A sloop en route from California to Hawaii got caught in Hurricane Julio in August, and the crew was rescued because they were able to communicate their distress even though the boat was 400 miles from the islands.
A container ship crew diverted to the scene at the behest of the Coast Guard and rescued three men adrift on Walkabout, a 42-footer. Rescued were Ben Nealy, 61, Lee Nealy, 22, and Mike Vanway, 22, all from the Stockton area of California.
The Coast Guard received a call about Walkabout from the International Emergency Response Coordination Center in Texas around 7 a.m. Sunday, Aug. 10. The rescue happened 24 hours later because the freighter had to divert 200 miles from its original course.
This is the part of the story where you might expect a reference to an EPIRB or maybe a PLB (personal locator beacon), but you won’t find it. Walkabout’s crew signaled their distress with another device category altogether, a DeLorme inReach. When the crew pressed the inReach “panic button” a message with their location was automatically sent to the emergency center, which then relayed the details to authorities in Hawaii.
The inReach, like SPOT transmitters, is a satellite emergency notification device, or SEND. A SEND is portable and combines a GPS locator and satellite communicator that uses commercial satellites rather than the COSPAS-SARSAT system used by EPIRBs. (Read Electronics Editor Ben Ellison’s impressions of the latest iteration of the inReach on page 48.)
The Coast Guard is now weighing whether to mandate emergency beacons for recreational boats that venture offshore. The National Boating Safety Advisory Council wants to see that rule in place by July 15, 2015, and its resolution specifically mentions EPIRBs and PLBs.
At the urging of BoatU.S. lobbyists and others, however, the council included language that may cover inReach and SPOT, when it specified EPIRB, PLB or “other device accepted by the Coast Guard for this purpose.”
Mike Heffron, president of DeLorme, says about 11 percent of all inReach distress calls are maritime in nature.
“This dramatic rescue at sea underlines the importance of having a two-way satellite communication and tracking device when cruising on the open seas. In this case, the SAR responders were able to continually track the GPS coordinates of the boat transmitted automatically from the inReach as the rescue attempt unfolded, and were also able to communicate with the people on the boat and reassure them that help was on the way after they activated their inReach SOS distress call,” Heffron says. “We’re always excited when we learn of a successful rescue enabled by our technology, and we were tremendously relieved to know that the three people on the sailboat were taken aboard the ship.”
You can expect that cases such as that of Walkabout will be part of the conversation if and when the Coast Guard develops its beacon regs.