EPIRB's^

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Simon Willis
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EPIRB's^

Post by Simon Willis » Wed Jun 01, 2005 2:44 pm

At the Skye symposium there was some discussion in one session about the use of EPIRB's (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon).

A highly experienced kayaker from Northern Ireland told me he now didn't carry flares, just one of these gadgets. Principally, this was because you need something like a firearms license to buy flares in N.I. and it's a lot of hassle.

I asked a coastguard and a helicopter pilot whether there's any need for flares. They clearly thought they are still very useful, especially when pinpointing a casualty. They were also keen on mini-flares, which slightly surprised me. But they were BIG fans of EPIRBs.

VHF (or cell phone) is obviously the first shout, because you get an instant reply. But unlike a flare, you know someone will respond to an EPIRB signal as if it were a 'mayday', although it'll take 15 minutes for the information to reach the local coastguard and a further fifteen to get a precise fit, due to satelite tracking time.

They prefer EPIRB's which broadcast on 406 MHz, but can manage with those on 121.5 MHz (I'm not sure why). Most 406 EPIRB's apparently have a 121.5 transmitter as well and the helicopter can home in on this signal.

I was told "you can get an EPIRB for about £100" which, it was pointed out to me, is around the price of a couple of parachute flares, but lasts longer. They're difficult to trigger accidentally and, if you do, you can switch it off and ring the coastguard without penalty.

Right, that's all I know about EPIRBs, so here's my question. Anyone managed to find one small (and inexpensive) enough for sea kayaking? I've done a Google search and seen what's out there, but it would be great to hear from any one with first hand experience of owning or using one.
Simon

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ChrisS
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Post by ChrisS » Wed Jun 01, 2005 3:43 pm

This looks like the business, at a price. There are some EPIRB FAQs here.

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Post by willsc1 » Wed Jun 01, 2005 3:55 pm

Simon

I have little experience of EPIRB's themselves but I do know a little about the big yellow helicopter end. The 406 EPIRB signal is actually tracked by satellites, these are not geostationary (I think) and so if you miss a 'pass' you may have up to 45 mins to wait for the next one in certain places. The 406 signal is useful to raise the alarm and give rough position but the RAF SAR helicopters cannot home on 406 mhz signals. They do however home on 121.5 (civil aircraft emergency) and 243.0 (military aircraft). They can also home on to speech transmissions on various VHF & UHF frequencies including channel 16. So if all else fails - talk to someone.

I believe that the Coastguard and Navy aircraft have similar abilities/limitations.

Even at close range it can be surprisingly difficult to home on to a target as small as a kayak by radio signals and then to find it visually. Flares/mini flares and especially smokes are very useful closeup in bad weather/sea conditions.


I think the 406 EPIRB is designed for mid-ocean type distress/location use rather than for raising the alarm a mile of two offshore. The dog walker on the cliff is more likely to see a mini flare than pick up an EPIRB signal!

As in so many circumstances, it would be ideal to carry a combination of everything.

JW

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Simon Willis
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Post by Simon Willis » Wed Jun 01, 2005 4:14 pm

Thanks... that partly explains the 406 / 121.5 thing. The coastguard helo crew confirmed they can home in on the 121.5.

The coastguard explained that the first pass of the sat gives an A and B position, and you could be anywhere in between (possibly an area the size of the Atlantic!). The second pass locates the signal.

But... what would happen if you had an EPIRB with only a 121.5 signal? Would it take longer to fix the position? The cheapest I could see is this one and it appears to have just the 121.5 signal.

