Future SAR gadgets, what are you hoping for?


The illustration above and the term “SAR gadgets” are both borrowed from the final issue of On Scene, published until 2009 by the USCG Office of Search and Rescue (downloads here).  But no worries, On Scene is now a blog, and hence the times-they-are-a’changing illustration, which also serves well for a Panbo entry about evolving SAR gadgets.  On Monday, I’ll be speaking to a group of companies developing SAR communications equipment along with representatives of the agencies that regulate such gear and the ones like USCGSAR which answer the calls.  My task is to articulate what boaters may want to see in future SAR gadgets, and I’d like your help…

Some background:  Since it was mentioned here a year ago, the Iridium-instigated ProTECTS Alliance (as in “Promotion of Two-way Emergency Communication and Tracking Systems”), has grown membership impressively and has allied itself with the RTCM, which helps set standards for SAR gadgets and other gear.  Another acronym of note is SEND for Satellite Emergency Notification Device; SPOT was the first, a lot more are coming, and these folks are working to deliver what’s possible in an orderly fashion.  I’m addressing a ProTECTS section of a four-day RTCM meeting in Washington, DC, but I’m doing it by phone, with emailed-in slides.  So unfortunately I won’t get to attend other sessions, but then again the audience can’t throw things at me 😉
   And my view of SAR gadgets does include some negatives.  For instance, I don’t think DSC VHF’s dreadfully low adoption rate is just because boaters weren’t educated enough, or because it took a long time for Rescue 21 to roll out.  DSC is too complicated, especially the potentially useful non-distress features that could help us get familiar with and confidant about the distress functions we can’t try.  It’s hard to tell if the complications are the fault of regulations or manufacturers — some of both I suspect — but a neat thing about the ProTECHS/RTCM alignment is the way private and public sectors are trying to work together to get things right.
   So, besides avoiding the mistakes of DSC, what can I/we usefully communicate to the people working on the future of SAR gadgets?  Here are some of the points I’m thinking about:

*  Multipurpose devices can make sense. I think a big part of SPOT’s sales success is that it offers tracking and messaging as well as a distress function.  That makes it a more attractive value, and a gadget a user will get familiar with.  (Just watching how well a SPOT2 tracked my friends to Bermuda recently — see comments here — made me think that the Globalstar system is improving and that a distress call from that unit would almost certainly have gotten through.)

*  The single purpose SAR gadgets can make sense too.  PLBs and EPIRBs are already very well proven, as in the case of four French trimaran sailors just last week, but many of us like the ability to test our particular EPIRB/PLB all the way through the system, as now offered by ACR’s AquaLink View and 406Link service.  It seems that ACR had to set up its own ground stations to make this work, when it could have been built into the international system.

* The ideal Man Overboard alarming system doesn’t seem to exist yet. It should support rescue by the boat the person fell off, by nearby boats, and by SAR professionals.  AIS and DSC both seem interesting as they leverage existing technologies, but did RTCM overly regulate the latter by limiting alarm transmissions to specific MMSIs?

* Related: I see that RTCM has a Special Committee on GPS Equipped Hand Held VHF Radios even though such radios already exist, are valued as safety devices for MOB and other situations, and haven’t caused any problems I know of.  Please don’t write regulations that choke development in this area.  Please do evaluate the DSC regs to see if the functionality can be made simpler.

* I think there’s a somewhat untapped market for satellite SAR gadgets in coastal waters.  There are places just 15 miles by boat from where I live where island topography makes both cellular and VHF service uncertain.

* Finally, I get excited thinking about what’s possible with small, relatively inexpensive two way SBD modems like the Iridium 9602.  Whatever form the device takes, end-to-end system testing should be built in and easy.  And how about a fixed system like the SPOT HUG, which combines tracking, off vessel security and sensor monitoring, and distress calling but adds short two-way messaging, perhaps using local WiFi and apps phones/pads for the vessel end of the messaging?

Well, that’s where I’m at right now, and I’m obviously working on this at the last moment!  Any and all comments and further ideas are welcome.  The photo below, incidentally, is of the recent Emma Goldman rescue.  An EPIRB or PLB or maybe even a SPOT might have prevented what must have been 12 days of hell for the remaining crew, but it’s hard to say if any gadget could have helped with the fatality. 


Ben Ellison

Ben Ellison

Panbo editor, publisher & chief bottlewasher from 4/2005 until 8/2018, and now pleased to have Ben Stein as a very able publisher, webmaster, and editing colleague. Please don't regard him as an "expert"; he's getting quite old and thinks that "fadiddling fumble-putz" is a more accurate description.

51 Responses

  1. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    There’s nothing about it online yet, but I understand that a sailboat off New Jersey fired up a PLB when it was dismasted last Thursday. But then the crew purportedly turned it off because they’d gotten the decks cleared and the engine running, which meant extra search work for the USCG. One issue with current SAR gadgets is that you can’t tell if they’re being responded to and you can’t cancel a distress call except by other methods of communications. (So don’t turn a SAR gadget off until you’re able to tell the folks who may be trying to help you that they don’t have to.)

