A Cruising Club of America conference on man-overboard retrieval systems in May was the forum for detailed discussion on the devices and provided information for a new method of bringing a person back aboard. Through its Bonnell Cove Foundation, the charitable branch of the Club, the Cruising Club of America (CCA) funded a research effort in 1998 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston to develop a new, fully automated GPS-based system that would locate a person overboard.
"Right now there are some wonderful systems available that work similar to an EPIRB; the boat receives a signal that a person is overboard and then it homes in on him to pick him up," said Kaighn Smith, past president of the CCA. "We funded this study to determine the viability of having a GPS-based system for man-overboard recovery. And the conference was a chance for all of us to share ideas on how this system might work." Such a system would provide coordinates of the person in the water to the vessel, which could then disengage or redirect an autopilot, or vessel crew could provide coordinates to rescue personnel for assistance. There are several units presently being researched, according to Smith, but none is available on the commercial market.
The Bonnell Cove Foundation donates an average of $30,000 per year to various development projects that promote safety at sea, Smith said.