I've been wondering whether it was worth carrying an EPIRB like this to make the first "shout" if I was in an area where no-one replied to VHF, the mobile wouldn't work, and perhaps the flare couldn't get higher than a cliff or wasn't seen. Actually, that's quite a set of specific circumstances, isn't it? Hmmm.
S

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Post by ChrisS » Wed Jun 01, 2005 4:44 pm

From the FAQs above:

"detection of a 406MHz is immediate. This is great if you have GPS equipped EPIRBs as the MRCC will know your location within 5 minutes, and the position is updated every 20 minutes."

whereas

"If you have a 121.5MHz EPIRB the system will work although possibly taking a little longer compared to the 406MHz EPIRB. The 121.5MHz signal will be received by the LUT at Kinloss, it is suppressed on the first pass of the satellite due to the sheer number of false alerts (98%). They then wait to see if the signal is ongoing probably for the third pass to initiate the response, a lot of treading water! This will continue up to 2009, when the satellite processing 121.5MHZ alert will be turned off. "

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Post by Simon Willis » Wed Jun 01, 2005 4:50 pm

Sorry, I should have read all that. Thanks.

That explains why you can get a 121.5 for £100 whereas the 406 are A LOT more. Looking too dear methinks

GUEST2

EPIRBS

Post by GUEST2 » Wed Jun 01, 2005 6:39 pm

Take a look at www.safety-marine.com - they have a selection of EPIRBS which generally appear to be somewhat cheaper than those mentioned above (No, I dont work for them or get commission! but I have used them for some other bits and pieces) Good Luck!

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Epirbs

Post by capsized8 » Wed Jun 01, 2005 7:09 pm

Hi Simon,

You do not have to go down the epirb road. I have mentioned a couple of times now references to my combined VHF/GPS/DSC handheld unit.
Hit the distress button and get a big yellow whisk or an orange fun ride within 3mtrs of your position. Epirbs are I feel intended more for less populated areas.
The Uniden Mystic will send automatically your position to the CG and shipping. You can also indicate the type of problem you have from a scroll down menu, this is not necessary. The radio/CG then automatically send your radio to the channel they want to speak to you on. You can not speak with your rescuers with an epirb and the potential delay is not as long.

Easy as falling off a kayak !!

I believe they are now around the £170.00, a lot less than I paid for mine :0(
peace and good padlin.

Guest

Post by Guest » Thu Jun 02, 2005 10:38 am

I'd like both - the more redundancy you have in in your back up systems the better.

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Simon Willis
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Post by Simon Willis » Thu Jun 02, 2005 1:37 pm

That Uniden Mystic looks like a clever piece of kit! I've previously read your posts, but never checked it out as I have a Garmin radio which suits me fine.

However, unless I've missed something, it would transmit on VHF. Data is more likely to get through than voice, but surely this system still relies on someone receiving your small, handheld VHF signal?

The appeal of EPIRB is that you will always get a signal through, so you know for certain someone is coming.

What I've learnt through this post (many, many thanks guys) is that, if you want things to happen swiftly enough to cope with a paddler in the water, then you need a 406 EPIRB, the "new" system. And small 406 EPIRB's cost several hundred pounds.
S

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Post by MikeB » Thu Jun 02, 2005 2:11 pm

Simon Willis wrote:That Uniden Mystic looks like a clever piece of kit! I've previously read your posts, but never checked it out as I have a Garmin radio which suits me fine.

However, unless I've missed something, it would transmit on VHF. Data is more likely to get through than voice, but surely this system still relies on someone receiving your small, handheld VHF signal?

The appeal of EPIRB is that you will always get a signal through, so you know for certain someone is coming.

What I've learnt through this post (many, many thanks guys) is that, if you want things to happen swiftly enough to cope with a paddler in the water, then you need a 406 EPIRB, the "new" system. And small 406 EPIRB's cost several hundred pounds.
S
I'm following this with personal interest as well - to some extent it reminds me of my motorcycling days when a retailer asked me how much I valued my life when I balked at the cost of the very nice crash helmet he was trying to sell me.

I never got the opportunity (fortunately) to test the helmet's life saving powers, but it was comforting to know my f/glass helmet was probably significantly better than the plastic one it replaced.

What price being found, reliably and quickly??

I'm with Simon though - it IS a lot of money - - - - -

Does anyone have any informed input on the effectiveness of DSC radio in marginal areas? Will the "data burst" get thro when "ordinary" VHF transmision won't??

Mike.

