Beacons of hope

National Safe Boating Week is here! Compass is sharing important safety tips throughout the week and today’s is on life-saving beacons.

COSPAS-SARSAT

With satellite-fed maps on every smart phone, getting lost seems like a problem of a past era. But what happens when your electronics short out, your boat starts taking on water or catches on fire and you have to abandon ship? Now you’re lost because your cell phone is an expensive brick because it just hit the water, and your GPS and radio are under water.

Now what?

You were a smart boater and you filed a float plan by letting a friend know where you were boating and when to expect you back. You are wearing a life jacket and are dressed for the water temperature by wearing a dry suit. You are safe afloat hanging on to your partially submerged boat, but nobody on land is going to worry for a few more hours. You are lost and stranded in the middle of a lake and none of your fellow boaters have any clue you’re in distress.

Coast Guard Seaman Samantha Randall displays a personal Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon required to be carried by U.S. Coast Guardsmen who are underway. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Coast Guard Seaman Samantha Randall displays a personal Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon required to be carried by U.S. Coast Guardsmen who are underway. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Then you remember there is a personal locator beacon in your life jacket pocket. Its waterproof so it still works unlike that handy cell phone you were relying on. You hit a button and activate the waterproof handheld device. It sends a signal and the Coast Guard is soon at your side pulling you out of the water.

Although PLBs are not required on recreational vessels, the Coast Guard strongly recommends them and strongly suggests that boaters and paddlers make an additional investment on their life by having one attached to or in every life jacket on your boat or paddle craft.

What is it?

A PLB is a small battery-powered device that transmits a digital burst to a satellite once every 50 seconds, which the Coast Guard monitors. The PLBs will send out a continual signal for 48 hours unless turned off. New search-and rescue technology aboard Coast Guard helicopters and response boats can now home in on the signal of a transmitting PLB. With this new technology the Coast Guard can know your location to within 3 feet in less than 3 minutes.

Additionally, the 406 Mhz PLB signals are coded, allowing non-PLB signals to be filtered out by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration operated search and rescue satellite aided tracking.

How does it work?

The SARSAT system uses NOAA satellites in low-earth and geostationary orbits to detect and locate aviators, mariners and land-based users in distress. The satellites relay distress signals from emergency beacons to a network of ground stations and ultimately to the U.S. Mission Control Center in Suitland, Md. The USMCC processes the distress signal and alerts the appropriate search and rescue authorities to who is in distress and, more importantly, where they are located. Truly, SARSAT takes the “search” out of search and rescue! This seems like a lot but it all happens within a matter of minutes.PLB-registration

NOAA-SARSAT is a part of the international COSPAS SARSAT Program to which 41 nations and two independent SAR organizations belong to.

Register your device.

For an EPIRB or PLB to work most effectively, it needs to be registered. In the United States it is required by law to be registered, so if the Coast Guard or another agency receives a beacon signal, would-be rescuers will be able to contact you or another point of contact to determine if there is an actual emergency situation.

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