Provide Alternate Tracking for Faster EPIRB Response
Emergency services have not always responded to an EPIRB alert
When voyagers purchase and register an EPIRB, the first step is to register the EPIRB with the beacon authority. In the US, go to beaconregistration.noaa.gov.
Make sure the registration includes actionable information: cell phone number, satellite phone, MMSI, contacts who know of your voyage and location, and information on your float plan for a voyage. A float plan is always an exercise in good seamanship. Leaving your plan with someone onshore, and having that person take action if you are materially delayed in arrival without contact, is a good idea.
On receiving an EPIRB alert, the US Coast Guard first attempts to reach the contact person listed in the Beacon Registration to try to confirm this is an actual voyage and emergency. If that contact cannot be reached or the EPIRB is borrowed from another vessel, the emergency cannot be confirmed and will delay or cancel any response. There is a reasonable expectation that should you activate the beacon, the system will swing into gear and rescue you. There are several cases in which no rescue was attempted.
Boatwatch is a service run by Glenn and Eddie Tuttle with high seas radio station call sign KPK, that can register your float plan, follow your voyage, and advise and confirm to the Coast Guard your position and voyage. They can serve as an alternative or addition to your contact person. Email a copy of your float plan before your voyage. (email@example.com). They can follow your voyage by SSB, or by AIS satellite received signal on “Marine Traffic.” A and B+ AIS messages are received by satellite regularly but 2 watt B AIS signals are not reliable except near shore.
The other way to confirm voyage is to carry an EPIRB and a Garmin InReach communicator that allows you to message the Coast Guard directly and confirm your emergency. This is the method Boatwatch recommends.
Another way to confirm position to any emergency service in the world is to input a current voyage track on a site on the web, that the vessel is currently at the position the EPIRB location indicated at that date. This position track website can be by Inreach, YB Tracking, email SSB or satellite phone service, etc. This boat track website must be input into the Beacon Registration so that position can be correlated and confirmed with a received emergency EPIRB signal. In your EPIRB registration, you can update your information online so that USCG will know who to check with in case of activation, and where to confirm voyage and position. This should include a reference to the person holding your float plan, a service such as Boatwatch, the organizers of a race or rally you are involved in if they are tracking you, your satellite phone number, InReach or satellite message contact information and any position tracking information service you have.
There is a recently introduced EPIRB unit that outputs satellite notification of an emergency and a one watt AIS emergency signal. One watt AIS signal can localize position for nearby emergency services, but is not reliably received by satellite or Marine Traffic. A second method of confirming your position and emergency is recommended.
Currently, the Beacon Registration form does not have a dedicated place to list voyage location tracking website for the boat. The EPIRB registration team is revising the registration form, and they are taking suggestions. I suggest that as many people as possible request a line in the Beacon Registration form to list your web voyage location position and date information. A sample letter an NOAA response is below. This Beacon information is shared and available to all emergency services worldwide if it is properly registered on the any Beacon Registration website. (beaconregistration.noaa.gov for the US)
--- sample letter --
Charles Starke wrote: to beacon.registration@noaa.
It is now possible to record a continuous position track at sea through AIS class A and B+ (with Marine Tracking), Garmin Inreach, SSB Airmail and Winlink service, Iridium Go and other satellite devices.
So it is now easy to immediately confirm a position at sea of a boat sending an emergency EPIRB signal if the emergency contact on an NOAA EPIRB registration form cannot be reached.
The NOAA EPIRB registration form should, therefore, have a line to report not only the satellite telephone number but also the position tracking website in use by the vessel or person registering the EPIRB.
Charles L Starke MD FACP