Hu­man per­son­al­i­ties might be quan­tifi­able as Type A or Type B. But in the marine world, I’ve seen two dif­fer­ent kinds of boaters: Type D and Type P.

Type D for de­nial: “No emer­gency will ever be­fall me. I’ve got ev­ery­thing un­der con­trol.”

Type P for para­noia: “I can’t go out in 2- to 4-foot seas! Let’s wait till sum­mer, when it’s calm.”

I hope most of us don’t ex­hibit those ex­tremes. But chances are, we each lean one way or the other. I’m a lit­tle closer to a P than a D, mean­ing I be­lieve in pre­par­ing, and I be­lieve in back­ups — in the form of elec­tronic safety gear, such as VHF ra­dios, EPIRBs, PLBs, AIS SARTs, sat phones, satel­lite emer­gency no­ti­fi­ca­tion de­vices and sin­gle-side­band ra­dios.


I own a 22-foot bay boat, so I don’t ven­ture into rough seas. But I also fish aboard a va­ri­ety of other ves­sels that might or might not be fully equipped. I carry a per­sonal lo­ca­tor bea­con (PLB) and wear it on my belt. Some­times I’ve been known to carry a spare hand­held VHF. Re­mem­ber, I’m kind of a Type (al­most) P.

Smaller ves­sels that stay within sight of shore, in­clud­ing kayaks and pad­dle­boards, must obey the U.S. Coast Guard rules as well as those of their in­di­vid­ual states when it comes to life jack­ets, flares and other sig­nal­ing de­vices. But to my knowl­edge, none of those reg­u­la­tions stip­u­lates any elec­tronic-gear re­quire­ments for re­cre­ational boaters.

The U.S. Coast Guard does help ed­u­cate boaters about proper use of elec­tron­ics, in­clud­ing how to test a VHF’s dig­i­tal-se­lec­tive­call­ing (DSC) fea­ture and how to make an ac­tual dis­tress call. Tom Dardis, Coast Guard re­cre­ational boat­ing safety out­reach co­or­di­na­tor, says boaters should al­ways con­sider their abil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate with other boats and their abil­ity to ac­ti­vate a come-and-helpme sce­nario.

“We’d al­ways rec­om­mend that you carry some type of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, such as a DSC VHF ra­dio,” Dardis says. “A DSC VHF would be first. A PLB or EPIRB would be sec­ondary. A sat phone could be sec­ondary or ter­tiary. Hav­ing re­dun­dant sys­tems is good if you can af­ford it.”

Ves­sels too small to mount a sta­tion­ary VHF should at least be equipped

mar­itime ra­dios must be DSC-en­abled by law (as of 1999). DSC is a kind of pag­ing sys­tem that trans­mits your po­si­tion and ves­sel in­for­ma­tion to emer­gency per­son­nel.

Fixed-mount ra­dios can trans­mit up to 20 miles, though that’s de­pen­dent upon an­tenna height. Hand­helds can trans­mit up to 8 miles.

Cell­phones do not sub­sti­tute for VHF com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Cell­phone range is lim­ited and spo­radic, and you can’t di­rectly con­nect to the mar­itime res­cue sys­tem. That can mean the dif­fer­ence be­tween res­cue and tragedy.


Many small-boat own­ers stop at just a proper VHF. But some in­dus­try lead­ers say that’s not enough. “I’m not at all flex­i­ble re­gard­ing a bea­con,” says Ni­c­hole Kalil, pub­lic re­la­tions spokesper­son for ACR Elec­tron­ics. Kalil points out that prices on ACR’s EPIRBs have come down; a Glob­alFix V4 costs $350. “Re­cre­ational boaters are will­ing to spend $500 on a cooler but not $350 to keep their fam­ily safe?”

A ves­sel’s size will man­date the type of EPIRB bracket to buy and its lo­ca­tion on board. An EPIRB should al­ways be mounted within arm’s reach, and never be­lowdecks or in­side a con­sole.

