PLB use

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blueythe
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PLB use

Post by blueythe »

Has anyone ever used a PLB in anger? under what circumstances and what was the outcome and response times? I ask because there seems to be a school of thought that they are a waste of time and you'd be likely dead or in serious hypothermic state, even in a dry suit, by the time the rescue services get to you in UK winter water temps. I believe they are a great addition to our personal safety but would be interested to hear the thoughts of the experts on here. BTW I am not advocating ditching the VHF and/or mobile. PLB would be my last option on the water if all else fails.

ruralweb
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Re: PLB use

Post by ruralweb »

I've had one accidentally activate - a SPOT Gen3 it was a malfunction and resulted in a call out. In this case it took about 45min for the coastguard to be contacted and becuase of the way the system worked they would have gone to a location 7 miles away from where I was.
I've since stopped using the SPOT and just rely on a proper PLB now which again would take a while to transmit a signal but it would be a direct link to the coastguard so should be less than the 45 min it took the SPOT - I have seen times of about 15min quoted. It's then down to how fast the coastguard can get to you and you should certainly plan on it being over 60 min for a helicopter and perhaps more for a lifeboat depending on where you are.
So in answer to your question yes you may well be dead before they get to you especially in winter - certainly you will have lost the ability to swim and if all you are wearing is a normal PFD you will drown rather than die of hyperthermia as it will not keep you face up.
Having said all that they are worth carrying especially if you can get ashore where you should last a bit longer although most kayaking type deaths are not drowning they are hyperthermia once ashore!
Mal

ruralweb
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Re: PLB use

Post by ruralweb »

PS the PLB should be your first option rather than the last as it stands the best chance of alerting the emergency services. VHF is very short range and unlikely to be picked up.
Mal

Owen
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Re: PLB use

Post by Owen »

Never used mine in anger, but why do you assume the only emergency you could get into and need help involves you floating in the water far from land without your kayak? Granted if you do find yourself in that situation there not much anyone can do for you but it's a rare situation. I think most call outs are less dramatic and closer to shore. A more interesting question is, whether a PLB or VHF is the better way to summon help? I tend to look on mine as a the last resort after VHF and flares have failed. The disadvantages of PLB's are a, you don't know whether you've got through or not and b, they (who ever they are) don't know what's wrong, c, anyone else who may be in the versatility and could help doesn't get the message and so doesn't know your in trouble.

I would think that in UK waters, with our reliance on telecommunications and satellites, any distress signal would be picked up quite quickly, this might not be the case around northern Norway for example. If I understand correctly, that signal goes to somewhere in the USA and is then past to somewhere in the UK (it used to be Portishead) who then task the nearest/most appropriate RNLI. How long that takes I've no idea.

ruralweb
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Re: PLB use

Post by ruralweb »

In reality whatever is wrong the coastguard will send the same assets i.e. Helicopter or lifeboat so I still would activate a PLB first. Then send a mayday and keep sending at short intervals until I got a responce or it was clear I was out of range. I would not fire a flare unless I had enough left to use when I saw the coastguard - it's vey difficult for them to see you even when close so you will need to use a flare. Also remember that a PLB transmits two signals - one to the satellite and another on 121.5mhz which is an international distress signal which can be picked up by the coastguard and homed in on. As can your VHF if you don't use all the battery so remember to keep some power saved.
Mal

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nickcrowhurst
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Re: PLB use

Post by nickcrowhurst »

One of the reasons I carry a PLB is to assist others in distress. If, for example, I come across a vessel of any size that is sinking or on fire then I can use the PLB. If I come across a party of kayakers, canoeists or others who are just "out of their depths", I can call for help. I have often (usually) been paddling out of VHF and cellphone range. If, for example, I came across a small petrol-engined fishing boat on fire or sinking I would be of little use in effecting a rescue, but I could at least operate my PLB. This is of course a very unlikely occurrence. One time I needed to rescue a group was about four years ago when I saw an aluminium canoe, over-laden with four young Asians, capsize through inexperience in a remote area of the Florida Keys. The main challenge was the language barrier - In Chinese, how do you say "Sit down on the bottom of the canoe NOW, and keep still or you'll all be swimming again!"? In comparison, emptying the canoe was straightforward. If it had not been, then I had my PLB to hand.
It's rather like carrying a tow rope and a set of heavy duty jump leads in my trucks for decades. I've used them every few years, but never on my own vehicle. It was Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who wrote, and I paraphrase, "a good society cannot be based on self-interest alone." (The Gulag Archipelago)
Nick.