  2. Jeffrey Siegel says:

    I knew SPOT was going to be big the first time I pulled into a marina and got an email 30 minutes later telling me that I left my SPOT on (it sends update positions every 10 minutes). What they’ve been able to do is bridge the emergency use into something that is useful on a daily basis.
    We have a “Get Underway” checklist of items that must get completed before we leave a mooring. On that list is “Turn SPOT on”. It’s a part of our normal operation now.
    So if anything new is on the horizon or under development, I’d sure like to see it similarly bridge into normal use. It makes me feel better about spending money on a new thing and allows me to become very familiar with its use for the times when I might have to rely on it.

  3. Sandy Daugherty says:

    I would love to read your address and see your slides, Ben. Since you will be in D.C. in virtual mode, I’ld be glad to take you out for a massive virtual Prime Rib at Tom Sarris’!

  4. tursiops says:

    Ben….I think you about covered the issues that have concerned me. Thank you for addressing these needs to the companies on behalf of the boating community.
    As one of the cruising types, who I think as a community think “worst case scenarios,” this is an important subject to me. I am keenly interested in the Man Overboard type systems – especially the subject of how nearby boats might get notified. That’s already on your list though.
    Perhaps you can really push the cooperation between commercial vendors themselves and with the responsible government organizations (especially the international). It’s difficult for individual vendors to influence policy, but if they truly worked together and spoke with one voice I’m sure they would be more influential. It’s when the greed and highly proprietary systems come into play that things get stupid. But maybe that’s a lot like asking to stop bipartisan bickering and stay focused on the big picture.
    Like Sandy, I would also be interested in the slides you present, should you decide to make them available.

  5. steverow says:

    On a broader international front, I’d like to see greater use of VHF spectrum in the Marine Band for data TX/RX, maybe one channel allocated for SAR data and another for Weather data like Navtex et.al, in a similar manner to the AIS allocated frequencies.
    There is plenty of space particularly as we dont need the wide channel spacing with modern gear.
    I realise that this would be a long term thing with it having to go through IMO WRC etc etc, but it’s a digital world and about time that the VHF marine band caught up with it.

  6. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Thanks Sandy and Tursiops, but I’m afraid my presentation style is kind of minimal. I write notes, pretty much what you see above so far, and my slides are just pictures of stuff I want to talk about, without text. They’ve almost all appeared on Panbo already.
    Separate subject: I was sorry to hear that a friend has good reasons to be concerned about the marine SAR situation in the Marshall Islands. His daughter is teaching out there and is subject to the same inter-island small boat trips that likely just took the life of a fellow volunteer:
    I don’t know if a PLB or EPIRB would have value in such a situation, because I’m not sure what sort of SAR assets are available. The U.S. Embassy was able to get the USCG to send search planes from Hawaii, but not quickly. On the other hand, if the Rescue Center responsible for this area (which is the USCG in Honolulu) got an exact position quickly, maybe they could have dispatched rescue boats from nearby islands?

  7. grumpy_o_g says:

    I think this may be my first post here though I’ve been reading for ages and am a big fan. Love the site. So apologies for such a long post.
    I’ve got a slightly different viewpoint as I crew and charter rather than own a boat so I’m usually looking out for myself rather than the boat in SAR terms.
    I’m assuming that, in all cases, the data we need to pass is whatever is necessary to
    a) alert someone I’m in trouble and
    b) tell them where I am so that I can be found in zero visibility.
    Nice to haves are:
    c) the ability to cancel the alert
    d) an acknowledgment the alerts been acted on or even just been received
    e) two-way communication with my rescuer
    Next thing I’d look at is who I am alerting to come and rescue me – overboard during a round the cans race in summer I’d expect my boat to come and get me (if only ‘cos they get disqualified if they don’t) but don’t want an automatic alerting of the rescue services. I do want them to come and get me though and to know I’ve gone.
    If I’m single-handed though I’m less concerned about the boat – or I may be on a boat that isn’t equipped or crewed to a standard to come and get me (a common charter situation for me). In that circumstance I want the rescue authorities out looking for me straight away – and able to find me.
    In the current economic situation let’s also assume that we won’t be getting any huge new infrastructure spend so we will have to work with what we’ve got – cellular, AIS, SART, DSC/VHF, satellite sytems, flares, strobes, etc. I’ll also make an assumption it need to work in all the major markets – Americas, Europe/Russia, APAC primarily.
    The biggest beef for me is ergonomics – the one thing I’m pretty always wearing is a lifejacket/harness but not one manufacturer provides anywhere to keep anything much less integrates it. For the times I’m not wearing an LJ maybe a simple rigger’s belt or something to hold the devices. Not totally un-related to SAR I’d would love to see a simple cutting mechanism – maybe just a hook-knife in a pouch – on an LJ so that I can cut a lifeline easily in an emergency. Keeping the line short enough to stop you goping overboard isn’t always feasible and being towed along at evena few knots is not always conducive to good health.
    At SIBS (Southampton boatshow) this year I was pricing up DSC handhelds but then what about a PLB, or a personal SART or an AIS “SART”? I’ve now got 4 devices and nowehere to put them except foul weather gear pockets. Only one is two way communication and that would be difficult to use under a sprayhood.
    I reckon my requirements boil down to a belt or similar which can contain handheld DSC/VHF, AIS, PLB and personal SART in a modular format. The belt and modules could be bought separately to avoid ending up with a $1,000+ LJ. This would sit below the LJ and interface to it via an industry standard (OK, stop laughing) and would contain antennae links and trigger signals for activating the devices. The LJ would automatically trigger the devices upon inflation but with varying degrees of delay. Say 1 minute to cancel the DSC or AIS alert from being triggered and 5 minutes to cancel a PLB being triggered. You could even build a microphone into the LJ up at the top to go in the sprayhood along with a basic speaker so you could communicate with the sprayhood up – though we’re starting to get a bit carried away here.

