Abby Sunderland rescue made possible by EPIRB

Wild Eyes dismasted in the Southern Indian Ocean (Photo courtesy of Australian Search & Rescue)

Wild Eyes dismasted in the Southern Indian Ocean (Photo courtesy of Australian Search & Rescue)

California teen Abby Sunderland may not have set a new record for the youngest solo sail around the world, but the story of her rescue exemplifies the value of all mariners carrying properly registered distress beacons when out on the water.

On June 10, Sunderland activated both an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) and a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) after a storm took her mast and left her boat adrift in the southern Indian Ocean. Over 2,000 miles from shore (too far for a marine radio) and without the satellite antenna atop her mast (so, no satellite phone), Sunderland’s distress beacons were her only means of alerting authorities that she was in trouble and letting them know where to start searching for her.

“The detective work on this case was relatively easy since Abby had her beacons properly registered and we knew where the vessel was the entire time,” said Senior Chief Douglas Samp, Pacific Area Command Center Command Duty Officer. “Our key concerns were affecting a multinational rescue 2,000 miles offshore.”

Since 1982, EPIRBs have been credited with the rescues of more than 26,000 mariners worldwide.

While the average boater may never find themselves in 60-knot breezes and 20-25 foot waves, carrying an EPIRB is an essential element of any responsible boater’s safety kit. The Coast Guard strongly recommends mariners obtain a 406 MHz EPIRB and file a float plan with a friend or family member on land, with an approximate time of return and location prior to getting underway. A float plan template can be found at www.floatplancentral.org.

EPIRB owners can register their equipment in the U.S. 406 MHz Beacon Registration Database at: www.beaconregistration.noaa.gov or by calling 1-888-212-SAVE. Beacon registration must be updated with accurate information every two years or whenever emergency contact or other personal information changes.

For more information on EPIRBs visit www.sarsat.noaa.gov.

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