By Rachel Johnson, Executive Director, National Safe Boating Council
You’ve checked everything off your list – life jackets, sunscreen, food and snacks – you’re ready to enjoy the perfect day on the water with friends. Despite being fully prepared, the weather shifts unexpectedly, and pretty soon you find yourself in a lot of trouble, fast. You grab your cellphone from your pocket to call for help, but there’s no signal. Fortunately, your vessel has a registered Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) with GPS capabilities, and Search and Rescue forces are alerted and arrive within minutes to help.
Each year, more than 500 lives are lost in recreational boating accidents. While it is very important for boaters to understand the importance of boating safety, such as always wearing a life jacket, staying sober and following navigation rules – having an emergency locator 406 MHz beacon on board their boat or on their life jacket can mean the difference between life and death when it’s critical for Search and Rescue forces to arrive as soon as possible.
The Saved by the Beacon National Safe Boating Campaign, led by the National Safe Boating Council (safeboatingcouncil.org), shares the importance of boaters owning an emergency locator (406 MHz) beacon and understanding how to use them correctly in the case of an emergency. An emergency locator beacon is used to alert Search and Rescue forces by transmitting a coded message on the 406 MHz distress frequency via satellite and earth stations to the nearest Rescue Coordination Center.
Boaters often prefer an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRB) over a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), because it is registered to the vessel, not the person. An EPIRB should be mounted in an area on the vessel free of overhead obstructions, yet easily accessible (Category I). It may also be carried in a ditch bag, which is a compact floating bag designed to hold items a boater may need in an emergency (Category II). An EPIRB is waterproof and may be manually or automatically activated. They are specifically designed for a worse case scenario of just you and the beacon in the water. If your EPIRB has GPS coordinates, it can alert Search and Rescue of your position in as little as 2-3 minutes. Owning a properly installed EPIRB is a sound investment for boaters, as it may save your life and the lives of loved ones during an emergency.
A PLB works in the same way as an EPIRB, but is registered to the person, not a vessel, and may be used on land as well as the water. However, PLBs require a little more effort to operate, as they must be manually activated and held out of the water to function properly. A PLB is small enough for boaters to attach to one’s life jacket, however, if it is not attached to your life jacket, you may not have it when you need it the most. The National Safe Boating Council believes wearing a life jacket is a simple life-saving strategy for recreational boaters. Learn more at safeboatingcampaign.com.
Both EPIRBs and PLBs must be registered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) at beaconregistration.noaa.gov – it is very easy and takes just a few minutes that might become a lifetime of survival. If any of your information changes, you must update your registration (phone, address, marital status, sell your boat).
There are hundreds of stories of peoples’ lives saved by the use of emergency locator beacons. To learn more, please visit savedbythebeacon.com. Before you go boating next, make sure to purchase, register, and have on board your vessel an emergency locator 406 MHz beacon. You never know when it may save your life and the lives of others.
Rachel Johnson is executive director of the National Safe Boating Council (NSBC), a nationally trusted resource for the advancement and promotion of safer boating through education, outreach and training. Saved by the Beacon is a national campaign led by the NSBC to help recreational boaters understand the importance of emergency locator (406 MHz) beacons and how to use them correctly in the case of a boating emergency. The campaign is produced under a grant from the Sports Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, administered by the U.S. Coast Guard. For more information, please visit savedbythebeacon.com. Follow NSBC at twitter.com/safeboatcouncil and facebook.com/nationalsafeboatingcouncil.