Safe sailing with education and technology

Published on May 1st, 2014

The 2013-14 Clipper Round the World Yacht Race, when competing across the Pacific Ocean on the 5,600 mile leg from Qingdao, China to San Francisco, USA, endured the dramatic rescue on March 31 of Derry~Londonderry~Doire’s 46-year old crew member Andrew Taylor.

The incident occurred in rough weather and 35 knots of wind, with Taylor enduring the cold water of the North Pacific for 1 hour 40 minutes. At the time it was reported that Andrew’s Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) had contributed to his rescue. However, an inquiry by H.L. DeVore prompted Race Director Justin Taylor to clear up the facts…

The skipper’s report regarding the Man Overboard (MOB) on Derry~Londonderry~Doire is actually incorrect. The crew member who went over board was actually equipped with an AIS personal beacon which is not a PLB or personal EPIRB (Electronic Position Indicating Radio Beacon). There is often confusion between the two devices.

AIS works by transmitting a VHF signal and a PLB transmits to a satellite. (Race organizer) Clipper Ventures do not recommend personal EPIRBs (PLBs) because they need to be registered correctly and they do not assist a yacht you have just fallen from to locate you instantly which AIS does do.

PLBs send a signal to the closest MRCC via a satellite, who will then relay a message to the yacht. However, this relay will come through the person or organisation listed as the contact point by the owner of the PLB. This causes inevitable delays. Clipper Ventures do not dissuade crew from purchasing their own AIS locator beacons as they inform the yacht exactly where the MOB is, as happened in the recent incident. But it is the crew member’s responsibility to ensure they are fitted correctly.

What is more important and something Clipper Ventures emphasises a great deal is being clipped on to the yacht – especially on the bow. We stress this very important fact throughout training, on refresher sails and I also tell crew at every crew briefing. If this is done then it renders a PLB obsolete. The emphasis is on prevention, not what gear you have if you should fall in. (Editor’s note: Andrew was not clipped on at time of the incident).

There is also the question of what activates the beacon. If it activates when immersed then we would have, on average, 15 going off on each boat on each leg of the race, or some 2,800 activations in one race, based on the number of times lifejackets inflate. Clearly this would not be acceptable to the rescue authorities. If the beacons are manually activated then the casualty has to be conscious to do this. In the recent incident the casualty was hit very hard on the leg by the rudder. Had he been hit hard on the head and made unconscious he could not have set off his AIS beacon.

There is a need for something that is 100 percent reliable, whether the casualty is conscious or not, and this does not currently exist. We have already instigated some enquiries within the industry to see what can be created to deal with this.

However, the Clipper Ventures cannot ignore the role that the personal AIS played in the recovery of the recent MOB in the North Pacific. For this reason we are fitting each of the yacht’s Danbouys with an AIS beacon. When the Horseshoe and Danbuoy are deployed, the AIS beacon will be activated too.

Race website:

Background: The 40,000 mile Clipper 2013-14 Round the World Yacht Race began in London, UK on September 1 for the fleet of twelve identical Tony Castro designed Clipper 70s. The race route includes Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Cape Town, South Africa; Albany, Sydney, Hobart and Brisbane, Australia; Singapore; Qingdao, China; San Francisco, USA; Panama; Jamaica; New York, USA; Derry-Londonderry, Ireland; and Den Helder, Netherlands before returning to London in July.

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