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Old 03-18-2017, 12:55 AM   #1
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Who You Going to Call?

Getting ready to do some Pacific West Coast cruising and am debating the various emergency communication devices now available. Details: Nordic Tug 34, heading north from SF area to Pacific Northwest/BC Coast (possibly Southeastern Alaska) for 4-6 months. Will harbor-hop staying relatively near shore (out deep enough to avoid most pots) with the occasional (hopefully rare) overnight. No deadlines, happy to wait for the right weather windows. Just my wife & I on board, but we have probably 10,000 mi + cruising East Coast/Caribbean/Gulf recently as a couple and several San Juan cruises, including bringing my old Willard 30 from Portland to Seattle a few decades ago.

The options --

EPIRB - the old stand-by, one-way emergency signal for catastrophic vessel events.

PLB - one-way emergency signal that covers catastrophic vessel events and MOB. A disadvantage is that there is no direct PLB to vessel communication possible to aid in immediate MOB Search & Rescue. Possible third-party communication if everything happens just right.

MOB Device with AIS - personal device on PFD which broadcasts DSC signal and GPS data locally (5 mile range) to alert vessels in area of MOB and direct immediate Search & Rescue. No remote emergency transmissions from the device but one assumes remaining crew on board can initiate emergency communications via VHF.

Satellite Communication (Garmin inReach) - tracking available for family/friends, 2-way text messages possible and interactive emergency signal activation. No help with MOB S&R other than emergency messaging. Subscription required.

All of these are going to run around half a boat buck and, I suppose, you could carry more than one type of device on board, but Iím trying to convince myself that the right ONE would be enough. But which one is the right ONE?

Iím thinking that a catastrophic vessel event (immediate sinking) in coastal waters is unlikely to happen without people being notified of it via VHF/emergency signals, etc. and my biggest fear is the MOB situation. We do all the usual things to minimize getting into that situation, but IF it happens, especially in cold Pacific waters, that is a true life-threatening emergency. Since we tend to be pretty independent cruisers, Iím leaning toward the MOB device with AIS (on each PFD). I feel that, with these, thereís a better chance of us getting ourselves out of a MOB situation - a rare, but more likely event than a vessel catastrophe.

Thoughts?
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Old 03-18-2017, 06:56 AM   #2
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I got my PLB for around $250 on sale.

I think PLBS and EPIRB are still at the top of the emergency food chain....and not just for catastrophic events, but not casual use either.

Communication devices are nice, but I personally would try and keep my cruise legs short enough that several days of cruising wouldn't require one.. But I haven't planned a West Coast trip so my times between ports may be unrealistic.

But I still firmly believe that no other device has replaced an EPIRB/PLB, they just supplement them.

Many of the devices you discuss have fairly specific missions, and really aren't interchangeable. Sure there is overlap, but as you said, the time it takes can be critical.

If I was planning long legs offshore where medical type situations would worry me, then really only a sat phone would satisfy me. Speaking directly to a doctor and if it had photo transfer capability..... would be what I would pay for, no matter the cost and my cruising budget is tiny compared to many here.
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Old 03-18-2017, 08:00 AM   #3
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All this is in teh context of the area you are talking about, where you will have VHF and/or cell phone contact nearly everywhere. So with that in mind....

First line of defense I think would be a VHF with DSC, properly connected to your GPS. Evenif you are out of range of a CG tower, you are likely in range of another boat, and they are probably your best bet anyway for emergency assistance.

Second would be a cell phone. They are so darn easy to use, it's hard to ignore them. Just program in the number for the CG in your region.

I think the above two will cover the vast majority of emergency situations. You didn't mention either, so I'm guessing they are presumed. My only suggestion would be to confirm that you have full DSC functionality, which requires a connected GPS and an MMSI number programmed into the VHF. I think all DSC VHFs alarm in annoying ways if they are not correctly connected, so you will probably know if it's right or wrong.


From there, I think you are right that a MOB is your next risk. First defense is of course to prevent it from happening in the first place. Don't let people out in bad weather, make sure there is a watch if someone does go out, use lifelines, etc.

As for devices, I really like the PLBs with AIS for exactly the reason your say - it aids you in finding the person, and you are probably the closest help. We only have the regular PLBs, but I'm thinking about getting the AIS versions. MOB is definitely a concern, but I also worry about my wife who goes wandering off in her kayak and I often lose track of her. If she went in the water, I'd like to be able to go right to her.

In your case, I'm not sure a EPIB would add much. If you get a DSC alarm out, and you are in coastal waters, I don't think there is much value add. They really are for off-shore where you can easily be out of VHF range, and you can drift a long way before help arrives.

The Go devices, and others like them, strike me as more about general communications, letting friends and family know where you are, etc. But I probably wouldn't rank it as a primary safety device.

One thing you didn't mention are survival suits. If you have a catastrophic even and go down, even if you get a DSC alarm out and help is on the way, you won't last long in 40-50 deg water. Hypothermia is one thing, but my understanding is that the shock and resulting muscle spasms from the cold water often lead to drowning well in advance of hypothermia. They might be worth considering.
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Old 03-18-2017, 08:11 AM   #4
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I use PLB. I often travel solo and it can be kept in a pocket. Then standard stuff like VHF and cell phone, which will do in most coastal situations.