  8. Peter says:

    I think the best advise for the governmental entities is to “stay out of the way”. The problem they have is they let the pursuit of perfection get in the way of the good enough for market. I am willing to wager that someone in an official capacity will bring up the “need to regulate SPOT type devices”. This will surely kill a growing market where a lot more boaters have access to this type of SAR device.
    With that rant in mind – I would like to see the following:
    Government sponsored check in service using Ch 16 / DSC when you are in range. This could occur ever X number of minutes. This should be posted to the web. There could even be a tax credit for purchasing and installing the equipment.
    SAR planes and ships should be equipped with small cell sites that automatically activate when outside of the range normal cell service. This would allow them to communicate with one of the most prevalent communications mediums on board a boat today – the cell phone.
    Please, please, please provide the USCG personnel that communicate on VHF lessons on how to talk and be understood on the VHF. This includes not swallowing the mike, speak clearly and S L O W L Y automatically turning down the volume the second radio on the same channel when they are transmitting. While I am an equal opportunity advocate the adult male ear that has been around loud equipment for any period of time (e.g., an outboard engine or other boat engine) typically loses their high frequency reception ability. Please only use operators with a low voice (sorry ladies).
    At a minimum we have a separate VHF channel to provide the coast guard with feedback on how their radio operators are performing? This could also be used to provide feedback on bridge tenders. It could be a recorded channel. The feedback could be anonymous or the vessel ID could be provided. I would rank feedback with ID higher than anonymous feedback.
    The USCG should monitor channel 16 for hails to large shipping and if the hail is not returned they should intervene. E.g., You could say “United States Coast Guard this is _________ the container ship _______ does not appear to be monitoring channel 16. Can you please determine if their communications equipment is functioning?”. I know this is possible now however, it can have uncertain results.
    The USCG should encourage the auxiliary or some other entity to monitor tricky entrances and give low powered VHF messages / assistance to recreational boaters. This could go a long way to keeping the recreational guys from tangling with large ships or known hazards. The system could have a Low Power alert message on channel 16 requesting you to tune to the announcement channel for updates / assistance. There are probably USCG Aux or retired that may want to help if the equipment is supplied. They could even provide a waiver to companies like West Marine, local watering holes, Sea Tow, or Tow Boat US to provide a short advertisement at the end of each broadcast in exchange for providing the assistance service. An example might be “the bar at the entrance has moved across the south part of the channel at marker X. Vessels entering should stay to the north”
    USCG should provide classes to those going off shore for the first time or to those that have not been offshore in quite some time.
    There should be a repository on the net where we can automatically download our routes from our GPS. This could be used to establish preferred entrances / routes.
    The USCG should have a number of temporary marks with lights, LOW Power AIS broadcasts, and Low Power VHF 16 messages that can be dropped on or near a hazard to navigation. The mark would announce its presence and inform boaters where the hazard is located.
    ***Warning the rest are rants and can be safely ignored ****
    They should remove all non lit manatee signs on navigable waters. This includes all signs near a draw bridge where they can limit navigation while doing the turns waiting for the bridges to open.
    What genius figured out that manatees only cross rivers at bridges? If they want everyone to slow down for a bridge then make it a regulation. Don’t post a manatee sign ON TELEPHONE POLES and then not light them. (to those of you who are wondering – I have not hit a manatee sign nor have I been pulled over for speeding in a manatee zone. I have just seen a lot of signs damaged or leaning).
    Ben you asked 😉

  9. Rick says:

    If SPOT had a model that was waterproof, floated right side up, and automatically activated the SOS feature if it landed in the water, it would go a long way to being the only emergency beacon needed for intercostal waters. The automatic notification of BoatUS towing is a nice feature, and the $10 price (plus the usual towing subscription) is a good deal.

