Mandatory Beacon Rule Gets Big Boost - PassageMaker

Mandatory Beacon Rule Gets Big Boost

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The U.S. government has taken a big step toward forcing our fellow boaters to do the right thing. In November, the National Boating Safety Advisory Council voted to recommend that the Coast Guard use its regulatory authority to mandate that any recreational vessels venturing offshore carry an electronic locator beacon or its equivalent. If the Coast Guard agrees, the regulation would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2015.

Before concluding that this might be just another inconsequential bureaucratic exercise, consider this: The resolution was passed without opposition by a board that includes members normally wary of big government and over-regulation. And it was passed without a peep of opposition from the BoatU.S. organization, which can normally be counted on to fight any new mandates for boaters.

The safety council was established by the Federal Boat Safety Act of 1971, which requires the Coast Guard to consult with the council on major boating safety matters. The events that led to the council’s beacon resolution can be traced to March 2009 when three of four buddies on a fishing trip—all football players—drowned off Florida’s west coast. The search, widely reported by the media, cost taxpayers $1.9 million. With an emergency beacon, the search would have cost the taxpayers less and may have saved all four men. And the more brief the search, the less risk to the rescuers themselves.

In 2010, Congress quietly gave the Coast Guard the authority to make beacons mandatory, if the agency found a “compelling business case” to do so. The safety council believes it has made that case.

“It became quite evident to me via research with industry experts and search and rescue authorities that we clearly spend a lot more money when we have to search in rescue attempts,” says David Marlow, Brunswick executive and safety council chairman. “If we can take the search out of search and rescue, we can avoid the cost of an elongated search as well as the cost of lives that may not have been saved.”

Marlow is a free-marketeer at heart but he ascribes to the notion that search and rescue requires a commitment on the part of both government and the individual boater. “I am not a fan of federal oversight as a general rule. Because of our country's good samaritan search and rescue policies, it is logical that we ask users to equip themselves with low-cost appropriate tools to aid in their rescue.”

STATISTICS MAKE THE CASE

The safety council looked at Coast Guard search-and-rescue for the six-month period ending in August, as shown in the chart below. The success rate in cases with electronic beacons was 97 percent, as opposed to 78 percent in cases without.

One of those who did not survive was John Redler, 38. He and his wife had recently returned from cruising the Caribbean, and, rather than go back to real estate, Redler got his captain’s license and went into business as a TowBoatU.S. operator on Buzzards Bay in Massachusetts.

On May 16, the Coast Guard received a distress call from Redler aboard Triple J. It was 1 a.m., and Redler was in trouble. Triple J was taking on water. Not another word was heard from him again. The Coast Guard teams sent to find him were hampered by rain, fog, and darkness, and at around 6 a.m., a local harbormaster found the boat partially submerged with Redler dead in the cabin.

Gordon Garrett is a retired Coast Guard commander, who spent much of his 29-year career directing search and rescues, and works as a senior risk analyst for the Washington consulting firm BayFirst Solutions. As a member of the safety council, he was an early advocate for mandatory beacons.

Garrett says it is almost inconceivable that searchers would have taken five hours to find the late John Redler’s boat, had he backed up his radio distress call by activating a rescue beacon. “If he had a PLB or a beacon with continuous updating of the distress position maybe things would have ended differently,” he says.

THREE MILES OR MORE

According to Garrett, the safety council recommended mandating electronic locator beacons for any vessel venturing further than three miles offshore. That includes personal locator beacons (PLBs), EPIRPS, and other location devices certified by the Coast Guard. It is expected that the makers of Delorme InReach and SPOT emergency beacons would apply for certification under the rule.

BoatU.S. President Margaret Podlich attended the safety council deliberations, and, reportedly voiced no opposition to the rule. She did not respond to PMM requests for comment, but in an earlier interview, Podlich stressed that any rule should be written in a way that could incorporate future innovations in beacon technology, rather than restrict boaters to what is available today. She wants to see “an incentive to evolve” to better and cheaper electronics. The fact that the Coast Guard would have the authority to certify future devices appears to have addressed BoatU.S. concerns.