Next on the list is a satphone, which I have yet to get. If I do more Caribbean island hopping, I'll get one. Or some other device that allows some two way comms, have not researched that yet.

My dink is my raft.
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Old 03-18-2017, 08:30 AM   #5
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I am not cruising the ocean at this time but I would say that when it comes to security I will try to get all the chances on my side. EPIRB and PLB would certainly be both on my list and anything else that could reduce the risk to be lost at sea. I would not solely rely on my cell phone, sat phone, or vhf just because they are devices and there are a lot of reason why you could not be able to use them.
Security device like EPIRB and PLB are like an insurance, totally useless... until something happens and you are happy to have it.

My 2 cents

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Old 03-18-2017, 10:38 AM   #6
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Thanks for the comments.
Twistedtree - yes, all three VHFs have DSC & are registered. VHF has always been, & will probably remain, my primary communication tool for coastal cruising. Cell phone coverage in the proposed cruising area is, unfortunately, spotty, but we've got them in our pockets anyway. The Gumby suits are a non-starter with my fashion-concious wife .
Since the original post was primarily about communication, I didn't mention a few other emergency-preparedness items. We do have a directional FLIR mounted, have a Ditch Bag with emergency signals & portable VHF and a hard-side dinghy (Portland Pudgy) with quick-release mounts, on the swim step. We've done emergency drills and the two of us, starting from the pilothouse, can get the dinghy in the water in less than 20 seconds in calm water. It would, of course, be a bit longer with only one of us or under less-calm conditions.
As mentioned, prevention is the key, but expecting, and being prepared for the unexpected might just save the day...
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Old 03-18-2017, 12:41 PM   #7
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I'm going to stick my neck out here. For US/domestic coastal cruising, the USCG should not be the first on your call list even for most emergencies. By emergencies, I mean even safety or sinking. But, this assumes a good County response system. In SE Florida, for example, I have had to activate several emergency responses a few miles off the coast. The County was the first, by far, to launch a response. Both air helo and surface. The USCG was still in the gather info mode when actual capital was in site from the county. My hit rate was 3 out of 4 not favoring the Feds. The 4th time, it was just a tow job, but the private tow companies each had issues of craft availablity.
If you are in an area of poor local response, then obviously you should know that beforehand, and involve the folks who are in the area.
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Old 03-18-2017, 12:50 PM   #8
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I am not sure of where you are or what you were even trying to say...but I cannot agree.

While the USCG might collect a lot of info on the radio, there is plenty being done behind the scenes to coordinate.

The worse the weather or circumstances, the more likely the USCG will be the responder, even if it takes a bit longer.

A mayday call isn't specific anyway...anyone including a county agency can answer.
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Old 03-18-2017, 01:04 PM   #9
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PLB in your life jacket for serious, life-threatening emergencies.

inReach for staying in touch with family/friends and summoning help in non-life-threatening situations.

That's what I do. Also carry a satellite phone but rarely activate it.
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Old 03-18-2017, 01:09 PM   #10
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Forgot to mention...PLB goes with me hiking too. I've done some long, difficult hikes in really remote parts of BC and Alaska. Depending on the hike (or dinghy adventure) I also take a portable VHF and the inReach.
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Old 03-18-2017, 01:33 PM   #11
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Interesting question that we have all addressed in some fashion. I had (still have) boat EPIRB, upgraded to PLB's when the price dropped. Also have a coastal liferaft in addition to dinghy. Sometimes wonder if I wake up in the middle of the night with water over the sole or flames pouring up from the ER will I have time to find EPIRB/PLB/Ditch bag. Maybe.

MOB was more of an issue on the sailboat. Bringing a sail down on the foredeck taking on green water every 30 seconds was an MOB waiting to happen. You'd be long out of sight after the boat tacked and tried looking for a little bobbing head in heavy seas. I think MOB/AIS is the solution for that scenario. I am far less likely to be out in those conditions with trawler.

If you have time to don a gumby suit or deploy the liferaft you probably have time to use the VHF. In my opinion there isn't one solution currently. Hanging a PLB and MOB/AIS off the life vest is the best solution providing your conscious and can activate them. Left for another thread is how your wife is going to get you back onboard.

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Old 03-18-2017, 01:35 PM   #12
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For MOB situations, I think a PLB with AIS would be my first choice if you have an AIS receiver on the boat.

Your wife may not like the looks of a survival suit, but it is something that would only be donned when you feel there is risk.

FWIW, I have neither on the boat.
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Old 03-18-2017, 01:46 PM   #13
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In SE Florida, for example, I have had to activate several emergency responses a few miles off the coast. The County was the first, by far, to launch a response. Both air helo and surface. The USCG was still in the gather info mode when actual capital was in site from the county. My hit rate was 3 out of 4 not favoring the Feds. .
You can't compare SE Florida to the rest of the world. The USCG is still your first call and they can contact counties and others but many places they are the only resource. You're addressing someone cruising in the PNW and up to Alaska.