blueythe
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Re: PLB use

Post by blueythe »

Thanks for the responses. Seems like in this small sample that everyone advocates their use and in all options simultaneously rather than as a last option. Don't really think it matters if you are 5 mile offshore or 500m if you can't get ashore. I can think of lots of scenarios where I could end up in the water either with or without the kayak so time is the critical factor. In Uk waters without a dry or wetsuit assuming a winter sea temperature range of 4-10C survival times would range from 30 mins to 2hours ish. Obviously with a dry or wetsuit these times would be extended but it's a pretty narrow window. VHF would potentially bring the quickest response times from nearby vessels if it was heard and PLB responses could be borderline if they take up to an hour. Having said that I'll still be carrying one. Interesting that most deaths occur from hypothermia once the kayaker is ashore. That was a complete surprise to me.

Ken Reynolds
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Re: PLB use

Post by Ken Reynolds »

When the Coast Guard receives details after a PLB has been operated, they transmit a mayday in the area given by the PLB. This means that vessels in the area can provide assistance possibly before the helicopter or lifeboat arrives. Also you will be able to receive this transmission on VHF while awaiting your rescue which you may find reassuring.
Ken Reynolds

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John K
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Re: PLB use

Post by John K »

blueythe wrote:Has anyone ever used a PLB in anger? under what circumstances and what was the outcome and response times?
Here's a first hand account from a bloke who was ejected from his RIB when he was doing a solo crossing of the Irish Sea. It's pretty likely that the PLB saved his life.

http://www.rib.net/forum/f8/round-irela ... post557789

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Re: PLB use

Post by Ian_Montrose »

I would never consider them a waste of time but they are not a "get out of jail free" card either. They are one of many tools that you may choose to have in your box. What I think is important is that we all have put reasonable thought into what equipment we carry for emergency use, why we carry it and when and how we might use it.
Personally, I carry a PLB (along with various other pieces of comms equipment) because, for the sake of a couple of hundred quid, the ability to send a MAYDAY with GPS location via a medium other than VHF is a no-brainer and I carry it for "the group" as much as for myself. However, if we ever find ourselves in need of outside assistance we must assume it may take a long time (quite possibly hours) for help to arrive. We need to be able to sort ourselves out as best as possible in the interim to ensure any emergency remains a rescue scenario and not a recovery exercise.

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Re: PLB use

Post by Ian_Montrose »

blueythe wrote:Thanks for the responses. Seems like in this small sample that everyone advocates their use and in all options simultaneously rather than as a last option. Don't really think it matters if you are 5 mile offshore or 500m if you can't get ashore. I can think of lots of scenarios where I could end up in the water either with or without the kayak so time is the critical factor. In Uk waters without a dry or wetsuit assuming a winter sea temperature range of 4-10C survival times would range from 30 mins to 2hours ish. Obviously with a dry or wetsuit these times would be extended but it's a pretty narrow window. VHF would potentially bring the quickest response times from nearby vessels if it was heard and PLB responses could be borderline if they take up to an hour. Having said that I'll still be carrying one. Interesting that most deaths occur from hypothermia once the kayaker is ashore. That was a complete surprise to me.

There are a few things in your post that I think merit discussion.

First, on when to call for help. Quite simply, when you start to reasonably think it might be needed. If you wait until you're absolutely sure then you've wasted valuable time. If you call for help and subsequently resolve the situation you can always cancel the mayday and nobody, least of all the emergency services, will criticize you.

Second, you seem to be focusing on a man overboard (MOB) situation and/or hypothermia as being significant risk factors. I see them quite differently. For me, the likelihood of finding myself MOB is remote because I mitigate by paddling as part of a group with a good mix of competent and experienced paddlers. I'd really have to stretch my imagination to extremes to come up with a scenario where I might find myself alone in the water and my only option being to call the coastguard. If you are putting yourself in situation where being a MOB is remotely possible then the issue is not whether yo have a PLB or not but how you got into that situation in the first place.

