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Old 10-05-2017, 11:37 PM   #1
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When to use the PLB?

I was thinking...

I crossed over from West End to Fort Pierce this summer on the way back from an Abaco trip. Seas were a little rough but no great difficulty. It was my first time to the Bahamas and I marveled how strong the Gulf Stream current was. I mean, I had read about it and thought I understood it, but it was still surprising how quickly it swept us about 20 plus miles north of where we were headed.

Anyway, I was thinking about what would have happened if the engine had conked out. My boat has some sails used mostly for steadying, and I had them out for the crossing, but the way the wind was blowing from the stern that day I was not able to get much production from my fairly small sails. With the current, the sails would not have gotten me to Fort Pierce, and I would not have made landfall anywhere during daylight hours.

So with useless sails and no engine, and with darkness approaching, is that a reason to use the PLB and call for help? (I say PLB because I don't have an EPIRB). Also, I'm assuming I am out of cell phone or radio range. I'm thinking maybe the answer is no, because technically it's not an emergency since I'm floating and relatively comfortable, but in my case maybe it would be since I'm not sure what I would have done.

So if not an emergency, and with nightfall coming, would I attempt to heave to and wait for daylight? I say attempt because I've never tried to heave to in this (or any for that matter) boat, so I need to practice that.
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Old 10-06-2017, 06:31 AM   #2
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Its a judgement call as to what constitures an emergency.

My experience in the USCG is they would rather know of a developing SAR case early rather than later.

Loss of propulsion with no means of solution by those on board, plus no or unreliable communications would in my mind constitute a situation where a PLB would be appropriate....... in the area you were travelling.

The USCG has assets in the air almost every day close enough that they can locate you and ascertain your situation in most cases. In other parts of the world were rescue assets are not so easily available....trying to tough it out for a day or so to locate help via radio or other signalling may be the more prudent thing to do.

Never assume you are out of radio contact as aircraft a good distance away, especially in the SE US/Caribbean, can often hear you.
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Old 10-06-2017, 07:27 AM   #3
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When to use the PLB?

Thanks for the info.

Good point on the radio-- I forgot about airplanes and ships that may be nearby. So how long (and how often) should someone make a mayday or pan pan call before giving up and activating the PLB or EPIRB? Is loss of propulsion in the middle of the Gulf Stream mayday or pan pan?
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Old 10-06-2017, 08:06 AM   #4
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If there is no direct threat to safety, I would not use the plb. Loss of propulsion would put me on the vhf say every hour or half hour trying to raise another vessel. Eventually one should get near enough to make coms, then ask them to relay to CG or use satphone to call cg or sea tow. Also land based cg stations often have rather high antennae, so you might be surprised the distance the vhf may cover.

If conditions are getting bad enough to put vessel at risk, or storm approaching, then use vhf and plb.

Strongly considering satphone on next trip with lots of offshore miles.
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Old 10-06-2017, 08:10 AM   #5
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I would call for as long as I felt confident the conditions were such to be no real threat to safety, that includes someone falling or otherwise hurting themselves. I know that could be at anytime, just gotta think about it.

If it was overnight, so be it. By 0900 the next morning, I would be setting off the PLB.

I would start with pan pan, go to mayday the minute anything deteriorated, including the near term forcast.
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Old 10-06-2017, 11:51 AM   #6
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Please take this is in the constructive way it is intended... but in your very unique vessel, there should be almost no such thing as a 'loss of propulsion' emergency. Especially with the wind from astern. What you would have had - assuming the weather wasn't scary and you weren't starving - was a fantastic learning experience.

I'm sure that boat won't sail 'well' in many respects, but it's probably as good as what Columbus had back in the day. And once the engine is out of the equation the sailing characteristics should be more akin to normal sailing, where the apparent wind is not confusing things.

With more experience should come more confidence in your abilities and the boat's. I'm sure many are envious of the peace of mind that sailing rig should give you in the event of engine failure.

That said, any emergency is really whatever the skipper deems an emergency. Get it taken care of and sort out the pleasantries later.
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Old 10-06-2017, 01:04 PM   #7
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When to use the PLB?

No offense taken. I readily admit much or all of the lack of propulsion/steadying on that crossing was probably operator error/inexperience. When I went on that Abaco trip I had tested the sails a grand total of 2 times, so I'm definitely low on the learning curve. And really, that's why I posted-- it would seem a little silly to activate the PLB just because I couldn't figure out the sails. . I could have altered course and had a much better ride and better sailing I think, but I didn't of course at the time because the engine was running and I was trying to make my destination before dark.

My sails are small and in about 15 knots I can really only make about 3 knots on a reach, and it doesn't sail very well to windward (or I don't know how). If I did alter course for a reach that would have me either headed into the current of the GS, or I could have turned and headed back towards the Bahamas for a reach that way. Or maybe heave to and let the current take me?

To ask another way, what would a conventional sailboat do in this situation where the engine would not start and there was no wind, and it happened out in the middle of the GS?
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Old 10-06-2017, 01:20 PM   #8
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Just ride the stream til you get enough wind to sail. You may not end up in the port you want, but that is not an emergency.
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Old 10-06-2017, 01:21 PM   #9
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So with useless sails and no engine, and with darkness approaching, is that a reason to use the PLB and call for help?
My opinion would be no. Engine failure and darkness approaching would be a inconvenience, but not an emergency.
Keep trying to make contact on your vhf. It would probably be a pan pan, definitely not a mayday unless someone is injured.

