COB devices can save your life
If you fall overboard, having an alert crewmate who knows what to do may be your best chance of being rescued. You can do your part by wearing a life jacket with a whistle and signal light or strobe. To further increase your chances of survival, consider using some kind of electronic crew overboard device.
The basic overboard alert system consists of a shipboard receiver tuned to individual transmitters each assigned to a crew member. An alarm sounds if you go overboard. Although these systems alert everyone on board, they can’t help locate you, alert other vessels or contact rescue services.
COB transmitters for vessels equipped with Automated Identification System receivers are personal devices registered with a specific individual’s identification information. If you fall overboard, the system automatically transmits your unique signal and coordinates; however, only vessels in the immediate area with their systems on receive the signal and recognize that you are a person and not a vessel. The vessel you fall off should also be monitoring the system. The range for this technology is a couple of nautical miles at best.
Having a hand-held waterproof VHF radio with DSC capability with you when you go overboard could save your life. Once your DSC radio is registered with a Maritime Mobile Service Identity number, pressing the distress button transmits your position and issues a distress signal to all DSC receivers in the area as well as the Rescue 21 search and rescue system. Shipboard DSC systems have a range of up to 20 miles offshore. With a range of 3 to 8 miles, handheld units are within the Rescue 21 system range for coastal cruisers only.
A must for offshore vessels, Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons come with either automatically or manually triggered distress signals. EPIRBs transmit to a worldwide network of satellites that can identify the unit and its coordinate position. You must register your EPIRB every two years.
For about $200 to $300, you can purchase a small, waterproof Personal Locator Beacon that will transmit a manually triggered distress signal. Operating on the same system as EPIRBs, PLBs must also be registered and can be used anywhere in the world on land or sea. Some newer PLBs provide GPS position coordinates for greater accuracy.
Whatever electronic device you choose, don’t forget to wear a properly equipped life jacket.