Additionally, the rule provides a waiver for boaters venturing up to 20 miles offshore who have a fully enabled DSC VHF radio. DSC allows boaters in trouble to send a position-tagged SOS at the push of the radio’s red “panic button.” Despite its obvious benefits, as many as nine out of 10 boaters have not bothered to register their radios with authorities and integrate them with GPS—the two steps to full DSC functionality. The proposed rule would provide an incentive for boaters to do so.

Obviously, most PMM readers are thoughtful boaters and already comply with the proposed rule. For one thing, the price of beacons has dropped to the point at which all of us can afford one. ACR Electronics recently unveiled ResQLink, the smallest 406MHz PLB yet. Full retail price: $325. Less than 4 inches long and weighing 4.6 ounces, it is nonetheless able at the push of a button to guide rescuers to within 100 meters of a person bobbing in the waves.

 Goodbye To An Abaco Landmark

It was formed in the last Ice Age and has served as a beacon to mariners since the first Spanish sailors plied Bahamian waters in the 1500s. In the 1880s, Winslow Homer painted its picture. And on Oct. 26, 2012 Hurricane Sandy destroyed it.

The landmark is Hole in the Wall, a natural rock bridge at the southernmost tip of Abaco, which for centuries assisted navigators transiting from Europe and North America to Nassau, Cuba, and the Gulf of Mexico. In 1836, a lighthouse was built just north of it and still stands. Some of the old charts also refer to the formation as “Hole in the Rock.”

Hole in the Wall’s demise was reported to PMM by Rolling Harbour Abaco, a blog about wildlife, local history, and other “Abaco-centric material.”

The demise of this Abaco formation was reminiscent of the day in 2003 when another rock landmark, The Old Man of the Mountain, fell off Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire. The Old Man, formed in the same Ice Age as Hole in the Wall, resembled a craggy face in profile. His image still adorns the back of the state-series quarter for New Hampshire.

While the rest of the Abacos fared pretty well during Sandy, breaking waves and pummeling 70-knot winds were blamed for Hole in the Wall’s collapse.

Farewell, Hole in the Wall. RIP (rest in pieces).—Peter Swanson

 BLACKHAWK PT-1050
WIRE STRIPPER

I’m always on the lookout for good quality tools or tools that improve on existing designs. Years ago, while I was working as a marine mechanic, an automatic wire stripper was introduced.

The concept was unique; clamp jaws grabbed the wire’s insulation and essentially pulled rather than cut it off the conductor. It sounds rough, but it worked, and it was especially useful for removing the outer jacket from sheathed duplex cable—a task that is otherwise somewhat challenging to do neatly. The problem was the jaws were gossamer and prone to breaking, especially when the cable was cold. They were warranted and I kept a supply on hand for replacement purposes.

As I was walking through this year’s International BoatBuilders’ Exhibition, the nation’s largest marine equipment trade show, I encountered a tool display that included a variety of what appeared to be very high-quality hand tools. One in particular caught my attention, a Proto Blackhawk PT-1050 automatic wire stripper. I picked it up, handled it, and immediately knew this was different than the auto strippers I’d used in the past. It’s noticeably heavier and the jaws are extra thick.

The folks at Blackhawk were gracious enough to send me a sample, which I’ve now tested extensively, and I remain impressed. It works well under all temperature conditions (I placed various wire samples in the refrigerator for testing purposes) and can be used for wire from 8 through 30 gauge. For more on the Blackhawk PT-1050 visit www.stanleyproto.com.—Steve D’Antonio

BLUE SEA SYSTEMS P12 BATTERY CHARGER

I came across a prototype of the Blue Sea P12 battery charger at the International BoatBuilder’s Exhibition, in Louisville, Kentucky last year. This year, the production model was ready and I liked what I saw. It’s scheduled to ship to customers in early 2013, and it promises to be a solid, reliable performer.