One key factor to re­mem­ber, says Dardis: An EPIRB is for the ves­sel; a PLB is for a per­son. “If you’re go­ing with PLBs and you have four peo­ple aboard, you should have four PLBs,” he says.

A PLB — avail­able with or with­out GPS (the lat­ter pro­vides bet­ter ac­cu­racy to res­cuers) — should be worn on your per­son if you ex­pect it to sum­mon help. If it’s in a gear bag that sinks with the ves­sel, it’s an ex­pen­sive pa­per­weight. Some life-jacket mak­ers now sew in PLB pouches, and some PLBs come with hook-and-loop fas­ten­ers to at­tach to a belt or strap.

PLBs must be man­u­ally de­ployed, but some EPIRBs can au­to­mat­i­cally de­ploy. Top-of-the-line EPIRBs, such as the Glob­alFix iPro, come with a dig­i­tal face so users can vis­ually ver­ify that it’s test­ing or trans­mit­ting. The unit also


dis­plays lat­i­tude and lon­gi­tude.

AIS SARTs (search and res­cue transpon­ders) re­main pop­u­lar on the sail­ing cir­cuit, where crew mem­bers face the fre­quent risk of fall­ing over­board. The SART emits a sig­nal rec­og­nized by the AIS unit aboard the crew mem­ber’s own boat and aboard any other AIS-equipped ves­sels nearby. But that’s a lo­cal ap­proach to res­cue rather than a global one. Satel­lite phones have come a long way, and their prices con­tinue to drop as more and more com­pa­nies launch satel­lites to com­pete in this global mar­ket. Some say sat phones ren­der sin­gle-side­band ra­dio ob­so­lete. But SSB users ar­gue that their tech­nol­ogy al­lows mul­ti­ple peo­ple to hear any given trans­mis­sion. Sin­gle-side­bands do re­quire users to pro­cure some per­mits and li­censes, how­ever.

With re­gard to safety, a sat phone should re­ally be con­sid­ered a global cell­phone on steroids. Most pro­vide some form of SOS sys­tem, though it might not link di­rectly and most ef­fi­ciently to mar­itime re­spon­ders.

SENDs — satel­lite emer­gency no­ti­fi­ca­tion de­vices, also called satel­lite mes­sen­gers — in­clude prod­ucts such as Glob­al­star’s Spot and Garmin’s in­Reach Ex­plorer+. These units pro­vide a wide va­ri­ety of ser­vices, from so­cial-me­dia post­ing to lo­ca­tion track­ing and text mes­sag­ing.

Users can also re­quest emer­gency help through a SEND. Re­spon­ders come from a pri­vate or­ga­ni­za­tion rather than through the in­ter­na­tional gov­ern­ment sys­tem used by EPIRBs and PLBs. These SEND units gen­er­ally cost very lit­tle but re­quire a monthly or yearly sub­scrip­tion, based on fea­tures.

What­ever elec­tronic gear you de­cide works best for your boat and fish­ing needs, don’t scrimp. With re­gard to safety, I take a no-chance pol­icy. To me, ev­ery safety mea­sure needs a backup. But then again, I’m get­ting closer all the time to a Type P boater.

An EPIRB is a no-brainer when it comes to ORQJ GLVWDQFH YR\DJLQJ WR IDU ŴXQJ ƓVKLQJ des­ti­na­tions, but some in­dus­try ex­perts say all ves­sels should carry EPIRBs.

A PLB can come in handy when you’re aboard some­one else’s boat and you want to be sure you’ll be found in an emer­gency sit­u­a­tion. They must be man­u­ally de­ployed, but they are highly portable.

EPIRBs are made for ves­sels; PLBs are made for in­di­vid­u­als. Mount EPIRBs abovedecks, and if you own a PLB, keep it on your per­son.

that it’s trans­mit­ting or test­ing. iPro can also be in­ter­faced with your on­board GPS.

An AIS SART trans­mits to nearby ves­sels equipped ZLWK DXWRPDWLF LGHQWLƓFDWLRQ V\VWHP WUDFNLQJ units or soft­ware. They come in handy when crew mem­bers must work shifts on deck at night.

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