Third, hypothermia. it takes time to become hypothermic, usually at least 30 mins. If you equip yourself with the knowledge to recognize its onset (in both yourself and others) and the ability to deal with it, it is a relatively small risk. In the water, cold shock or swim failure are far more likely to do you in well before hypothermia gets a look in. Understanding why is really very important and I would recommend you to read up on cold water dangers. There are a lot of resources out there but my favourite is the book Essentials of Sea Survival by Golden and Tipton.

In my earlier post I mentioned the risk of people assuming a PLB is some kind of magic bullet or get out of jail free card. I'm going to labour that point. Technology is all well and good but the foundations of safe paddling are knowledge, personal skills, group support and respect for the sea.

blueythe
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Re: PLB use

Post by blueythe »

many thanks Ian for your insightful comments.

As you will have guessed I am relatively inexperienced having just completed my third year but with a good number of trips under a variety of conditions. I am pretty much risk averse and have a healthy respect for the sea. Your comments really stress that judgement, recognition of risk and preparation are the key to safety and I totally agree. However, I think that a good portion of all have a significant element of 'experience gained' in them. Not sure how long you have been paddling, but I am firmly on the lag phase of the learning curve. I am going on peer led paddles, but mostly with a friend who is also relatively inexperienced. we have a very good assisted rescue, reasonable roll and an iffy self rescue. we are trying to address and improve all of these with practice and mitigate with some good equipment purchases, a PLB and electric bilge pump which are currently at the top my list. Peer group paddling is great and we have learnt a lot but it does take the decision making out of your hands

I have also been reading quite a bit and probably scared myself with 'Sea kayaker Deep Trouble" and now need to counter this with your suggested reading.

I guess my original what if question did paint a MOB situation and now matter how small the risk notwithstanding your comments it still exists. Unexpected sea state, freak wave etc and unable to self rescue and in particular an injury could make a rescue difficult even in a group under certain conditions. A PLB will now be my first choice if I ever find myself in "Deep Trouble". Hopefully never find myself having to use it as my skill and experience improve to a point where the risk is minimal.

Cold shock is an interesting one and something I am not sure how you total avoid even with the correct clothing. it's another one that you need to reduce the risk with appropriate clothing and acclimatisation, although I don't relish the thought of regular winter swimming!

Owen
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Re: PLB use

Post by Owen »

Sea kayaking safety and rescue by John Lull is still far and above the best book on the subject ever written.
Sea kayak by Gordon Brown is ok but let down by the photo's.
Essentials of sea survival by Frank Golden and Michael Tipton.
Sea kayak navigation by Franco Ferrero.

Just about all the books you'll ever need.

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Re: PLB use

Post by ruralweb »

I regularly kayak on my own and in winter conditions and it's all to common for conditions to change rapidly. If you fail to plan for being in the water offshore then that's opening up a whole can of worms - personally I think the biggest safety error is the reliance on pfds. These are only designed for use close to shore, in sheltered conditions and with help close at hand - they only work if you keep treading water and will not keep you face up if you stop.
It's all to easy to say it will not happen because I'm in a group but I know of five star paddlers who all had to be rescued because several took a swim at the same time and the group split up - so it is a possibility.
Mal

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MikeB
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Re: PLB use

Post by MikeB »

blueythe wrote:
I have also been reading quite a bit and probably scared myself with 'Sea kayaker Deep Trouble" and now need to counter this with your suggested reading.
From my recollection of that particular book, the issue was skills (or lack of!) - and the ability to read the conditions.

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TechnoEngineer
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Re: PLB use

Post by TechnoEngineer »

XL-Burn-3 / Monstar / XPlore-X/ My Videos

blueythe
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Re: PLB use

Post by blueythe »

thanks Owen, 2 books here I need to add to my collection.

thanks rural web, I suspected that even the very best paddlers do get into difficulty occasionally. Interesting point on the PFD and Techno's link mentions the design of these in reducing hypothermia.

thanks for the link techno. very interesting presentation.

