Sailors can thank recently adopted commercial-shipping regulations for a new generation of electronic emergency beacons. These devices are designed to connect vessels in distress via satellite to a global network of rescue centers, while also broadcasting Automatic Identification System alerts over marine radio channels to (potentially) summon help that much quicker.
Florida-based ACR Electronics and its UK sister company, Ocean Signal, are the first to take advantage of the new rules. They are set to go with products expected to be approved by US regulators and made widely available this winter.
For mariners, this merging of satellite and VHF-radio-frequency technologies in a single device—either an emergency position indicating radio beacon or a personal locator beacon—is a game-changer. In a crisis, this tech will ensure that a request for assistance will be broadcast to as wide a net of potential rescuers as possible.
McMurdo, which was first to develop an EPIRB with AIS capabilities, currently has its SmartFind G8 model on the market, though the device still needs modifications to meet some aspects of the new rules announced in July by the International Maritime Organization’s Maritime Safety Committee.
Since the 1980s, mariners have relied on a vessel’s EPIRB to broadcast emergency alerts to authorities via a network of satellites and ground stations. Though thousands of lives have been saved by the global COSPAS-SARSAT network, it can take time for distress calls to be processed and for help to arrive. And in a crisis, time is of the essence.
In more recent years, as electronic components shrank in size and battery life increased, PLBs were introduced, allowing sailors to affix them to, say, a life jacket and take them along from boat to boat. These PLBs rely on the same emergency network as EPIRBs.
With the advent of AIS, electronics manufacturers also developed personal AIS beacons, whose signals can be picked up by AIS transponders on nearby vessels. The benefit here is that should you go overboard, your own crew will be alerted, and in coastal waters, other boats equipped with AIS may be able to respond quickly. The drawback, though, is that the range of the beacons is limited to just a few miles, so if there are no other vessels around, or if your crewmates are asleep or distracted, the signal could go unnoticed.
ACR’s GlobalFix V5 AIS EPIRB and its ResQLink AIS Personal Locator Beacon both contain satellite and local communication transponders. The dual-purpose EPIRB is a result of the IMO’s new rules for commercial vessels. Meanwhile, developers were able to take advantage of more-efficient electronics and better batteries to also produce the new lineup of ResQLink beacons. Similar products are sold under the Ocean Signal brand and include the rescueMe EPIRB3 and the rescueMe PLB3. (The latter, winner of the Metstrade 2022 Overall Dame Award, will be available only in Europe; the ResQLink, with identical technology in a different exterior case, will be sold in the Americas.)
Mikele D’Arcangelo, ACR’s vice president of global marketing and product management, says that the new AIS PLBs are compact enough to fit the majority of the inflatable PFDs on the market.
Both the ACR and Ocean Signal products offer a couple of other features that D’Arcangelo says improve upon existing technology. Previous models have included strobe lights, but the new beacons contain infrared strobes as well, making them more visible in daylight and low-visibility conditions, another IMO requirement.
The EPIRBs and PLBs also offer smartphone connectivity, using near-field communication technology. By placing a phone with the ACR or Ocean Signal app near the beacon, a user can capture data about battery life, beacon programming, the number and results of self-tests, and GPS test locations. Again, D’Arcangelo says, technology was key here. By using a chip similar to what’s imbedded in credit cards, data can be transferred without using power from the beacon’s battery; the phone provides the power instead.
The EPIRBs and beacons also have Return Link Service, which receives a signal from the satellite network and alerts the user that a call for help has successfully gone out and been received by authorities.
The street price for the ResQLink AIS PLB is just under $500; the price for an automatic GlobalFix V5 is around $930, and the manual version goes for less than $800. Online, you will find the McMurdo SmartFind 8, Category 2, for about $600. Category 1 EPIRBs automatically release from their bracket when submerged, while Category 2 devices need to be manually activated.
Let’s Set Sail
One result of the trend toward smaller, easier-to-handle headsails has been the adoption of bowsprits and furling off-the-wind sails for cruising sailboats. While continuous-line furlers have been in use for some time, Facnor is making the trimmer’s job all that much easier with its electric motorized flying sail furlers.
The FXe Code Sail Electric Furler is compact and relatively simple to set up, with a power connection to a deck plug. A radio controller is an option, letting you move about while operating the furler. It can furl a 1,500-square-foot code zero in 45 seconds.
And speaking of flying sails, North Sails has introduced an Easy Furling Gennaker that’s designed for downwind cruising.
The gennaker is constructed of lightweight nylon spinnaker cloth and is built to be stowed and deployed using a top-down furler. Still, the sail is cut full, allowing it to be used for running off the wind. It is the deepest wind angle furling sail in the North cruising lineup. It’s available in a variety of colors and includes an internal luff cord for reliable furling. Prices vary by boat.
