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Coastal Distress Options? DSC, AIS, EPIRB

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Okay I'll start a new thread from the previous discussion on DSC on VHF Radios etc.


Personally I am beginning to think having an EPIRB for coastal racing or cruising should nearly be considered old technology. It takes so long for a signal to be received and transmitted to Search and Rescue, and then they are relied on for a rescue. An EPIRB signal is invisible to other boats in the area that could effect a quick rescue.


The DSC option on VHF, connected to GPS gives the opportunity for a boat close to the vessel in distress to assist. But, as noted, it is not monitored by SAR here. Which begs the question how many of us monitor even channel 16 continuously or even regularly? Also, the position has to be plotted on a chart (remember those?) or as a way point on a chart plotter. I would like to think that is not too hard for most skippers...


AIS seems to do the best job, of graphically showing where the mayday is, and a bearing to get there. If there a bits of land in the way then that needs to be tracked around of course. But I'm sure a visual and audible alarm would sound alerting the crew.


Roll on ODEO LED flares, so that they don't expire, are small and light enough to carry on you, go for more than a minute, and aren't trying to burn you...

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in theory


i sail with the gps + vhf on, connected, and the gps on a triple channel watch of


- 16 (emergency)


- 9 (does this even mean anything in nz? presumably is an emergency channel in other countries so my radio includes it in the watch)


- 80 (i choose the 3rd channel, and that's generally waitemata harbour coastguard)


but even if triple watch wasn't on, but maybe chan  82 (haruaki gulf coastguard)


if anyone else, with a GPS connected DSC VHF, (within the expanded range that a digital vhf burst can cover), pressed their distress button my vhf would switch to 16?, alert me with a buzzer and scroll the distressed boats lat/long? + mmsi?  across the bottom of my vhf display (and even record the details if no one acknowledged the call)


at which point i would grab my trusty white out board and pen (used for recording tides and weather forecasts each morning) and jot down the lat/long + mmsi


then if channel 16 wasn't already abuzz with others reporting the incident , would call up coastguard and report the details received and if close enough try to get to the area


again, like checking fire alarms, it would be great to organise a test day for DSC VHF equipped boats at anchor, on moorings around the hauraki gulf to see what happens and who gets what


would a boat at rakino be picked up by a boat at beachlands etc


even if we can't organise a "distress test" some of our radios appears to be able to request position information from other known boats and transmit their position to others without triggering any emergency alerts or otherwise needing coastguard input

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AIS SART - work under way to detect with sats - Talk of AIS SART combined with 406 EPIRB as wel


AIS traffic monitored by Kordia I think as part of govt contract.



Erice - does you radio have a scan option? Some new radios have quad watch now.


An old Uniden H/H I have a Scan option where I can add the channels I want scanned

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What is DSC? Digital selective Calling - been around for well over ten years and as it is part of the GMDSS (google it) I would say it will be here a while longer yet, I dislike the system (that is what a Merchant ship is required to carry) due to the number of false alarms caused by a lack of understanding by people using / doing the tests.


Will it still be of any use in 5 years time? Yes, the IMO might take 20years to phase it out once a better system is developed.


What is SART? Search and rescue transponder, they have been around for awhile, as for above they will be around for a long time - no issue with them as they are hard to be accidently set off - at least the Radar SARTs are


Will it still be on any use in 5 yeas time? Yes



It's nice to see a 4 letter acronym for a change. Hope the five letter one makes your day


Quick question - who has their VHF on at all times when onboard their yacht / boat?

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Often VHF is off, esp at anchor. Normally on 16 only when sailing. 

EPIRBs are ok, but it's always seemed stupid to me that it cannot be heard by vessels cose to you. DSC is a good system I reckon, but as Rigger says, many (especially Kiwi's) don't understand it. AIS SART is a very good concept - WAY better than a personal EPIRB, which many rescue services refer to as "body location devices". With an AIS SART, you have good chance of locating and rescuing someone who falls overboard. Even better would be both an EPIRB and a SART in the same device!

LED flares are a no brainer. Tim, I patiently waiting to hear from you that they are now approved!! :-)

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vhf on ch 16 till anchored,epibs etc if vessel is in close proximity whats wrong with a good old smoke flare?,

vhf is line of sight only and relies on repeaters,should of kept the old ssb (fair was to many vessels)clogging it,so we were sold the vhf as new technology

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I use dual or tri-watch depending on VHF in use and it's always on unless I need sleep.


I have a small EPIRB folded into my life-jacket. I trust that if I go overboard my GPS position would be known within minutes??


I also use paper charts for everywhere I go. It's a skill we should all have and maintain.

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Sorry to disappoint you Kevin, it wont be minutes. Several hours or more is common, and then a vessel/chopper has to be tasked and actually get to you. This is why my comment above about "body recovery devices". PLB's are ok if you are in a raft or Dingy, but less than good if you are in the water. Especially if there are boats nearby - a flare would be better!


There was a discussion thread about this on here a while ago - see http://crew.org.nz/forum/index.php/topic/11168-safety-topics-and-concerns/?hl=response%20time

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Maritime NZ website awaiting update currently says:


"RCCNZ usually receives alerts from distress beacons within minutes. However, depending on the type of beacon you're carrying, it can take two hours or longer for satellites to pinpoint your location."  http://www.maritimenz.govt.nz/Recreational-Boating/Communications-equipment/EPIRBs.asp#Why_is_the_response_not_always_immediate


This advice is very general worst case scenario and applies to land and sea.