Mike B your correct most of the incidents in "Deep trouble" can be attributed to poor equipment, lack of experience. However, without exception the changing weather condition were to blame in every case and I think most of the paddlers were lulled into a false sense of security based on launch conditions and the terrestrial forecast. Hardly anyone checked the marine forecast. so that was a big pointer for me. There were a number of cases with experienced, skilled kayakers, but what struck me about those cases was the inability to self rescue in the conditions. There was one case when the paddle was found with paddle float attached to the paddle only few hundred yards form the boat but unfortunately the guy perished despite obvious attempt at self rescue. Something we all will never now until we have to try-can you self rescue/roll if the condition of the sea exceeds our skill level of these tasks? But, if you can't self rescue just get as much of your body out of the water by clinging to the boat.

thanks all

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Re: PLB use

Post by ruralweb »

Another account of how paddling in a group is not a guarantee of safety - this incident happened a couple of days ago:
On behalf of the 3 Kayakers in question, Robert Lukaszewicz. Steve and myself, we would like to say a massive thank you to all those involved in yesterday's events. From the coastguard, rnli, paramedics, ambulance and Scarborough hospital and all those I don't know about.
Very briefly, we planned to paddle from south landing, around flamborough head to North landing and back. We were well equipped and had prepped before hand and checked the conditions from the head before we set off.
As we approached the head the swell increased quite quickly and significantly to 10ft+.
We turned to paddle back but unfortunately I got caught by waves from the back and side and was unable to roll back up. I was recovered to the Kayak but unable to pump out all of the water. The instability resulted in a second capsize and another recovery by Steve
At this point we rafted up.
Rob became separeted.
I was not feeling good and still holding water so Steve then called the coastguard on the vhf. (we also carried flares and flashing sos lamp).
And the "cavalry" came in the flamborough rnli big rib.
Rob also got into difficulty and was subsequently picked up 1.5 miles away following additional search teams getting involved.
Fortunately his kit kept him dry.
We were both transported to Scarborough hospital for hyperthermia and kept in overnight for observation for infection ( "secondary drowning").
I am pleased to say that we are all well and called in at flamborough south landing rnli to say thank you. Although somehow "thank you" is not enough.
Iain. Rob, Steve
Mal

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Re: PLB use

Post by Chris McDaid »

In my local area (North Mayo) a VHF has patchy coverage at best, as for mobile phone signal, almost non existant. I carry a PLB at all times, and its not a last resort at all, in a situation where things can escalate quickly I'd have no hesitation in using it FIRST. It's pretty much the best chance I'd have of alerting the coastguard. Far more important is to make sure you know what you're getting yourself into. Weather reports and tidal charts are all very well, but local knowledge is the best tool of all. Talk to local fisherman and kayakers, they'll have first hand knowledge of the waters you're paddling in. Especially on a pretty remote and indented coastline like North Mayo, locals will know any known trouble spots and tidal anomalies not marked on any chart

Cheers,
Chris
NDK Explorer/Valley Aquanaut

pathbrae
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Re: PLB use

Post by pathbrae »

The RYA run a very good sea survival course. The bias is very much towards having a vessel sink out from under you (or catch fire) and taking to a life raft - but there are several interesting points raised about cold water survival, non-submersion drowning etc. which sea kayakers could learn from - as well as covering most of the options for summoning assistance.
A few "take home" messages would be.

Have a plan.
Call for help at the first hint of trouble. Utilise every method at your disposal to do so.
Make sure you have a "float plan" lodged with a responsible person on shore who can liaise with the coast guard if necessary or who will report you as overdue (I know that "overdue" is a very flexible definition in a sea kayak...)
Understand the dangers of cold water immersion and exposure.
Understand the risks from inhaling wind blown spray if you are in the water for any length of time. Most off-shore / heavy weather life jackets will have a spray hood fitted to protect your face - otherwise the advice is to protect your nose and mouth with a hand or hands. It doesn't take a lot of inhaled sea water to cause a reaction in lung tissue - leading to a "dry" drowning.
Don't underestimate the debilitating effects of sea-sickness (rafted up in sea-kayaks to deal with a casualty - it's not always a comfortable experience. Does anyone carry sea-sickness tablets in their first aid kit?)
And - possibly the most important piece of advice....
NEVER give up. People will be searching for you and they will keep searching until they find you.
So much sea - so little time to see it.