Why have you had to activate several emergency responses? 4?
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Old 03-18-2017, 01:50 PM   #14
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For MOB situations, I think a PLB with AIS would be my first choice if you have an AIS receiver on the boat.

Your wife may not like the looks of a survival suit, but it is something that would only be donned when you feel there is risk.

FWIW, I have neither on the boat.
My wife and our friends are quite fashion conscious but she is totally prepared to put on a survival suit if conditions indicate. Certainly, crossing areas like the Gulf of Alaska you're more than aware of potential changes in conditions.

One more thing I'd strongly suggest if doing cruising where a survival suit is in the realm of possible needs, is to practice putting them on quickly.
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Old 03-18-2017, 02:27 PM   #15
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My wife and our friends are quite fashion conscious but she is totally prepared to put on a survival suit if conditions indicate. Certainly, crossing areas like the Gulf of Alaska you're more than aware of potential changes in conditions.



One more thing I'd strongly suggest if doing cruising where a survival suit is in the realm of possible needs, is to practice putting them on quickly.

That is good advice from what I have heard from folks who have needed to put them on. It is likely particularly true in your case as you not only need to get the suit on, but do it wearing the coordinating watch that WifeyB selects. ;-)
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Old 03-18-2017, 03:23 PM   #16
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That is good advice from what I have heard from folks who have needed to put them on. It is likely particularly true in your case as you not only need to get the suit on, but do it wearing the coordinating watch that WifeyB selects. ;-)
She did comment that the color selection was lousy. One thing too is to make sure you have one that fits properly. They are not one size fits all. Not if you're exceptionally tall or exceptionally short.
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Old 03-18-2017, 05:25 PM   #17
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I know little, but learn as i go.

case 1: I think I reported this on another thread, somewhere. 65' fishing boat burning down, I was first on scene. USCG had tons of radio traffic for me, but their resource was an hour after the county. I actually expected a fire boat to arrive, boy was I naive. The 41 just watched it burn.
case 2: I was the subject of this one. Diving deep with several others in the gulf stream. Had to decompress under a lift bag for maybe 45 minutes. Bags got seperated, captain got pretty nervous and activated 911. I surface near a lot of folks with guns. County people arrived, only.
case 3: Not my boat, but was night diving. Boat had electrical issue and couldn't start engine. Cold front actually arrived about then, big west wind pushed vessel further out to sea, beyond anchor range. All tow boats busy, my BIL was not wishing to launch his boat at 3am to get us in increasing seas. USCG to the rescue, Yeah!
case 4: Happened across near drowning female in the ocean in a wet suit (only). Lack of response to a field neuro exam. Got her up into a nearby hobicat, and took her to shore-beach. I called specifically the county with a ch16 medical emergency call. met fire rescue quint truck at a lifeguarded beach. Lifeguard though she had sunstroke and applied ice. She was actually cold. Transport to Boynton inlet, met helo; transferred to St Mary's; happy ending. USGC would have just slowed this process.

Just two points to make to the OP. Cold water I see as your major threat; what is a your digny? will it swamp in rough water? will it keep you dry in seas/driving rain? will it deflate in the chaos of leaving your ship?
point two; by all means call the USCG if you are, indeed away from harbour. But, don't neglect an initial call to the local LE as you near cities.
Emergencies tend to be wildly different. Need to keep various options open and available. Good on the radios.
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Old 03-18-2017, 05:46 PM   #18
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In an emergency, you call mayday, not any specific resource as you don't know who is closest...

Could be a good Sam, USCG, assistance tower, local LE.... but that's the point of calling mayday.

So if you do push your distress button on a DSC radio, consider a voice mayday at the earliest convenience if the USCG isn't broadcasting for you.
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Old 03-18-2017, 06:19 PM   #19
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Diver Dave -
My dinghy is a Portland Pudgy which is a cross-linked polyethylene roto-molded boat, made the same way as most plastic Kayaks. It has foam-filled hollows between the inner & outer hull making it unsinkable. It does not inflate, therefore could never deflate. It is remarkably stable, although any small boat could capsize under the right conditions. This boat is easily righted by one person and comes up dry. There is an optional exposure canopy (which I do not have, although our ditch bag has exposure blankets) which makes it self-righting. It is self bailing and fully buoyant, supporting passengers when completely full of water.

No, I have no fiduciary interest in the company - just a satisfied customer...

BTW, there is a huge difference between East Coast/Gulf boating and West Coast boating. As a friend told me years ago - "Offshore cruising in the Northwest is NOT recreational boating!" Not that it can't be done safely and end up an enjoyable experience, but one's approach has to be specific for these waters. As to whom to contact in an emergency - I'll contact anyone & everyone by any means at my disposal. That said, I always assume I'm on my own and it will be up to me to handle any situation I get myself into.
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Old 03-18-2017, 11:09 PM   #20
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Hmm... Previous post sounds a bit "preachy." Didn't mean to come across all high and mighty - just trying to be informative...
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