Friday, May 04, 2012

Reaction to "How many EPIRBs and Life Rafts Save Lives?"

A thread in a cruising forum triggered this reaction from me. Of course, "YMMV" -- your mileage may vary.
Grammar warning: This reaction is a grammatically inconsistent mix of complete sentences and bullet points and was written late at night.
Oh goodie, a revived thread. No claim to universal wisdom, just my own opinions and conclusions for our boat, and after reviewing the whole darn thread, here's my takeaway:

- Any one piece of equipment, by itself, is not a magic bullet.
- Instead, I'd much rather rely on the ideas of defense in depth, safety systems, and a balance of preparation, experience, training, seamanship, preventive maintenance, drills/training, and a balanced choice of equipment to prevent, mitigate, and survive problems.
- People don't react the same way in emergencies. But forethought, drill, and training can make the reactions more predictable and constructive.
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Us: Coastal/inland racer/cruisers, lightweight 33 footer with outboard in motor well, and very few holes in the boat, thank providence. Casual racers, occasional coastal charterers, do a bit of this and that on the water. Plan to do more coastal sailing and racing.

- No life raft. Do have survival suit, wet suits, float coats, inflatables with harnesses, type I and other PFDs, MOB pole, horseshoe float, Lifesling, lights, etc.
- Do have EPIRB and PLB (both with GPS and are registered), VHF w DSC/AIS reception, GPS/chartplot, handheld VHFs, a bunch of flares including a couple of in-date SOLAS para. Also have jacklines and dual-length tethers, and the little things like lights, whistles, knives, wood plugs, radar reflector, floating ditch bag, water, emergency VHF antenna, etc.

- ASA classes, local basic boating safety classes, volunteer boating safety instructor training, done some live fire-fighting training (need to get current on first aid/CPR but my son is an EMT/wilderness EMT and would be with us most of the time). Plan to get to a safety seminar with a practical component. Grew up on the water, have done some dumb things, seen lots of other people do dumb things, and hope I've learned from them. Have some basic maintenance and improvisation skills. * Duct tape does wonders. It can't fix stupid -- but it can shut stupid's mouth. *

- Always a chance to do better, always something new to learn -- which for me is a huge reason I chose sailing as a major life interest.
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Thoughts on the original question:
EPIRBS/PLBs have gotten cheap enough to be easy to justify. Their maintenance has also gotten less onerous.

Life rafts on the other hand, are still awfully expensive in the USA. The relatively cheap ones leave much to be desired (single tube? no inflatable floor? minimal ballast? no roof? hard to enter?), and even the more expensive ones are very skimpily equipped. Have you looked closely at some of the "comprehensive survival packages" on them? I would probably rent or buy a raft for an ocean crossing but not even think of it for coastal sailing (within 100 miles offshore in moderate waters). We might carry a dinghy lashed on the deck or in the lazarette, depending upon the type of passage. (We have an older inflatable dinghy with plywood floor and a small engine that needs carb cleaning, plus a lighter duty inflatable Sevylor, and a couple of kayaks.)
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A dumb analogy to keep the natives restless:
Buying a fancy piece of safety equipment without thinking carefully about how to use it, without fitting it in with your other equipment, and without and getting training and experience would be like... carrying guns on board without any training, forethought, or knowledge of the laws, real risks, and consequences in the places where you will be sailing.


At 11:24 AM, May 04, 2012, Blogger Pat said...

follow up; a response to a comment on FB:
One problem is that the ship may be tougher than the crew... and that if the boat is not properly prepared, the interior of a boat during a storm could be a hostile or lethal environment.... think of flying missiles and furniture, fuel fumes or leaking fuel, mashed food, junk clogging pumps, inadequate handholds, flying bodies, soggy berths. When the storm hits, it's a little late to be finding out that the galley stove, cabin sole, and hatch boards weren't well secured, that the portlights leak, and that the spacious salon lacks decent handholds. Along these lines, it's kind of fun to snigger at boat show boats -- you know, the ones with the flowers on the dining table in the tall skinny crystal vase.

As for lighting the candle, it's probably better to light the EPIRB earlier rather than later, if the emergency is actually, truly life threatening, and give rescuers a bigger target and more time to find it. An earlier Securite call or satphone or cell phone or ssb call might mean the difference between getting advice or limited assistance (such as getting a pump or fuel dropped, etc.) versus having to abandon the boat -- which is not only financially disastrous for many sailors, but also has significant risks of its own, both to the survivors and sometimes to the rescuers.


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