ruralweb
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Re: PLB use

Post by ruralweb »

I always have my sea sickness tablets close to hand :)
I also wear a proper life jacket with spray hood when going offshore - pfds are useless IMO
Mal

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Re: PLB use

Post by pathbrae »

Ruralweb - manual or auto inflation?
So much sea - so little time to see it.

ruralweb
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Re: PLB use

Post by ruralweb »

Manual inflation as you don't want it activating as soon as you enter the water. It's far less bulky than a pfd so your chances of getting back into a kayak are increased but if you need to activate it it will keep you afloat and face up which a pfd will not do. Built in spray hood and double crotch straps to prevent it riding up or you falling out when being pulled into rescue boat. Also has a built in harness to fit a tow line so the pull is through your shoulders rather than your waist.

This is the one I use https://www.spinlock.co.uk/en-us/catego ... pro-sensor
Mal

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Re: PLB use

Post by Nick P »

Having just 'upgraded' from an Atlantic 75 to Atlantic 85 lifeboat at Looe, we now have radio direction finding (DF)capability on board. The DF unit can be switched between VHF channels and the PLB 121.5MHz frequency. Standard operating procedure is to keep the DF on 121.5 during routine passage and exercise and only switch to VHF DF when needed for that purpose. The logic therefore is that the boat is actively monitoring 121.5 all the time, whilst simultaneously keeping a watch on VHF anyway. Not used it in anger yet.

N

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Re: PLB use

Post by pathbrae »

Manual inflation as you don't want it activating as soon as you enter the water.
That was my own feeling - but I wondered if there was another school of thought out there. All my lifejackets are auto so I've never used one in the kayak. I suspect even a good bit of heavy surf would be enough to fire an auto inflator, which would be exactly when you didn't want it to go off!

I've also wondered about how easy it would be to swim in a lifejacket, which puts me off a bit.

And I like the pockets on my BA........
So much sea - so little time to see it.

ruralweb
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Re: PLB use

Post by ruralweb »

Yep you only want it going off when you need it :)

As for swimming in it - when it's deflated it's much easier than a pfd to swim with. When you decide to inflate it then you have stopped swimming and switched to survival mode. At this point with a pfd you will drown as they are not designed to keep your head above water without swimming.

As for pockets I can get everything I need in it - also pfds with front pockets stuffed will kit actually make you more likely to drown. A pfd only provides about 5kg of floatations so every item you add reduces that plus the extra bulk can actually prevent you getting back into a kayak successfully.

Also weight above the waterline makes a kayak less stable so a pfd is the worst place possible to put weight. Ocean racing kayakers go to great lengths to reduce weight high up from the boat deck as it makes suck a big difference to stability. The best safety plan is not to capsize in the first place :)
Mal

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Re: PLB use

Post by blueythe »

many thanks for sharing your (bad) experience with us rural web. Really glad you you are all ok and non the worse for the experience. These are the type of scenarios I had in mind and no matter how experienced, how well prepared the risk remains. I am trying to get to grips with the best way to prepare if the ?@£% hits the fan. I know the value of training, preparation, being acutely aware of the dangers etc. But as relatively inexperienced I am exploring the best way to prepare from an equipment point of view. Sharing experiences such as yours can benefit us all.
very interested in your views on PFD"s and I can immediately see the value of a life jacket you described. I am a relatively strong swimmer but feel pretty useless in a drysuit and PFD, would be interested in other peoples views and experience with life jackets or PFD's, 'cause I am now teetering on ditching the PFD for river use only.

Other questions your experience also raise: is do you think an electric bilge pump could have made a difference to the situation?
Did you use the PLB? Did you inflate your life jacket?

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Re: PLB use

Post by ruralweb »

I think we have a few crossed wires - the incident I posted did not involve me. It was posted by the coastguard a few days ago.
Mal

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Re: PLB use

Post by blueythe »

Apologies, I misinterpreted your post.

M0RGZ
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Re: PLB use

Post by M0RGZ »

I caught the back end of the coast guard talking to a vessel offering search support on my VHF HT from Whitby, wondered what the incident was. Missed the main part whilst fighting with seagulls over my fish & chips.

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