Increase Your Odds After Activating the EPIRB
Before--and after--activating an EPIRB in international waters, take these steps to lengthen the odds that you're safely rescued. "Seamanship" from our November 2011 issue.
Learning that a loved one’s EPIRB has been activated can be terrifying. But there are ways for those on shore to help, both before the fact and once you’ve been informed of the emergency. Before the sailors set out, establish a float plan and an ETA, a list of their alternate ports, and a contact schedule. If the vessel carries a sat phone, pre-establish a daily time to call if the EPIRB is activated. In addition, take these steps:
Track position reports and save any emails: Any information you can provide to SAR authorities—the onboard situation, the boat’s last known position, the relevant weather, any equipment problems, and the like—is invaluable.
Record the contact information for radio-net controllers covering the vessel’s passage area, and contact them in an emergency: In three cases with which we’re familiar, a vessel had reported problems or concerns to the net before the EPIRB was triggered, but the net controllers had no way of knowing that the EPIRB had been activated, so valuable information wasn’t communicated to the SAR authorities. If a crew has made regular contact on the radio nets, the net controller has information on their whereabouts and situation. If they haven’t, the controller will be aware of vessels in their vicinity that may be able to provide useful information or help search.
Contact (and join) Boatwatch: The organization locates lost mariners and passes urgent messages to them. Your message posted on Boatwatch is transmitted to its international network of marinas, radio controllers, and other maritime organizations.
Inform and update Internet cruising forums: In cases involving limited SAR resources, the online community has assisted families by facilitating communication with the RCC in a foreign country, providing translation services and informing local boats and the media.
Contact the U.S. embassy in the country where the RCC is located: They may be able to assist with translation or to persuade authorities to deploy assets.
Realize that the U.S. Coast Guard may be unable to assist: The U.S. Coast Guard’s assistance is limited by its available SAR assets in a given area and by its contacts with the foreign RCC. In many cases, there is little more it can do beyond providing information on the vessel’s reported position.
Two-time circumnavigator and author Beth A. Leonard wishes to thank the U.S. Coast Guard and Ron Trossbach of US Sailing’s Safety at Sea Committee for their assistance with this article.