The situation on sea is better because signals are picked up easier (no terrain and vegetation problems).


Maritime NZ are working on their website to update with more specific info. Here is what I was told a minute ago by a friendly chap in RCCNS:


1. Turn on EPIRB - 50 seconds to acquire satellite pinpoint fix IF you have a GPS enabled EPIRB.

2. 50 seconds to beam your fix and EPIRB number to geostationary satellite.

3. Info goes instantly to rescue centre in Australia and then to NZ

4. IF for any reason the geostationary satellite link doesn't work, THEN it might take (depending on orbit position) up to a couple of hours for orbiting satellites to pick up your signal.


So, since I have a GPS enabled EPIRB and I file trip reports, I think Channel 16 would be able to broadcast my pinpointed position within 10 minutes, probably after trying to raise me on the radio or cellphone.


So I'm going to rest easy with my neat little rescueME PLB1 (not much bigger than a matchbox).

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Kevin, that is still not the whole story. Epirb signal goes to the RCC, who then have to look at the data, decide it's authenticity, try to contact the registered owner, and then usually for our local waters they would pass the info on to the police, who are responsible for search and rescue in NZ territory. THEY then decide who the most appropriate assets are, and then contact them (like coastguard) to actually get a vessel dispatched. This may involve paging and assembling a crew, then finally getting to your position. I have been told by the Maritime Police here in Auckland that this is VERY unlikely to happen in less than 2 hours in practice, and can be 5 or more.

If there is a boat nearby, contacting them if possible is your best bet.

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Matt, NZ Territoy covers South Pole to up near Tonga. It's horses for courses. RCC decides, depending on location of epirb, who to contact. They work as a team so while one phones the EPIRB owner's registered contacts, another team member will be liasing with police on a no surprises basis and with Maritime Radio and or coastguard. But RCC will coordinate the response. In the Hauraki Gulf for example RCC would also contact Maritime Radio and helicopter team (they might take a while to become airborne but they have 406 trackers on board).


So I'm inclined to trust, especially given the Channel 16 traffic I hear in the Gulf that the word would be out on the radio before a helicopter launch or boat launch.

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Kevin, my info comes from the RCC, and the Maritime Police here in Auckland. It is my understanding that the Police task all the rescue assets in NZ, not the RCC directly, but that may not be 100% correct. Feel free to check with RCC or the Maritime Police. At the Police, ask for Snr Sgt Martin Paget - he's the boss. The Number is 09-357 3470, or RCC number is 04 577-8034.


NZ is not always in range of the low orbit says that receive the Epirb signals. Your seconds can easily be hours. We don't have a geostationary sat giving us permanent coverage at this time. EPIRBS are not a magic system, and will/may not provide "immediate" or even rapid rescue.

Yes, i still have one in my lifejacket (PLB). Hope none of us ever need to use one in earnest :-).


You are, of course, entitled to your opinions.

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SAR assets can be tasked by either Police or RCCNZ, depends on if it's a Class 1 or 2 search. Can't remember all the details of which is which and what the triggers are. Think basically if it's offshore or mass casualties it's RCCNZ otherwise Police

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I think one of the things about DSC-equipped radios is you can have the radio on and volume turned right down but it will alert you audibly if it receives an emergency signal.


I've got mine set up with a list of my friends' radio ids so I can select the number and channel and my friend's radio alerts him to my call and switches to that channel.


The VHF is a Standard Horizon with built-in AIS receiver. I have it connected to a separate GPS, but the later model has GPS built-in. The AIS is very useful to show if there's a big ferry coming my way out of sight around the point.


Back to topic - DSC doesn't seem to be promoted in NZ but it seems to me to be a worthwhile tool for both emergency and normal comms in a vessel's vicinity. I'd still have that EPIRB and flares (laser preferably) though - no harm in setting if all off when things go pear shaped.

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I think you need to consider the probabilities of needing any of these devices. In the hauraki gulf probably never in a well found vessel. Same for lifejackets use them in high risk times eg crossing bars or near the coast in bad weather ie use some common sense.

Therefore the way I operate is to have a couple of epirbs on board, clip on in bad weather and never bother with the VHF on because I can't stand the racket and I go sailing for some peace.

I have done this for nigh on 40years including a lot of commercial time without a scare so to my mind the very minor risk is way worth it.

If you are really concerned about risk don't drive your car to the boat as that is by far the most risky thing you will do that day.

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Talking to Coastguard people the majority of call outs are initiated by VHF calls, then those from mobile pones. Very few from EPIRB's in Coastguards área of ops.

Similar to Dr Bob, I have not been able to understand why there is no formal covergae of DSC in NZ. It is of note in USA where the Coastguard does provide DSC monitoring there are regular comments about the low "takeup" of DSC, ie people not obtaining an MMSI number or connecting a GPS to the VHF radio.

As a fall back one of these handheld VHF's could come in very Handy, particularly if the aerial of your fixed VHF is pointing at the ocean floor


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