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Post by ChrisS » Thu Jun 02, 2005 3:59 pm

The McMurdo Fastfind Plus (the 406MHz PLB with built in GPS) is priced around £699 by UK suppliers but I've seen it offered at $549 by a couple of US websites. Even allowing for VAT, carriage etc it would probably work out at not much more than £400 bought from the US.

edit: BUT apparently McMurdo won't recode them :(
Yachting Universe have them for £558.12. They are very suitable for kayakers. Sean Morley carried one on his UK circumnavigation last year (as well as flares and VHF).

edit: "McMurdo won't recode them" - in fact for various technical and legal reasons it is very inadvisable to buy a 406MHz PLB from a different country to the one where it will be used. I wish I'd never mentioned the idea.

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Post by willsc1 » Thu Jun 02, 2005 8:06 pm

Mike

Interesting question on the effectiveness of DSC radio in marginal areas, I know on Anglesey that VHF is masked by the cliffs/headlands in a number of places - some of them pretty close to the CG antenna. I'm not sure if DSC would be any different.

VHF is pretty much line of sight with not much propagation of the signal (especially from a handheld). The antenna horizon (in km) is calculated (I think) by:

4.124 x (square root of antenna height in metres)

or (about!) 2.6 x (square root of antenna height in metres) - result in statute miles

If the receiving antenna is a different ht to the transmitting one, then work out the horizon for each one, add the 2 figures together and it gives you a theoretical maximum distance between the 2. Obviously this depends greatly on weather, power, obstructions etc also.

If you work out the figures for a handheld in a kayak, it is quite depressing how close the signal horizon is!

JW

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VHF EPIRB RNLI

Post by Douglas Wilcox » Thu Jun 02, 2005 8:33 pm

JW>
it is quite depressing how close the signal horizon is!
Very true and that's why you should give every fishing boat you pass a friendly wave. It is also why even a kayaker should keep a listen on channel 16 for a Mayday. You might not be able to physically help but if the coastguard does not respond you could try relaying the message as you might be between the out of range emergency and the coastguard.

As far as EPIRBs are concerned I think there is one that stands out as suitable for kayaking: the McMurdo Fastfind GPS plus.

But let's not get carried away by gadgetry, at the end of the day it will probably be a volunteer that will be pulling us out of the drink. I have had a direct debit made out to the RNLI for over 25 years now plus a deed of covenant so they can get the tax back on it as well.

Douglas

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Post by ChrisS » Wed Jun 28, 2006 6:56 pm

FastFind Plus coming down in price. £399 including VAT. Still a bit pricy IMO, but I suppose you would think it was a wise investment if you ever needed it.

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Post by geoffm » Wed Jun 28, 2006 11:56 pm

In Australia there are a couple of good options suitable for kayaking.
See this site. http://www.wetweathergear.com.au/category43_1.htm
These are 121.5/243 units that are very popular. The GME 310 translates to about 95 GBP plus freight.

Geoff

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Post by ChrisS » Thu Jun 29, 2006 1:22 am

I believe 125Mhz units are good for providing a signal which rescuers can home in on, but they are slow to raise the alarm in the first place and to give your position via satellite; and they won't do this at all (at least not in the UK) after 2009.

I think 243Mhz is a military frequency that works in the same way as 125MHz.

Registered 406Mhz units with internal GPS like the FastFind Plus can raise an alarm quickly giving your identity and position; and a 125Mhz homing signal is included.

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Post by atakd » Thu Jun 29, 2006 8:08 am

The 45 min delay is a worse case scenario and only occurs near the poles. 10 min max is more likely at mid latitudes.
Andy

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Post by ChrisS » Thu Jun 29, 2006 8:50 am

This information from Cospas-Sarsat gives a fairly clear comparison of the capabilities of the 121.5 and 406 satellite alert systems.

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Re: EPIRB's

Post by pequod » Sat Jul 01, 2006 8:12 pm

'They're difficult to trigger accidentally and, if you do, you can switch it off and ring the coastguard without penalty.