  10. Lee Simpson says:

    I would like the CG to broadcast the location of maydays over the AIS system. Sure would be easier for boats in the vicinity to locate boat in trouble.

  11. davo says:

    There is a product that will broadcast a VHF “mayday” call if someone falls overboard. Thus they could be rescued by their own vessel or nearby vessels.

  12. Gordon Scriba says:

    Puzzles me there are not a number of personal SART devices (compact, light, wearable, multifunctional) on the market that can enable someone on my boat to pinpoint exactly where I am in relation to the boat if I go overboard. We have leap frogged over this technology for the recreational sailor making it near impossible to locate precisely a MOB in bad weather/sea conditions. We have MOB “alarms”, PLB’s, EPIRB’s, etc., and I know these may all have their place; but why the heck can I not press a button on my wrist/L.P. that transmits my exact lat/long to my $4000 MFD?? I agree with the need for continued/improved SAR multifunctional devices that are simple and intuitive thus promoting adoption by the boating community. But the first couple priorities (in my simple mind) for continued and improved development should be skipper and boat preparation/education, and secondly, solutions for boat crew SAR. Sorry…(yes, I’m an overly apologetic Canadian) my first post, and mostly a rant at that. Absolutely love your site!! What an incredible educational resource! Thank you.

  13. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    What would I be most interested in? Well, I would like to know if I fell in the water, and nobody on my boat had the capability of rescuing me that (1) My boat would realize I am missing and use DSC to alert the CG and nearby boaters of both the boats current position (to get help to crew on the boat), and the position at time of MOB (for myself in the water.) (2) As a backup, a small size product I would have attached to my lifevest would have integrated GPS, activate in water, and use DSC to broadcast position (but not to a single MMSI number)
    For (1) above, I would like the dongle or whatever I would have attached to myself or crew have the ability that it beeps when it gets out of range of the boat so that the wearer is reminded they have it and return it to the boat before they get far from the dock.
    While we are on the topic, any reason the CG dosn’t use DSC to place the position of a boat in distress on our chartplotters like AIS does ?

  14. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    Davo, note that there are two distinct versions of the Mobilarm V100 DSC MOB product, and one does NOT alarm other vessels, as mentioned in my entry. Note too that this a $750 product and is being pitched to commercial marine.
    All the interest in MOB solutions is interesting, maybe especially to AIS developers. SRT, for instance, recently confirmed the 2011 advent of “a unique AIS MOB which is designed to be truly practical and available at a price point accessible to all”…as mentioned here last summer:
    But I think many of ProTECTS companies are developing SEND type devices, usually with two-way short data burst abilities. What would you all like to see from those devices, be they portable or fixed in your boat?

  15. Peter: As a free public service, Sea Tow is deploying an Automated Radio Check (ARC) service that plays back your hail, so you can check both Tx/Rx quality and also hear how you sound on the radio. The system can include several PSA broadcast messages managed by the local Sea Tow operators.
    Re: PLBs, the new ACR PLBs combines both PLB distress service and non-distress (SPOT-like) “I’m OK” tracking and message services in a single little device. That’s pretty compelling. (www.acrelectronics.com)
    – Charlie Zaloom
    VP, Business Technology
    Sea Tow Services International

  16. Peter says:

    Ben – The SeaTow service looks interesting; however, what I had in mind is more of a low power message on channel 16. It would give local information on conditions, hazards, or just tips for entrances or other tricky areas where real time or local information may be helpful to those not familiar with the local area.
    I know there are notice to mariners and USCG announcements with hazards to navigation; however, sometimes there is a lot of local knowledge that can be helpful to those new to the area. It would be nice if there was an incentive for someone to broadcast these on a periodic basis. I was thinking that allowing a short commercial message at the end of an information message.
    We don’t want channel 16 to become a radio station with commercials; however, there is a lot of local information that is not being transmitted to transient boats. This is why I recommend low power (or very low power).

  17. steverow says:

    But wouldn’t it be better to have a couple of specific channels available for this purpose, one of which could be a specific DATA “CH16”, and get away from the Clutter of Ch16, the keypressers et al, and away from the DSC alert channel and AIS.
    One of the problems of developing new marine gear, is that it always has to be done inside the existing International Framework, and rightly so, but that framework unfortunately is a leviathon that doesn’t move with the times. There is space on the marine band, for new innovation, and anyone who says otherwise is kidding themseleves or being over protectionist. Listen around at any large Port or Traffic lane and you will find loads of unused space, that’s largely because a lot of “Company” and port traffic has switched to cell/sat phone, in fact a Cross Channel ferry here will keep in touch with base and port entirely using cell, VHF only being used for S-S and emergency and for approach and berthing.
    A lot of port operations have also transferred to UHF PMR in Europe.
    So my message to Governments amd International organizations, is, (in the words of the Great Man) Give us the Tools and we will finish the Job”

  18. Ross says:

    I’m intrigued by a product that is primarily being marketed as a solution for locating lost scuba divers but is essentially a GPS/DSC enabled handheld VHF that is equally applicable as emergency radio for ones ditch bag that just happens to be submersible to 450′. It appears that the Nautilus Lifeline will ship in early 2011. Pricing seems to be similar to a HX850, I’m wondering if it will become my next VHF radio.

