Boating Safety: Communication on the Water

Posted: May 21, 2009 in boat, boating, boats, sailboats, sailing, yacht, yachting, yachts
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Communication on your boat can mean the difference between life and death on the water. All boaters should ensure they are prepared for an emergency by having multiple forms of communication on board before spending time on the water.

Boat Communications


A VHF radio should be your primary means of communication, which is monitored by the Coast Guard 24 hours a day, but cell phones, satellite phones, Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons and Personal Position Indicating Radio Beacons serve as a secondary communications tool to call in a distress situation.

Boaters should keep in mind that there are many VHF coverage dead spots even close to land, and it is advisable to always have a secondary means of communication on every boat.

Cellular telephones can be unreliable when traveling many waterways and should not be used as a primary means of communication.  The farther away from land the less likely you are to have reception and is the main reason it’s recommended to have multiple communication devices on every boat.

EPIRBs can help save your life if you get into trouble by alerting rescue authorities to your location. This device can be manually triggered or automatically triggered by water immersion.  It is important to ensure EPRIBs are properly registered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. An EPIRB distress signal is typically received by the Coast Guard within five minutes of being activated and its location is accurate to within 650 feet, said Lt. John McWhite, command duty officer for the 17th Coast Guard District rescue coordination center in Juneau.  An activated EPIRB is generally our first indication that a vessel is in distress and in conjunction with the supporting search and rescue satellite is absolutely our most valuable search and rescue tool in the command center.”

* PPIRB: Similar to an EPIRB, however the device is smaller and may be attached to a person’s body.  If the person falls overboard the device signals their exact location to a satellite that in turn relays the information to the nearest rescue coordination center.

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