EPIRB, VPIRB and/or PLB?


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We (young couple with baby and toddler) have just purchased a Moody 425 and plan to sail her back to Australia eventually. The next year or two we will spend in the Med. On our web search for buying a new EPIRB (almost the same cost as servicing the old one, plus a new one has GPS - very important to us!) we came across many heated discussions on PLB vs EPIRB. The former has the advantage of being hooked onto the lifejacket, so for short-handed and night sailing it sounds like it 'd be the best option. EPIRBs, however, have the advantage of longer transmission time. And someone also mentioned a combined EPIRB/VHF DSC alert gadget as a future possibility in a 2010 thread, calling it VPIRB... Does anyone know if such gadget exists now? and/or have any other advice/opinion on this subject? The ones I have found online are not linked to SARSAT (although some companies play on the name and misleading diagrams to make one believe they would...). Thanks.
Daria Blackwell
Daria Blackwell
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I found this on the gmdss.com website.

"Under GMDSS regulations issued under the authority of the IMO, vessels sailing exclusively in GMDSS Sea Area A1 may carry a VHF EPIRB rather than a COSPAS-SARSAT EPIRB.

VHF EPIRB were designed for use on VHF CH 70 transmitting in a DSC format and would indicate the following:
Nature of Distress – EPIRB transmission
They would not have to indicate the Distress position
They would not indicate follow on communication, that is RT
At the present time no manufacturer has supplied such a type of EPIRB."

We have an EPIRB and a PLB. We carry the PLB in a pocket in rough weather. The EPIRB is a newer one with GPS mounted in the companionway. I don 't think I would want to rely on the PLB alone as the battery life is too short in comparison. You want to be able to deploy the EPIRB when things are really bad but perhaps before you actually have to leave the boat. Then the PLB would be a great backup for when the EPIRB battery runs out. Either way, you hope you never have to use either.

BTW, we also take our PLB wilderness hiking and skiing. That 's an advantage.

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Daria Blackwell
Daria Blackwell
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Check out the new AIS GPS MOB recovery devices by McMurdo and Kannad. http://www.panbo.com/archives/2011/03/ais_mob_kannad_safelink_r10_mcmurdo_smartfind_s10.html

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Allan Riches
Allan Riches
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Once you get beyond the excellent shore-based comms and S&R services in Europe and come onto our side of the world, it 's important to understand that your communications, emergency equipment and safety procedures on-board need to adapt to the empty spaces, the lack of quick response S&R services, and the fact it could be days before an official response is on-location.

Some quotes from MRCC Australia 's website might help explain the situation, with my comments in brackets:

Even once a (EPIRB) position is obtained, response times then depend on the time for a search and rescue (SAR) unit, such as a helicopter, aircraft or ground party to be readied and transit to the search area. The more remote the location of the distress incident, the longer the response time. In all instances, be prepared to survive." (Because distances are great, shipping densities are low and there are no nearby RNLI lifeboats or Coast Guard cutters on 24/7 standby.)

"While satellites and satellite-compatible distress beacons have significantly improved the effectiveness of SAR operations, the system is NOT a substitute for carrying appropriate marine or aviation radio." (Because the DSC capable marine radio can immediately alert all known or unknown vessels nearby with one simple DSC alarm call.)

"Depending on the circumstances, your initial distress alert should still be made by radio if possible.. You should activate your distress beacon only if contact cannot be made by any other means or when told to do so by a rescue authority." (Because distances are great, and the time needed to get an official S&R response on-site might be beyond the battery life of the EPIRB.)

"Distress beacons should only be used when there is a threat of grave and imminent danger. In the event of an emergency, communication should first be attempted with others close by using radios, phones and other signaling devices." (Because nearby help from another mariner will likely be much faster.)

With regard to someone falling overboard, self-reliance is therefore the key. Avoid the problem in the first instance by having people clipped on, and consider wearing a harness with life-jacket on deck at all times. It 's a matter of assessing risk and consequences. Even if the risk is low - because the weather and sea conditions are benign - the consequences of being in the water in an empty ocean are pretty severe.

When choosing an electronic system, look for one that helps you - or other nearby vessels which come to assist - to quickly find the person in the water. There are no nearby RNLI crews or coast guard cutters to vector in to a PLB signal received by a distant MRCC.

With a short-handed crew, a MOB transmitter which can alert the crew sleeping below that the person on deck has gone over the side, and links into the AIS in your boat to provide a precise location, should provide a local answer and therefore a fast response solution with a high probability of success.
GO

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