Simon[/quote]

Hi all,

Just a minor, but important, correction to Simon's thread - the following is from the RYAs VHF radio booklet - 'If it [the EPIRB] is inadvertantly activated you must alert the nearest Coastguard as soon as possible ... and await permission to switch it off'.

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Post by Simon Willis » Wed Apr 25, 2007 4:54 pm

Having recently chatted to Clyde Coastguard for a Podcast, I had reason to re-visit the EPIRB thread from two years ago. (How time flies...).
A small 406 EPIRB now costs £249 delivered. That's almost half the price of two years ago. Perhaps it now should be part of the kit for those venturing into places with poor VHF and cell-phone coverage?
S

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Post by woody » Wed Apr 25, 2007 5:28 pm

Following on from this does anybody know the practical difference in terms of time to get rescued in British waters, between the Mcmurdo fastfind which only uses the satellite signals, and the fastfind plus which has a built in GPS system in addition?

For £250 the fastfind is a steal.

Woody
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Post by andreadawn » Wed Apr 25, 2007 7:24 pm

According to the manual for the Fastfind Plus, "A GPS fitted PLB within sight of.....(METEOSAT8 - a geostatioary meteorological satellite covering all of Africa and Europe).....will have its distress position known almost instantaneously - provided that the GPS system can determine the position".

The non GPS version relies on additional passes of the orbiting satellite system to determine the position (as does the Fastfind Plus if for some reason the built-in GPS can't do it).

The manual claims accuracy to within 60 metres for the GPS version and 5 km for the non GPS version; typical alert times being 05 and 90 minutes respectively.

I guess the speed of being found with the non GPS version will depend on how quickly the orbiting satellites can find your position to within 5 km, how effective the SAR craft are at homing in on the 121.5 signal once they are in the area and what other signalling devices you have.

Andrea.

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Post by keefmac » Wed Apr 25, 2007 8:52 pm

About half way through this conversation someone was asking about DSC VHF: I've just done the course and the only advantage I could see over ordinary (old fashioned?!) VHF was that once you once you hit the mayday button, the unit will continue to send out the emergency info text every four minutes - until the CG switch it off with some kind of "command txt".

The downside compared to the EPIRB is that you still need line of sight and it needs to be wired to a GPS unit to send a position as part of the Mayday txt. If you were in trouble in NW Scotland (and many other places) you could easily drift for 45 mins before maybe getting a VHF signal, so EPIRB's win - except for the intimidating price! :)

K

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Post by woody » Wed Apr 25, 2007 9:43 pm

5 mins versus 90.

60m versus 5km.

There's a reason why its double the price.

Best keep saving then.

Thanks for the help.

Woody
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One of this months sailing mags does epirbs

Post by guy » Thu Apr 26, 2007 12:25 pm

Not sure which one it was either Practical boat owner or Yachting today
did a full reviev of most of the devices available in the UK along with a full history and explanation of future plans re turning off the 121.5 signal.

If anyone is too poor (and not just too mean) to buy the mag then pm me and I'll scan it.

Guy

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Post by Mark R » Thu Apr 26, 2007 1:36 pm

Simon Willis wrote:Perhaps it now should be part of the kit for those venturing into places with poor VHF and cell-phone coverage?
I would just quibble the language a bit.

An EPIRB is clearly well worth considering as an extra layer of security, and prices are beginning to move towards being affordable by ordinary mortals...although they certainly aren't there yet.

However...this is not the same, by any means, as saying that it should be part of kit.

There are various pieces of safety equipment that we consider essential - flares, strobes etc. However, I feel a bit uneasy about the necessity of EPIRBs for sea kayaking. They are in a slightly different category which is hard to define, almost 'cheating' like a 'Get Out of Jail Free' card. No doubt attitudes will change over time, and we'll all happily carry EPIRBs as normal equipment and news reports of incidents will quote the Coastguard saying things like, "We can't believe this group set out to sea without an EPIRB to locate their position down to the last inch".

Is this just me?