Just in time for barbecue season, Magma has introduced its Crossover Series grill. Want steak? There’s a grill top for that. Pizza? There’s a pizza top. There’s also a griddle top and a plancha top to suit various culinary needs. All are propane-powered. And, of course, there are accessories, carrying bags, mounting hardware and spare parts available to keep the various cooking platforms in top condition.
An owner starts with a single- (around $500) or double-burner firebox ($700) and adds from there. A grill top goes for around $400, the plancha is $100, and the pizza top is $400.
What else is there to say but, “Bon appetit, matey.”
Keep In Touch
If your sailing adventures take you out of cellular-phone range, you can still communicate with friends and family—and, in an emergency, rescue authorities—with Garmin’s inReach Mini Marine Bundle, which includes all the cables and mounting hardware you need to be on your way. The inReach Mini can network with other onboard instruments such as a Garmin smartwatch and chart plotter, and you can use it to update weather forecasts, send and receive texts, and let others track your voyage. If things go wrong, it will send SOS messages to authorities, all across the Iridium satellite network. The inReach Mini’s rechargeable battery can last up to 90 hours in tracking mode with 10-minute updates, and up to 24 days in 30-minute tracking power-save mode. It’s listed online for around $400. A service subscription is extra.
Also helping you to stay in touch with the world back home is Raymarine’s YachtSense Link, a marine router that will let you network onboard gear such as your Axiom chart plotter, phone, tablet and laptop. Combine the router with Raymarine’s mobile app, and you’ll be able to monitor onboard devices such as pumps, batteries and lighting, and you can monitor your sailboat by setting up a geofence. Online prices start at about $1,200.
How We Doin’, Coach?
Some sailors take a set-it-and-forget-it approach to sail trim. Others will endlessly fiddle with sheets, vang, backstay and traveler, with one eye on the speedo and the other watching for puffs that might add a little more speed over ground. If you fall in the latter camp, Sailmon has you covered with its Max Mini, an onboard tracker that records your every tack and jibe, and, back home, replays your voyage with lots of data to see just how sharp you were at the wheel. With the Mini paired to your phone, you can monitor your speed, heading and angle of heel, and later analyze what had you going fast so that next time, you can minimize what had you stuck in the slow lane. You can also share data with the larger Sailmon community in the spirit of friendly competition. Think of the Mini as your own personal performance coach, whose services will run you a one-time cost of right around $500.
Keep It Simple
One doesn’t have to own a boat very long to discover that mooring and dock lines left in salt water quickly become home to barnacles, slime, shells and a host of other messy creatures. Some ingenious thinker at Boatasy, a Slovenian company that focuses on mooring and dock equipment, looked the problem square in the eye and came up with a solution: the Ropecleaner. This simple device has a handle affixed to a stainless-steel spiral. To use it, you wind a mooring or dock line around the spiral, and then simply pull the tool along the rope, cleaning as you go. The Ropecleaner is available online for about $40.
Keep It Clean
Sailors keen on leaving disposable plastic water bottles behind and relying instead on their boat’s water tanks can keep the potable water system clean by using the water-treatment tablets developed by Aquamarine Water Solutions. One Aquatab treats 4 gallons of water. Drop the required number of tabs into the tank, wait 30 minutes, and you can be certain the water is safe to drink. The company says that Aquatabs protect against giardia cysts, bacteria and viruses, and the tablets have a shelf life of two years. A 100-tablet jar sells for right around $30.
Roll With It
Big boat, small boat, powerboat or sailboat: Look below or search the lockers, and one piece of kit that you’ll find in just about any vessel afloat is a boat hook. After all, they come in handy in so many ways, besides the obvious work of picking up a mooring or dock line. I’ve used them to pole out a jib, retrieve innumerable hats, fetch an escaped halyard, and, on several occasions, with a fishing net taped to the handle, to feebly try to pluck lost items from the depths.
As handy and ubiquitous as boat hooks are, though, whenever I’m at a boat show—and I go to a lot of them—I always marvel at the number of people walking around with one or more boat hooks in hand, or, later in the day, hanging out with their boat hook in a restaurant or bar. Even a telescoping boat hook looks awkward ashore. And then there’s the question of where to stow the thing at sea. No matter their size, boat hooks often seem to be in the way when they’re not in use.
For that dilemma, PYI offers a solution: the Revolve boat hook. When not in use, the boat hook rolls up into roughly a 4-inch cylinder that weighs just under a pound. Unrolled, it’s 75 inches long, and it has a push/pull pressure rating of 66 pounds. The boat hook is made from Rolatube structural composite material, technology that’s used in a variety of industries, from aerospace to nuclear power plants.
Rolled up, the boat hook is easy to store, but better yet, at a boat show, you can buy one for about $120, stick it in a handbag or backpack, and then take it to the bar without looking like you just came from a boat show.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Products in this story were nominated for or received Innovation Awards or other notable awards during 2022 trade and boat shows, including Metstrade, the Miami International Boat Show, the International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition & Conference, and the Newport International Boat Show.