  19. GBN says:

    Agree with Gordon a MOB device that’s signals the boat with it’s lat/Lon would be useful.

  20. grumpy_o_g says:

    The device to send your lat/long to a boat exists surely? It’s a DSC handheld such as the HX850 or Lowrance. What it lacks is a simple interface so that you can pre-programme your boat’s MMSI into the handheld and then just have transmit it automatically by just a button press or, even better, rigged up to your life-jacket so that it transmit automatically whenever the LJ inflates. It would be a very simple thing to have contact patch that gets broken when the bladder inflates and the consequences of false alarms aren’t a full scale call-out of the rescue services.

  21. Gordon says:

    Great product already, with a lot more potential, but…this clearly does not (in its present form) help me and my crew “here and now”.
    If we can make a product that updates every x minutes via satellite, antennas, the internet, cell phones, and emergency services; why can’t my (or other boats in relatively close proximity) VHF or MFD or radar or AIS get my MOB lat/long every 5 minutes?
    Yup, we need the cavalry. Thanks Ben for working to improve this; also please convey our need for KISS products on local boats that will continually update MOB positions precisely.
    “And that’s all I got to say ’bout thaat.”

  22. Russ says:

    First, SAR Gadget is an oxymoron to me. Gadgets are things that I use, but on which I do not rely. I want SAR devices to be reliable, more reliable than the things that might break and cause me to need it.
    In US coastal waters, and probably also in Europe (and maybe Oz and NZ), my experience is that a DSC VHF works very well. You push the button, an alarm is sounded, the CG raises you on 16 and the SAR begins.
    Any other usage of DSC has been defeated by the unbelievably bad UI’s on every VHF radio. $50 cell phones have better UI’s than $800 SSBs or $300 VHFs.
    In offshore waters, EPIRBs have proven to be extraordinarily reliable. Their major shortcoming is the lack of communication back to those needing assistance.
    COB is poorly served, but a local AIS device makes the most sense to me as I already have the receiver and it will lead me to the COB with my existing equipment. I don’t know how much range could be achieved with a personal AIS, probably no more than 1-2 miles, but that is probably sufficient. That said, I don’t know how the V70 found their COB at night, but he was dead when they found him.
    SAR is not something well served by commercial services. Globalstar has a very spotted history, and Iridium has had more than one near death experience. Yes, we certainly rely upon commericial mariners to come to our rescue, but we don’t expect them to be profitable while doing it. Corporations come and go, international standards and governments have a longer life cycle.
    To summarize, I’d like:
    1) An acknowledgement on my EPIRB that help is coming and ideally some indication of when.
    2) A COB device that works with my existing equipment.
    3) A DSC radio with a better UI.

  23. Bob S says:

    Lots of good suggestions above from sailors willing and able to add good gear to their boats or persons so they can be found.
    As anyone who has actually gone out to find boats in a distress situation can tell you few vessels have much more than a working vhf (or its the only device a scared crew member has the wits to operate). I would like to see a modern revival of the venerable VHF direction finder. In this day and age I’m sure we could have a DF that communicates with our chartplotter & displays the course to the stranded boater. The old systems provided cryptic info at best but they would get you close. Most boaters that are in trouble provide incorrect info about their location. When you are looking for someone good info from a DF is invaluable.

  24. steverow says:

    I’m with you on that DF revival Bob. In fact it has never actaully gone away. In the UK our CG and RNLI are still equipped with it. It’s a two step easy process, 10 second key up by the caualty, gives you a cross bearing between the CG station and Lifeboat, lifeboat gets closer, and asks for another 10 sec key up where they pinpoint the casualty using the null.
    It’s remarkably accurate, quick, and great for finding hapless leisure fishermen lost in fog. There is a similar system in place also, for triangulating cell phones. If every boat had one (although the system the CG/RNLI use is commercial and pretty advanced and expensive) then casualties could be handled much quicker and closer by other boats.

