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Things You Should Know Before Getting Underway...
By Anne F. Newton, Petty Officer 1st Class, United States Coast Guard
(December 3, 2008) I was recently transferred to work at the Coast Guard Pacific Area Rescue Coordination Center in Alameda, CA. One of the main things we do here is deal with all the EPIRB's that go off in the Pacific and calls from family members worried about a loved one. Just in the 6 months I have been here I have seen many cases that could have been easily solved if the boater would have done a few simple things before they left on a voyage. It would have saved the Coast Guard a lot of time, the family members a lot of heartache and (in some cases) maybe even saved the lives of the people on board.
First let's talk about EPIRB's. When your EPIRB is activated, a satellite hopefully picks up the signal and through a few steps it appears on our computer screens. When we pull up that alert there is extremely important information in it that is only as good as what the boaters put in it. What I mean is that the boater is responsible for that information and to ensure it is up to date and correct. One of the biggest mistakes we see is that boaters do not have the correct information on the electronic registration of the EPIRB. We need vessel details, contact information, family or friends contact information - just all kinds of stuff. We desperately need this information to help us with the case. The most common thing we get is the information in the EPIRB alert is from the previous owner so we spend valuable time trying to figure out the current owner and their information. If you own an EPIRB, it is incredibly important to register it with your most recent information. This can easily be done at this website. Even if you are just a day sailor, you never know when an emergency situation can occur.
Second, if you plan on going on a longer trip that could last several days or weeks there are a few things that you need to do. The most important is to have several people that know you, your boat and the details of your trip on a communication schedule. What I mean by this is establish a schedule and means of communicating with these people daily or each time you enter port so that they can track your progress. We have had several cases where we had searched for days - even weeks - for a vessel because the family hadn't heard anything from their loved one. They had never established any type of comms schedule and they just assumed their loved one would call them. In one instance, the person was fine and just decided to go a different route which took much longer. Make sure your family or friends know the details of your trip and possible route changes that you could make, the details of your boat and what equipment you have on board (i.e. life raft, size of food and water supply, life jackets...) and the phone numbers of the Rescue Command Centers in the U.S. (or internationally depending on the trip). Below is the list of all the U.S. RCC's:
Alameda, CA - 510-437-3701
Miami, FL - 305-415-6800
Boston, MA - 617-223-8555
Cleveland, OH - 216-902-6117
New Orleans, LA - 504-589-6225
Honolulu, HI - 808-541-2500
Portsmouth, VA - 757-398-6390
Juneau, AK - 907-463-2000
Seattle, WA - 206-220-7001
San Juan, PR -809-729-677
These two things will dramatically help out the Coast Guard and could even save your life. Updating the information in your EPIRB only takes minutes and setting up a comms plan with a few loved ones shouldn't take much longer.
Anne on her Santana 20 in Northern California