Also ... those venturing into absolute wilderness (whatever that is) might legitimately choose to not retain that link to the outside world, just as many choose to eschew the use of satellite phones and suchlike.

All that said, I have certainly considered carrying one for the solo paddling I do.

Mark
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Post by Jim » Thu Apr 26, 2007 1:57 pm

MarkR wrote:
Simon Willis wrote:Perhaps it now should be part of the kit for those venturing into places with poor VHF and cell-phone coverage?
I would just quibble the language a bit.

An EPIRB is clearly well worth considering as an extra layer of security, and prices are beginning to move towards being affordable by ordinary mortals...although they certainly aren't there yet.

However...this is not the same, by any means, as saying that it should be part of kit.

There are various pieces of safety equipment that we consider essential - flares, strobes etc. However, I feel a bit uneasy about the necessity of EPIRBs for sea kayaking. They are in a slightly different category which is hard to define, almost 'cheating' like a 'Get Out of Jail Free' card. No doubt attitudes will change over time, and we'll all happily carry EPIRBs as normal equipment and news reports of incidents will quote the Coastguard saying things like, "We can't believe this group set out to sea without an EPIRB to locate their position down to the last inch".

Is this just me?

Also ... those venturing into absolute wilderness (whatever that is) might legitimately choose to not retain that link to the outside world, just as many choose to eschew the use of satellite phones and suchlike.

All that said, I have certainly considered carrying one for the solo paddling I do.

Mark
It is also worth considering that in a remote location although the EPIRB will broadcast your position, if there is no other boat or helicopter within range of reaching you within your in-water survival time, it is irrelevant.

From some of the potential delay issues regarding satellite passes and stuff, you could well be dead from hypothermia before your signal is even recognised, never mind the extra time required to get help to you.

All this isn't say they don't have a place in our toolkits, but it's not a system I would want to actually have to use in anger, If I thought that people were taking up sea kayaking on the assumption that these tools will save them if their skills aren't up to keeping them out of trouble I would be concerned. At the moment I don't think this is the case, but maybe it could be as they get cheaper and proliferate?

Jim

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Post by tommfuller » Thu Apr 26, 2007 5:18 pm

MarkR wrote:
Simon Willis wrote:Perhaps it now should be part of the kit for those venturing into places with poor VHF and cell-phone coverage?
I would just quibble the language a bit.

An EPIRB is clearly well worth considering as an extra layer of security, and prices are beginning to move towards being affordable by ordinary mortals...although they certainly aren't there yet.

However...this is not the same, by any means, as saying that it should be part of kit.

There are various pieces of safety equipment that we consider essential - flares, strobes etc. However, I feel a bit uneasy about the necessity of EPIRBs for sea kayaking. They are in a slightly different category which is hard to define, almost 'cheating' like a 'Get Out of Jail Free' card. No doubt attitudes will change over time, and we'll all happily carry EPIRBs as normal equipment and news reports of incidents will quote the Coastguard saying things like, "We can't believe this group set out to sea without an EPIRB to locate their position down to the last inch".

Is this just me?

Also ... those venturing into absolute wilderness (whatever that is) might legitimately choose to not retain that link to the outside world, just as many choose to eschew the use of satellite phones and suchlike.

All that said, I have certainly considered carrying one for the solo paddling I do.

Mark
I know where you are coming from re: "should be".

However I don't see the difference between taking "essential" strobe and flares, and taking an EPIRB. By the time you've decided to use a strobe and flares, you've decided to get help from others, presumably outside any group you may be in. At that point you might as well give yourself the ability to get the best help you can as quickly as possible.

Cheers,

Tom.

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Post by Simon Willis » Thu Apr 26, 2007 6:21 pm

OK I was slightly sloppy with my language. "Should" could imply a form of negligence if you don't take it.

But it opens an interesting argument; what safety gear SHOULD be part of our kit. And who decides?

If it's down to individual choice, then is someone who chooses to take no safety gear behaving negligently?

Or have I vanished up the backside of my own logic?
S

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