  25. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    The USCG’s new Rescue 21 system has VHF DF abilities, especially effective because multiple high tower stations can often get a fix instead of just one line-of-position. And I still see Simrad/Taiyo DFs on some tournament sport fishing boats and towing/salvage setups like this one:
    But I very much doubt there will be a DF revival. DSC, and AIS, are much more accurate, and much less expensive. While I certainly agree with Russ that DSC user interfaces are generally poor, exceptions like Garmin’s MFD/N2K/VHF features show that it can be done better.
    I guess the worry about automated DSC MOB (or Crew Overboard) devices that alarm all nearby vessels is that false alarms or a malfunctioning unit could raise hell. But I heard yesterday that progress is being made toward a global standard, so that eventually we won’t have a confusing situation like the Mobilarm V100, which now comes in two quite different regional configurations.
    I think, and hope, I also heard assurance that existing multi-use VHF/DSC/GPS handhelds, like the HX851, will not get diminished by future regulations. AIS MOB is interesting but won’t it take a lot of development to get onboard alarms? When most every boat has a loud DSC alarm already installed?
    I do not agree that Iridium or Inmarsat or maybe others are not suitable for SAR devices (“gadget” is the USCGSAR term, by the way). SPOT is not a good example, as the satellite technology has some weaknesses, and the messengers have not been designed for serious offshore conditions (though they’re getting better).
    Also, when SPOT came to market there was no organization like ProTECTS (now part of RTCM, incidentally) trying to smooth the interface between commercial alert providers and SAR agencies. I heard hints yesterday about some very interesting multi-use messaging devices — distress alert included — and I’m hoping the developers will be in touch with details.

  26. Bob S says:

    I agree that DSC and AIS are more accurate but I’ll bet you can count on one hand the number of successful locations achieved last year in the USA with those technologies. Yes, USCG now has their VHF DF system up and can triangulate but their estimated positional announcements for distress call locations are more the “somewhere in the vicinity of” types of broadcasts. I’ve never heard a CG request for assistance go out that had estimated coordinates derived from the Rescue 21 System. They might have the info but they don’t share it.
    A DF system on a SAR boat is essential and makes finding someone that has no other means to reach out other than a simple vhf radio easy. The state of the art in VHF DF equipment is archaic and quite expensive. A modern add-on DF system for MFD’s would encourage more widespread search capability among the vessels best situated to help out during an emergency (folks like us) and is not reliant on any other technology like satellites, radio or cell towers, AIS broadcasts, deployed epirbs or anything else. Just sayin’

  27. Sandy Daugherty says:

    Yes, Grumpy_o_g; the Coast Guard has missed the boat regarding radio operators. I recently transited most of the East Coast, and clearly understood no more than a quarter of the USCG announcements on 16 and 22A. Its as if someone told them there’s a prize for brevity. That idea doesn’t fit with the goal of Maritime Safety, and the resulting misunderstandings further clutter the airspace. Its true that the older we get, the harder it is to hear higher frequencies, but that is no reason to bar the Coast Guard’s young females from performing any duty. They simply need to relax and talk slower; the goal is to be clearly understood the first time. Perhaps some training in verbal communication would help.

  28. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    Bob wrote ” I’ll bet you can count on one hand the number of successful locations achieved last year in the USA with those technologies.”
    I wouldn’t bet against that. So far I have only meet one boater in my local area who has connected their VHF and GPS together to even use Rescue 21, had done so only after my repeated urging thru our yacht clubs newsletter and website, and when I got to talking to him about it found out that he hadn’t registered to get an MMSI number yet, making it useless.

  29. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    I heard about two situations in Maine this summer where smart skippers used DSC to get the attention of other boats. One I discussed in the comments here:
    I can’t remember the details of the other incident, but recall that it was similar stormy anchorage scene.

  30. steverow says:

    It’s a pre-requisite in the UK with the MCGA that all persons operating RT and particularly doing the weather forecasts, have a suitable voice or have voice training. I have a feeling they send them to the BBC for it, but may be wrong.

  31. Rick says:

    This may not be exactly on topic, but safety would be improved if some Coast Guard radio operators were easier to understand. We have heard a few that sounded like they had marbles in their mouth, or who sounded like they were across the room from the mike. Perhaps the CG could give them elocution lessons, or send them to air traffic controllers school to learn proper radio technique.

  32. grumpy_o_g says:

    Wasn’t me who posted that Sandy; I’m all for performing females. Mine was the post above – we already have the BBC-educated coastguard over here, fine fellows and lasses all. We just have to put up with DSC alerts at full blast every time Joburg (Cherbourg, France) want to do a weather forecast. What an appalling waste of a superb facility DSC is. Hopefully friendly GUI’s on MFD’s will increase the use of it station to station but surely it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that there should be a separate unblockable alert for distress calls and a different, controllable alert for other calls.

  33. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    O…M…G… As if to prove just what fools the SAR guys have to put up with sometimes, it turns out that what is arguably the most unseaworthy large vessel in New England is right now causing drama off Nantucket. Here’s my detailed photo of the beast:
    And here’s the news, with links to Raw Faith’s checkered past:
    If ever a boat deserved to be scuttled, it’s this one.

  34. steverow says:

    It’ll be all right with a coat of paint Ben!!

