December 2011

Communication breakdown

Going offshore? Take an EPIRB

Communications equipment is your lifeline on the water, and the more backup you have, the better.

Last fall, Coast Guard Station San Diego took a call at 1830 from a person reporting two friends adrift in a 19-footer five miles offshore.

After losing power, the boaters couldn’t use their VHF marine radio to summon help. They used their cell phone, their only backup, to call their friend, but the signal kept breaking up.

It was cold. The boaters had no anchor and no propulsion, and their boat was drifting toward the rocks off North Coronado Island. Then the phone went dead.

With darkness coming on, the Coast Guard dispatched an MH-60 Jayhawk helicopter to search for the vessel near their last reported position. At the same time, a 41-foot rescue boat raced to the scene.

In the last rays of daylight, the Jayhawk crew spotted the vessel 50 feet from the rocks. They hoisted the man and woman from the boat and remained on the scene, guiding the rescue boat that took the vessel in tow.

Cell phone signals are sporadic offshore, making them poor backup for a hardwired VHF marine radio. An Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) or battery-powered marine radio would have been a better choice for getting help quickly.

A rocky shoreline like this one almost cost two boaters their boat and their lives

For more information and tips on boating safety, visit www.uscgboating.org.



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