This Little Red Button Saves Lives

April 5, 2019

While most of us rely on our cell phones for pretty much everything these days, they simply won’t cut it on the open water. A VHF marine radio remains the most versatile and efficient communication device for your boat by broadcasting messages to other vessels in the area. VHF’s reliable power source and high transmitter power make it an ideal communication tool for all boaters. Required by law, VHF enables collective safety, collaboration, and assistance for everyone on the water.

Digital Selective Calling (DSC) has drastically increased the importance of VHR radio. Now standard on devices made within the past 15 years, DSC enables you to accurately relay essential information—your name, your boat’s name, your location, and the nature of your emergency—with the push of a few buttons to all vessels within the signal range radius. Coordinated with your GPS receiver, DSC provides your exact coordinates to ensure help arrives quickly, drastically increasing the speed and reliability of distress calls. DSC also allows boats to communicate in non-emergencies with other vessels and shore stations for position reports and other routine calls, freeing up channel 16 for essential Coast Guard emergency calling.

In order to take advantage of DSC, though, you’ve got to set it up correctly before emergency strikes:

  1. Confirm your VHF radio is DSC equipped. Most have a red “distress” button. If you don’t see one, your radio is older than 2004 and you should likely upgrade to a newer model.
  2. Register your Maritime Mobile Service Identity (MMSI), which is like a phone number for your boat. Recreational boaters can register at Sea Tow, BoatUS or US Power Squadrons.
  3. Follow your radio’s instruction manual to set up the DSC with your MMSI number.
  4. Connect the radio to your GPS.
  5. If it proves to be too challenging to set up the DSC and connect to GPS, seek help from a more experienced boater or hire a professional. It’s always better to be safe than sorry.
A lot can go wrong out on the water: fire, flooding, collision, sinking, man overboard, lost steering and even piracy. But with a DSC-enabled VHF radio on deck, you’ll know help is one little red button away.

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Emergency Preparedness for Boaters: 6 Steps You Can Take in the Off-Season

February 8, 2018

Day dreaming about boating season? As you plot and plan for a summer of fun and adventure, it’s also a good time to ensure you’ll be well prepared in case of an accident or emergency.

As the saying goes: Hope for the best, but plan for the worst.

Here are 6 emergency preparedness steps you can take now—as you patiently (!) await the start of the season:
  1. Check basic safety requirements. Learn whether your boat meets minimum federal and state safety requirement by getting a vessel safety check from a member of the U.S. Power Squadrons or the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary. It’s free!
  2. Determine your needs. Beyond the minimum safety requirements, make sure your safety gear and related devices are adequate for the type of boat you have and the type of excursions you’re planning to take. You may need to go beyond the prescribed minimums (you might want to check out our safety whistle and rescue streamer).
  3. Check your PFDs. Make sure you have enough PFDs for your family and other boating companions. Inspect and test inflatable life jackets for viability. If you have growing kids, make sure their life jackets still fit!
  4. Create a checklist. Create a checklist of inspection and maintenance tasks. Remember that many items must be inspected and maintained regularly to ensure they will be reliable if/when you need them.
  5. Familiarize your crew. Make sure your regular crew (yourself included!) knows how to operate—and where to find—each piece of safety equipment. That includes everything from fire extinguishers, lifelines, and bilge pumps to distress signals and VHF-FM marine radios.
  6. Learn (or review) CPR/First Aid: Take a Coast Guard-approved course in first aid and CPR and encourage your family and/or crew to do the same. If you’re already certified, take some time to review your training.

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6 Tips and Tricks for Winter Boaters

January 23, 2018

Boating season? Pshaw!

If you’re the type of boater who hits the water all year round, you need to consider a number of issues that don’t apply to regular “boating season” folks.

Here are 6 key tips and tricks to keep you—and your boat—safe and sound on the winter waters.

1. Pack like a winter warrior.

  • You may not be attempting to summit Mount Everest, but you still need to take precautions against hypothermia. If you get wet in sub-freezing temperatures, your ability to get (and stay) warm can be a matter of life and death. Be sure to pack hand and foot warmers, a thermos with hot soup or a hot drink, an extra change of warm clothes (including gloves and dry socks), and anything else you may need to warm up fast.
  • If you’re a skier or snowboarder, you know goggles work much better than sunglasses to protect your eyes from the wind and cold. While you may not need to wear ski goggles for your entire boating excursion, it’s a good idea to bring a pair as backup protection from the biting wind.

2. Be storm-informed. Even if you live (and boat) in a place where winters are typically mild, it’s critical to be storm ready at all times. Make sure you’re well informed: sign up for alerts, and check the latest weather, water and tidal conditions before you head out on the water.

3. Carry an EPIRB.  As noted above, it’s important to be storm-informed. But despite your best efforts to avoid going on the water in bad weather, conditions can change rapidly. As such, winter boaters should carry a registered Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) for marine use and know how to use it.

4. Swap your life vest for float coat. Whenever you’re on the water, you should wear a personal flotation device (PFD). But in the winter, wearing a life vest along with your winter clothes can be pretty uncomfortable. A float coat is the perfect solution. These heavy-duty jackets have foam floatation built into the body and arms. The PFD insulation doesn’t just keep you afloat; it also adds a layer of warm insulation. In fact, many high quality float coats will keep you as warm as a winter parka.

5. Keep your battery topped up.  The last thing you want when you head out for a winter excursion is to find your boat’s battery weak or dead. To ensure you battery is well-charged, even after sitting idly for weeks in cold temperatures, keep it on a one-amp trickle-charge at all times.

6. Protect your plumbing.  Just like the plumbing in your house, you need to make sure any pipes or hoses on your boat don’t freeze in the winter—and subsequently burst or crack. Any accessories (like livewells, for example)—that don’t have seacocks to cut them off—can quickly fill up and freeze while you’re on the water. To prevent this, plug such accessories from the inside before you launch.

NOTE: In addition to these winter boating tips, be sure to take all your normal boating safety precautions, like filing a float plan with friends and family; creating a plan of action in case of an emergency or accident; and making sure your emergency supply kit is up to date.