  35. GBN says:

    I agree with others that DSC was over complicated.(Actually its not DSC, its what GMDSS did with it thats over complicated). It would have remained a distress only process.
    As to the spread and use of DSC, its very common in Europe, with all new installations on lesuire boats wired up. I have three boats with VHF, inclding a small 10 foot rib, all have DSC.
    And yes the use of DSC alarms for everthing is one pain in the neck.
    MOB decevices doing DSC alerts would be great. Its a pity that some GMDSS radios cant do distress acknowledge returns, as this could be used to alert the MOB that hes been detected ( this is one of the failings of DSC from a MOB perspective, as alerts can only be acknowledged by CG and Class A ships).
    In my view lat/lon transmitted MOBS, could be built using private channel data radio very cheaply and this would provide an acknowledge facility, ( then more sophiscated devices could broadcast a EPIRB signal on no local ACK).
    ps: MOB means any gender, he , she , it, daleks, etc

  36. Bill says:

    I want to add my voice that that I want to have the ability to find myself a person who falls off my boat. Usually a person in the water has minutes to live. It is most important that the people on the boat be able to find the person in the water, rather than notify the coast guard. I like to ides of a portable AIS device that will give to person overboard position on the chart plotter.

  37. Henning says:

    “I think, and hope, I also heard assurance that existing multi-use VHF/DSC/GPS handhelds, like the HX851, will not get diminished by future regulations.”
    I certainly think so, too. No that it would matter much to the authorities what I think but fortunately, Ofcom seems to think so, too. In a recent issue of Sailing Today, a UK magazine, there was a short mention of Ofcom being in the process of regulating that devices like the HX851 are to be issued their own MMSIs, independent from the ship, and that these MMSIs should be identifiable by beginning with 2359.
    On the Ofcom site, I found this document:
    It’s not exactly bedtime reading but I think the information checks out.
    Sailing Today also said that this is for UK waters only pending compatible Europe-wide legislation.
    The document says under “planned changes”: “(a) Extending authorization beyond UK waters when international agreement has been reached.”
    The document is dated 9/1/2010 and has draft status. I think this means that the HX851 and it’s use will become more legal rather than less.
    I kind of like that Ofcom outfit! Currently, their opener on the first page is a customer feedback invitation and you can pay your fees on-line. I wish I was under their jurisdiction rather than the one I am under!
    My request, as per the original entry, would also be for satellite-based devices to feed-back to the user on a sinking ship or in a life raft that the alarm has been acknowledged and maybe allow short messages to give an ETA.
    If I am granted another wish, I ask for a button “cancel alert” on all the devices discussed here. This of course would require massive changes to the infrastructure and for DSC is totally unrealistic but it would take much better care of the supposedly 80% false alerts via DSC (in Germany).
    In DSC-school I was told that any DSC radio can acknowledge (silence) a DSC distress call but that you are absolutely not supposed to do it unless you know with near certainty that no one bigger or more official can hear the alert and you are able to relay the alert by other means such as satcom.
    I also think that if you guys in the US adopt DSC at a glacial pace, then, no offense, you are stupid.

  38. steverow says:

    That’s good to know Henning that somebody else appreciates Ofcom as well. They are a very consumer facing authority with a keen eye on technicolgical progress as well as being the Regulator and competition authority for Spectrum and Telecom matters. Although I wouldn’t go overboard about their front facing image, it’s the same as WalMart or Tesco etc. mission statements et.al. I work with them on a regular basis, and their predecessor organisation The Radiocommunications Agency. They are always very responsive and helpful. They work closely with the CG and the Marine industry to get the best deal for the consumer for spectrum and regulations. The Marine Band is now “virtually de-regulated” in the UK with a lifetime of the vessel license for free.
    You have them to thank for Navtex which was implemented and trialled here in the late 70’s and also for AIS which was trialled here first, with the first commercially available Leisure Units (from NASA)..coming on to the market in 2001.
    They are currently leading the way in Europe on WSD implementation as a result of the digital TV spectrum dividend, and are liasing closely with the FCC over it who are about 18 months ahead of us with the DTV switchover which has now been completed in the US. It remains to be seen what, if any of this spectrum will be allocated for marine use, but I understand from Bill that there has been no such allocation in the US, although WSD’s offer some real opportunities for future MOB and SAR devices as it is primarily designed as signalling and data spectrum, which is being viewed in the UK as a long term and better alternative to heavily congested Wi-Fi.
    OK guys sorry to be waving the Union Jack a bit here but we did get your wiki leaks guy yesterday!!.

  39. Dave says:

    “If I am granted another wish, I ask for a button “cancel alert” on all the devices discussed here. .”…
    In DSC-school I was told that any DSC radio can acknowledge (silence) a DSC distress call but that you are absolutely not supposed to do “…
    The user can never be given a cancel alert as this function is a coast guard only feature. For example you dont know what rescue assets are in play. Hence the need to speak to a CG to stand down a rescue. the number of invlaid DSC alerts has dropped quite significantly
    Only a CLass A DSC radio fitted to a Solas Ship can cancel a distress alert. ( this was a compromise added to support VHF radios operating outside their designed sea area) You can silence the alarm on a leisure set, but it doesnt cancel the DSC alert. GMDSS differs primarily from SOLAS in that the distress call is designed primarily to reach the shore ( ie sea area 1 VHF, sea area 2 MF, sea area 3 HF/sat com)
    Hence the shore is supposed to be the only distress acknowledge.

