrong. You can get an EPIRB for @ $400.

https://www.google.com/shopping/prod...ed=0CFcQ8wIwAQ

GPIRBs start about $100 higher. You can also get 2 PLB's for about $400 (stick to the McMurdo's they are less expensive).

As for the choices, no one can answer that for you but you. I wouldn't head out east in Maine without some sort of beacon (EPIRB or PLB). Plenty of others have sailed the world without one. For my way of thinking, they are just too cheap today to forego.

I don't see AIS, tethers and beacons as interchangeable in any way.

The bottom line though is Mum, right? Seems to me its a no-brainer.
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Old 11-25-2012
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Re: Do I Need an EPIRB?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Zanshin View Post
...

The DSC capable radio will send out a digital MAYDAY with accompanying digital GPS coordinates in the message. This will only go out to DSC radios (which commercial ships have) and it won't get lost if the operator happens to be on elsewhere when the emergency signal gets sent out - it triggers a very loud alarm on all DSC equipped radios and needs to be shut off manually. Unfortunately the standard limitations of VHF comunications apply and the other ship will have to be relatively close - plus your antenna still needs to be attached to the boat.
...
You mean that DSC is not mandatory in the US for pleasure coastal boats? It is on Europe for several years.

I guess that if you have a DSC radio, that is not very expensive (assuming that US has stations for the reception of the DSC signal) the Epirp is only a must have if you sail out of range of coastal stations. If not than a nice new radio with DSC (some even have AIS reception) can be the less expensive solution since a radio is a more polivalent tool. Anyway an Epirp is a very good security tool to have on board and contrary to the DSC radio it is one that you can take to the liferaft.

Well not here, where the portable radios cannot have DSC but they can have it and there are at least one with that capacity and that one you can take it to the liferaft. I know it because I have one of those, not on account of DSC that is disconnected but because it provides a back up GPS.

Regards

Paulo
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Last edited by PCP; 11-25-2012 at 11:54 AM.
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