Flares are an important part of our vessel safety equipment and are required by law.
For boats under sixteen feet you are required to carry 3 day and 3 night flares or 3 combination day / night flares. For boats sixteen feet and larger you are required to carry three hand-held or floating orange smoke signals and one electric distress light or three combination day / night red flares; hand-held, meteor or parachute type. All Coast Guard approved flares and pyrotechnic signaling devices are stamped with an expiration date. If your flares are expired or will expire during the boating season they will need to be replaced! While 3 day / 3 night flares are the minimum it is suggested and prudent to carry more. After a few years of boating this can add up to a significant cost.
Weems & Plath a leader in manufacturing technical and navigational instruments has developed an electronic alternative to pyrotechnic flares and signaling devices that is US Coast Guard approved, easily activated, eliminates risk of accidental burns and fires and can be attached to the boat and left unattended while you work to fix what ever problems the boat is having or assist you passengers. The SOS Distress Light is waterproof, has a floatation ring to keep the strobe light above the water, runs for 60 hours on 3 C cell batteries, and can be seen for up to 10 nautical miles. The best part is you don’t have to pay to replace expired flares year after year. The only ongoing cost associated with the SOS Distress Light is replacing the batteries yearly or as needed and carrying an spare set of batteries on the boat. The light comes with an orange SOS distress flag for day time use to meet requirements for day time signaling.
Some interesting features of the SOS Distress light are it comes with a lanyard that can be hoisted up a mast or tied to a railing, the handle fits perfectly into a standard rod holder, it works in all weather conditions, it’s so simple to operate even an untrained passenger can turn it on and it floats and keeps flashing even in the water unlike a flare that may not fire after an extended time in the water.
I bought one of these as soon as they came out and were Coast Guard approved. I kept my expired flares on the boat but marked them as “training use only” in order to avoid issues with the Coast Guard safety inspections. It’s never a bad idea to have a back up when it comes to your life or someone else’s. I’m pretty happy with the construction of the light and operation of the light. The only thing I would like to see is a mount sold for it. It takes up about the same amount of space as a small flare kit but it is an awkward shape and doesn’t lay flat or fit into an emergency bag easily. Since it fits into a rod holder you can repurpose a rod holder to store it. This makes a great addition to your Coast Guard approved safety kit.
You may be in the market for a new marine VHF radio or just bought a new boat with a new VHF radio on it. There are a lot of options today in the marine VHF radio market. One of those options that is standard on all new fix mount VHF radios and many handheld radios is DSC or Digital Selective Calling.
What is DSC?
Digital Selective Calling allows you to make ship to ship calls, find a fellow boater’s position, make a distress call with the push of a button and report your own position. DSC is coupled with GPS either through a stand alone GPS receiver, your chart plotter or a GPS receiver in the VHF radio. The GPS connection is a two wire connection using NMEA 0183 protocol. Generally if you have a NMEA 0183 capable chartplotter or stand alone GPS receiver you can hook your VHF radio to it and be able to send your coordinates to other ships or the coast guard in the event of an emergency. If you don’t have a chartplotter or a standalone GPS receiver don’t worry there are DSC capable marine VHF radios with a built in GPS receiver.
A DSC radio is a good investment for several reasons. You can call all the people you normally boat with by putting in their MMSI number and “ringing” their DSC capable radio. This lowers the amount of unnecessary traffic on marine channel 16. DSC transmits data on channel 70 and in a congested area using DSC rather than voice to call friend or to find a friends position is much better than tying up the airwaves and potentially transmitting over a distress call. With DSC and a chartplotter you can see where your friends are on the chartplotter and you can see any vessels in distress near you. In the event of a mayday or distress condition on your boat you can just push the red button on the radio and instantly transmit your boats position, details on the type of boat, name of boat, your name and contact info to the coast guard and any commercial ships near you. Greatly speeding up the time it takes to get help also because DSC is digital not voice you may have a greater transmitting range compared to making a voice mayday call on VHF channel 16.
If you have a new or new to you DSC radio in addition to wiring it to a GPS receiver you will need to enter your MMSI number into. A word of caution! Some radios will only allow the MMSI number to be entered once or twice. If you are buying a used radio make sure it can accept your MMSI number and if you are buying a new radio make sure you enter the number correctly. The MMSI number you register links your radio to your information. It contains your boat name, boat type and brand, size of the boat, color of the boat, your phone number, emergency contact information and your address.
Obtaining a MMSI number is easy. If you only plan on boating in US waters and are registering a private vessel you can visit one of the following three websites:
If you are planning on boating outside of US waters you will need to file directly with the FCC to obtain your MMSI number. The forms can be found here: Form 159 and Form 605
If you are outside of the US visit this site in order to find the proper place to register for a MMSI number.
Connecting your DSC radio to GPS in such an important thing, it is literally a simple life saving step you can take to insure quick and proper notification to the authorities in the event of an emergency.
Today I was preparing to write a post about coast guard required safety equipment and I came across something I didn’t know existed. The Official US Coast Guard App for boaters. I just installed the android version of the app on my phone in order to review it for this post. When you install the app you are asked to agree to the terms of service for the app. For a government agency the terms are fairly straightforward but read them first to make sure you really want to agree to them. Since you can make reports of hazards and emergencies through the app you are reminded that false reports are illegal and waste resources. The app asks to use your location because it will give the GPS coordinates when making a report The app asks you to fill out info for a profile but you don’t have to fill out any info until you try to make a report.
In addition to being able to make a report of a hazard you can make reports of pollution, report suspicious activity and request emergency assistance through the app. The app lets you view state boating information, request a safety check, review safety equipment, file a float plan, view the rules of the road, and see NOAA buoy information. That’s quite a lot of good information right at your finger tips. It appears you will need an internet connection to view some of the information.
Check out this video for an overview of the application.
This app is another tool in your boating toolbox and for the low, low price of free I’d recommend checking it out. The app also shows your GPS coordinates so you can quickly relay them to the authorities in the event of an emergency.