The P12 has Blue Sea’s legendary good engineering and rugged reliability, as well as the outstanding tech support promise of access to systems managers and engineers. The case is finned aluminum for excellent heat dissipation. The LCD display is large, bright, and easy to read. Menus are easy to understand, and they can be switched between English, Spanish, Italian, or French. Capable of charring three batteries simultaneously, the P12 will move each battery to selective float as it’s needed.

The unit also contains self-diagnostic features that make troubleshooting easy. This charger isn’t picky about the power it will accept. It operates readily on anything between 90 and 265VAC, 50 or 60Hz. Of course, it’s capable of charging flooded, gel, and AGM, as well as lithium ion and thin plate pure lead batteries. Finally, it’s backed up by a five-year warranty. The P12 is available in 25- and 40-amp models at 12 volts (hopefully to be followed by 24-volt versions). For more on the Blue Sea P12, visit www.bluesea.com.—Steve D’Antonio

COMPASS CLEAR

Interlux is adding to its line of varnishes with the launch of Compass Clear. Perfect for all woods, Compass Clear is a polyurethane gloss varnish that absorbs harmful UV rays using the latest UV Absorber technology, which then converts into heat, and disperses through the surface coating. Antioxidants provide protection and prevent discoloration and oxidation on the varnish film to retain clarity.

Compass Clear is easy to apply and is available in quarts and pints in the United States (and quarts in Canada). For more information about Compass Clear visit www.yachtpaint.com.—Kelly Fong

EASY CONTROL

Growing up I spent countless hours cruising around Chesapeake Bay. Every time we made it out of Back Creek and into the mouth of the Severn I’d see vessels turning in toward Downtown Annapolis’ Ego Ally. Now, it was nothing new to see a boat nearly the size of the turn-around area spin 180 degrees and head back out toward sea, but it wasn’t until I was on one that I really wondered, “How does this boat turn that well?”

Yacht Controller, LLC has an answer. Their Joy Stick Control System (JCS) gives an operator the ability to single-handedly operate main engines and bow and stern thrusters with just a twist and a click. The system can be used on its own, or it can be integrated with the Yacht Controller System. The JCS can be used in Automatic Mode, with the engines and thrusters working together or in manual mode, with the engines and thrusters separated. The JCS panel displays the active functions during your maneuvers with an easy-to-see LCD screen. For more information contact Sales@YachtController.com.—Alex Glass

MAN BUYS NC OFFSHORE PLATFORM 

In what may well be the cheapest waterfront-property purchase of the year, a 56-year-old Minnesota entrepreneur paid just $20,000 for the defunct Frying Pan Shoals Light Tower 13 miles off Cape Hatteras in North Carolina.

Dave Schneider says he is seeking partners to turn the platform into a test site for new technologies—solar and wind power and new coatings to protect metal in a harsh briny environment. “I’m not going to buy it and flip it,” he told the Charlotte Observer newspaper.

Rising 75 feet above the ocean floor, the platform is often referred to as a “Texas tower” because its framework is that of a Gulf Coast oil rig adapted for use as a lighthouse. It became an operational aid to navigation in 1966, a beacon to boats transiting the waters off Hatteras, known as “the graveyard of the Atlantic.” It was automated in 1977, and thus no longer manned by a full-time Coast Guard crew. The platform became a maintenance headache, and its light was extinguished in December 2001.

The living quarters housed beneath the helicopter landing deck include five bedrooms, a galley, and a recreation room. Government property experts said the platform would have cost $2.3 million to renovate, but Scheider says that estimate included repairs he didn’t need to make, including a $1 million boat winching system. He plans to do many of the renovations himself and insists the purchase was a bargain, considering the view.

“When you look at real estate, it’s always location, location, location,” he told reporters. “Who wouldn’t want to have a location in the Atlantic Ocean?”—Peter Swanson

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