Your sails may not always take you in the direction you want to go, but take into account the weather forecast and the currents and work out what options you have. Morocco is nice at this time of year. (Just kidding)

On a side note - Take into account strong currents like the Gulf Stream when originally planning your course. Try to stay on the upstream side so if there is a problem, the current works in your favour, rather than against you.
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Old 10-06-2017, 01:28 PM   #10
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Just ride the stream til you get enough wind to sail. You may not end up in the port you want, but that is not an emergency.

Ok. Cool. Got it.

Thanks all.
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Old 10-06-2017, 01:34 PM   #11
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...To ask another way, what would a conventional sailboat do in this situation where the engine would not start and there was no wind, and it happened out in the middle of the GS?
We weren’t in the GS but on the west coast of Mexico when we lost a valve on our 4-108. We said we’re a sailboat right. It took us 4-24 hour days to sail 250 miles north to PV. A couple of times we’d be watching the gps adding distance to our way point with the contrary current. After I got over the fact that we had to rebuild the engine, we delt with it. We weren’t in any danger. We did get a tow once we were in front of Paradise Village, Bandarus Bay.
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Old 10-06-2017, 02:24 PM   #12
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We weren’t in the GS but on the west coast of Mexico when we lost a valve on our 4-108. We said we’re a sailboat right. It took us 4-24 hour days to sail 250 miles north to PV. A couple of times we’d be watching the gps adding distance to our way point with the contrary current. After I got over the fact that we had to rebuild the engine, we delt with it. We weren’t in any danger. We did get a tow once we were in front of Paradise Village, Bandarus Bay.

Yikes! 4 days to go 250 miles! And that was in a real sailboat. Was there very little wind or just too much current?
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Old 10-06-2017, 03:25 PM   #13
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Yikes! 4 days to go 250 miles! And that was in a real sailboat. Was there very little wind or just too much current?
Not much wind and from the wrong direction. The current wasn't much but it was against us the whole trip back. We had plenty of food, the weather was good and we were never in any danger. In all honesty though, it was a little frustrating.
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Old 10-06-2017, 04:34 PM   #14
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Waiting is OK, just dont get to the point where you miss a float plan mark, or someone is expecting you and you dont show up and are not in communication range for very long.

At that point, if a search is started, even if just a communications search, activating the PLB will keep it short and resources ready for the next one.
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Old 10-06-2017, 05:52 PM   #15
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Much of my thoughts has been said. But:
*You should learn how to heave to. You have the sails,it won`t be difficult to master.
*Not sure about equating a PLB to an EPIRB. The latter has longer battery life,being registered to the boat authorities know instantly the boat in trouble. The former is registered to you,it will not tell authorities what boat to look for. The EPIRB could be more powerful in signal, I don`t know really know that, it`s assumption.
An EPIRB is not expensive, to my mind it is the standard item to carry, rather than a PLB.There have been some spectacular rescues here achieved via EPIRB. Commercial aircraft seem to be a great source of initial reception and alerting Authorities.
Australia has the Australian Marine Safety Authority(AMSA), a surprisingly user friendly Govt authority which registers EPIRBs and co-ordinates searches based on reports. It may do much more for all I know,it seems a well oiled machine.I`m guessing it`s not unique.
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Old 10-06-2017, 06:56 PM   #16
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My advice, don't go to sea without an EPIRB.
I know of one case SeaTow tried to claim salvage on the boat they were towing. Needless to say, one phone call to BoatUS 'corrected' that claim.
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Old 10-06-2017, 07:07 PM   #17
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You're right to think about it now, but such a low probability. Engines start, run you a good distance, too far to return to shore, then they're very likely to make it.

Now, as to the situation you describe.

1. Remain calm and in control. Don't you panic and you showing that as captain will keep others from doing so.

2. Assess the real situation. Is there really an eminent danger? So, I'm being driven north and may hit FL in Melbourne. The point is at this point, all you truly care about is getting to shore or getting close enough to get Sea Tow or Towboat US. Their coverage includes the Bahamas too so don't forget that. You might need assistance in reaching them or might not. I would try to get communication with them and if it had to go through the CG that's fine.

3. You're floating around in the middle of a beautiful sea in relatively calm water hopefully. If that's true it doesn't matter how slow the trip is. Maybe you'll all catch some fish. Now it does matter that people on shore expecting you know where you are. It would be a nice time to gain sailing experience.

If I ever doubted the value of a satellite phone, the hurricanes blew all doubt away. If making this trip regularly I'd have one. For a while our only communication with Key West and Puerto Rico was satellite phones.

My point is that unless the captain makes it an emergency it's not one, just a big inconvenience. Now if conditions are changing or projected to change rapidly then do treat it more seriously. Most people dream of being out under the moon and stars on a boat between the Bahamas and Florida. Take turns getting at least a little rest.

If it happens, which I doubt it ever will, I hope you end up with a good story to tell and laugh about spending the night out there and where you ended up or where the tow boat came to pull you the last distance. I would suggest if you want to understand even better then talk to tow operators in the area too and ask them about situations like you describe. I'll guarantee you won't be the first.
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Old 10-06-2017, 07:08 PM   #18
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My advice, don't go to sea without an EPIRB.
I know of one case SeaTow tried to claim salvage on the boat they were towing. Needless to say, one phone call to BoatUS 'corrected' that claim.
SeaTow and TowBoat US are two different competing entities.
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Old 10-06-2017, 07:13 PM   #19
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SeaTow and TowBoat US are two different competing entities.
OOPS, I do not recall which it was.....
Either way, some organization claiming salvage because they provided a requested tow would hear from their 'mother ship.'
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Old 10-06-2017, 07:33 PM   #20
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Between Miami and Melbourne there are 13 TowBoatUS providers and 13 Seatow providers.
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