  40. Henning says:

    OK your’s is a valid argument why I shouldn’t have a Cancel Alert button but it appears that often people find that they have issued an alarm in error but don’t know what to do or know but don’t want to speak out publicly about it. So some turn off their VHFs. Or their Epirb.
    I can see how false alerts get send. My little daughter clearly identified my Simrad RS82 station mounted in the cockpit as a telephone and didn’t understand why I get so agitated when she plays with this telephone while it’s OK to play with all the other telephones.
    So how about instructions on what to do if
    – an alarm was sent in error
    – an alarm was sent intentionally but the emergency is no longer present?
    These should be just as compact and clear as those for issuing the alarm.
    What do you think has led to the decline in false alerts? It probably wasn’t a decline in the number of little daughters.

  41. Dave says:

    The experience as DSC/GMDSS rolled out across Europe was initially a high level of false alarms, the main indicators seemed to be operator unfamiliarity and design/ergonomic issues with radios.
    Now the false alert rate had decreased, generally due to better operator understandin and improvements in the ergonomics and user interface design of radios

  42. steverow says:

    Yes grumpy o g I’m really not sure why CROSS do that on DSC from Joburg, as I’m sure you know the MCGA just do a pre-announcement on Ch16 directing you to either 80 84 or whatever to RX the WX forecast.
    None of this silly DSC stuff. Joburg is particularly loud and powerful and I hear them clearly at my holiday place in Axminster over 80 miles away. Well I suppose they’ve got a fair bit of sea to cover but really there’s no need for the DSC. It’s really annoying.

  43. steverow says:

    Here’s a picture of the Pride of Humber RNLI Lifeboat.
    You can clearly see the DF antenna (looks like an old VHF TV H aerial) on the small upright mast. Wouldn’t take a lot to fit on most boats, if the gear was mass produced cheaply enough. I think they use either Racal or Marconi tackle for this purpose.

  44. Anonymous says:

    IN reality Steve, theres no point in provding “DF ing for the masses”. Good DF gear will never be that cheap and requires a good DF antenna system. secondly it requires a degree of training. To work well it needs trangulation using another station, Anyway its been subplanted by GMDSS/DSC where the lat/lon is sent using DSC from the distress radio. This is much easier for the untrained receipent to understand and use.

  45. steverow says:

    Well you must have 6th sense Dave. The MCGA just decided in the UK to cease operation of all the land based DF masts, saving £24 million a year. Instead they will use “mobile” devices on the top of each CG station and also deployable from CG Land Rovers. Obviously the RNLI are none too happy about it and neither are professional Mariners as it’s an incredibly useful tool. I expect that the RNLI and perhaps National Coastwatch also will take up the slack in time. Lifeboats use the DF technique extremely efficiently and often, but need at least one other point of reference otherwise they are just following the null line in a vague direction.
    One wonders where the economic axe is going to fall next…..

  46. Anonymous says:

    … the axe is swinging – the next proposal is to close half the UK Coastguard stations themselves…. bad news for everyone that uses the sea for commercial or recreational purposes.

  47. Rusty says:

    IMO issued instructions on how to cancel a false DSC alert. According to one publication TP9878, it goes:
    All stations, All stations, All stations, this is (vessel name) MMSI number , position North, West, Cancel my distress alert of date and time. This is (vessel name) MMSI number , Out.

  48. Ben Ellison Ben Ellison says:

    I think there’s also an obligation to have direct contact with the Coast Guard before going anywhere or shutting down your radio. And triple dittos regarding an accidentally enabled PLB or EPIRB. You probably shouldn’t even shut it off until you’re in touch with the SAR people, because if they’ve gotten the Distress message they will keep looking for you. Bad enough to cause an unnecessary search, worse to prolong it.
    On the other hand, I understand that at least the US Coast Guard does not want to discourage people from alerting them when a situation is starting to become perilous, rather than waiting for worse SAR conditions because they didn’t want to cause unnecessary trouble. It’s a fine line, and I appreciate the USCG’s generous attitude about it.

  49. Anonymous says:

    it’s worse than expected – UK is reducing it’s MRCC from 19 to 8…

  50. steverow says:

    Well that’s it then…from a leading maritime nation to a Marine Banana republic in one fell swoop.
    It’s totally ridiculous that they can think they can look after the busiest sea lanes in the world by a magnitude, with just that amount of cover.
    I really dont know who thought this up but they need institutionalising whoever it was. My guess is that there will be so much protest that it wont happen, at least I hope so. I’m now really worried for my freinds and colleagues at the MCGA and the Admiralty.
    A bad day.

  51. Dan Corcoran (b393capt) says:

    Happy 221st Birthday USCG !

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