EPIRBs Alone Do Not Save Lives
Published on August 21st, 2017
Mario Vittone, following a career with the U.S. Coast Guard, now shares his knowledge on safety at sea. Here he reminds us that even with technical advancements, our experience and training remains paramount to our survival when faced with trouble.
I love EPRIBs. When asked what one thing I would take with me offshore, I always answer: an EPIRB. There is simply no valid argument against these devices. I recommend them to friends, insist on them for family and think anyone who goes to sea without one is just plain stupid.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, here is another thing I believe: EPIRBs cannot save your life. All they can do is tell the rescuers where the EPIRB is — not you, not your boat, not your life raft. If I could remember the number of searches I have been on following an EPIRB activation — where we never found a thing and no one came home — that number would hollow out your soul.
Though they are attributed with saving the lives of over 1,500 mariners per year, in my career I have seen more risky decisions made — many of which ended in tragedy — because an EPIRB was used as a sort of “Easy Button” to reset the game if things went wrong. They can’t. EPIRBs are dangerous when boaters think that having them (alone) is enough.
EPIRBs won’t help you stay warm. You can’t use them to stay afloat. They will not make the ocean a less dangerous place or keep you alive a minute longer if you get into real trouble out there. EPIRBs do not save lives — rescuers do. You should always remember that they are a communications device, and nothing more. Like every other piece of equipment on board, proper use of an EPIRB takes — at least — some time, consideration and effort. And it’s not enough to simply have one aboard — you have to know how to use it.
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