As if we needed any further confirmation, EPIRBs are an essential piece of gear for the offshore and coastal voyager. This story of a successful rescue in the Caribbean from late February is only possible because the two sailors involved had an ACR EPIRB and used it. Luckily for them, they also had a handheld VHF with which to contact the USCG C-130 that arrived on scene to find them.
From the press release: Sailboat captain Kirk Ezell and crewmate, Dana Ramsden, had just celebrated Christmas Eve with a hot meal when things began to fall apart aboard the 52-foot sailboat, Blue Chip, they were transporting. They were 200 miles south of Jamaica enroute to delivering the boat to Montego Bay when, for no apparent reason, water began rising in the cabin. Soon it was up to their ankles.
After trying to determine the source of the leak and trying to keep the craft afloat, Ezell, 67, an experienced sailor, knew it was time to call for help. At 2 a.m., he sent out a distress plea over the VHF, released flares and activated an ACR Electronics GlobalFix 406 EPIRB. (The sideband radio was not operational.)
The crew made ready for departing the stricken vessel by inflating the six-man life raft and pre-loading it with everything they needed: survival gear, records, cash, personnel property and the EPIRB. They were about to jump into it when Ezell observed, “the raft had disintegrated in five minutes. The glue came undone, the canopy came detached, the floor broke free and the floats separated in parts. All that was loaded went adrift or sank. The beacon floated away. We had no survival raft.”
All they could do was wait for six hours on a sinking boat trying to find a way to survive and holding onto to the hope that someone heard their SOS. In the distance they saw an airplane and used the handheld VHF radio to make voice contact with a U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) C-130, based in Clearwater, Fla. After hearing of their situation, the aircraft dropped a life raft and the crewmates abandoned ship.
The USCG diverted the merchant freighter, Fuji Bay, which picked up the two sailors and continued on its planned route to the U.S. They were delivered to Philadelphia on New Year’s Eve.
Even though they had nothing but the shirts on their back, the survivors were relieved the rescue went so smoothly. “I give a lot of credit to the EPIRB and to the Coast Guard for what they did when they got there. If everything hadn’t fallen into place, we wouldn?t be here today. The EPIRB is what started it [the rescue] all off. The beacon separated from the boat and kept on ticking,” Ezell said by phone from his home in Cartagena, Colombia, S.A.
Elizabeth Werner, USCG SAR Controller, District 7, was on duty during the rescue operation. She credited the EPIRB with helping save the sailors’ lives. “Without the use of the EPIRB, we would never have known they were in trouble in the remote location they were in,” Werner said.
She also said the survivors followed correct procedure by placing the EPIRB in the life raft before abandoning ship. “If you have to leave a boat, we recommend you take the EPIRB with you in the raft or tethered in the water.”
Chris Wahler, ACR Director of Marketing, commended Ezell on the proper use of the beacon. “EPIRBs are often called upon when other equipment fails. The GlobalFix 406 EPIRB that was carried by Captain Kirk Ezell, with its internal GPS, was able to provide LAT/LON coordinates to the USCG, which made short work of getting to the beacon. Even though the EPIRB had floated away, the Coast Guard was able to get within close range of the survivors.”
An EPIRB is a satellite-signaling device of last resort. EPIRBs are only used when all other means of self-rescue have been exhausted and where the situation is deemed to be grave and imminent. All beacons must be registered following purchase.
ACR Electronics, Inc., www.acrelectronics.com, a Cobham plc company, designs and manufactures a complete line of safety and survival products including EPIRBs, PLBs, AIS, SARTs, Strobe Lights, Life Jacket Lights, Search Lights and safety accessories. The quality systems of this facility have been registered by UL to the ISO 9001:2000 Series Standards. Recognized as the world leader in safety and survival technologies, ACR has provided safety equipment to the aviation and marine industries as well as to the military since 1956. The company is headquartered in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and employs 200 at its manufacturing facility.