Reviewed: May, 2009
Modern boats are safer than ever, yet still no match for nature’s worst. Make sure you’re prepared with the right safety equipment.
If you stop and think about it, almost everything aboard your boat is a piece of safety equipment, from the hull keeping you from the bottom of the sea to the horn you’ve never used but could save your life one foggy day. Lacking gills or fins, humans should limit the time they spend underwater, yet most Australians are coastal dwellers who spend as much time in, on and under water as their bosses allow.
Maybe one day we’ll evolve into scaly sea-creatures. Until then, we should take seriously the safety equipment aboard our boats. The treachery inherent to all waterways—seas, lakes or rivers has spooked even the moderately experienced boaters among us, and is why we carry aboard safety gear for even the most remote contingencies.
Very experienced boaters will insist on the best gear available; they know that there’s simply no excuse for skimping on life-saving equipment. It’s helpful to think of safety equipment as belonging to one of two broad classes: personal safety equipment and boat safety equipment.
Gear such as PFDs, EPIRBs, harnesses, lanyards, lights and whistles fall under the personal safety umbrella. It includes any safety gear that you can carry off the boat but which you should never go boating without.
The most important personal safety equipment is the Personal Flotation Device (PFD). The acronym refers to anything that keeps you afloat, but most people understand it to mean ‘life jacket’.
In Australia, the laws regarding life jackets vary from state to state. All states have minimum requirements, plus some include situational requirements, such as for when underway, crossing a bar or laws specific to certain watersports. But wherever you live, you’d have to be mad to go on the water without a PFD for each person on your boat.
There’s a rating system (type one, two and three) depending on how and where you use the PFD. All Ultra PFDs have five-star certification from Australian Standards, the nation’s peak standards body.
By now, every boater in the world should know that the EPIRB frequency switch to 406MHz has taken place, and that you must register it with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority. If you don’t have one yet, then go now and buy one.
Australian company GME’s new MT403G EPIRB has a clever feature: once you pull it out of its bracket, it becomes water-activated. That means it won’t start sending a signal if it gets splashed on while it’s in its bracket, nor will it activate when you take it ashore for servicing. But it will activate in an emergency when you yank it out of the bracket and get it wet.
And of course, you can always trigger it yourself if you have to.
This class of safety gear includes things such as communication equipment, gas alarms, fire extinguishers, life rafts, guardrails, first-aid kits and bilge pumps—gear you should keep aboard.
Sailboats should include cable cutters and hacksaws, and those undertaking long passages should carry desalinators. Just in case.
The French and Royal Navies provided the rest of us with an object lesson in the importance of shipboard communications in February, when a 150m submarine belonging to the Royal Navy, carrying nuclear warheads and a crew of 135, collided with a 138m French submarine, also carrying nuclear warheads and a crew of 112, somewhere in the Atlantic. Both subs were submerged at the time.
Creeping about and playing chicken underwater in the middle of the Atlantic might offer some dubious satisfaction to nuclear submariners, but it’s certainly not a pleasure the rest of us should contemplate. In fact, the more visible you are at sea and the more you can see around you, the better. You need good communication equipment, and you need to make sure it’s all in working order. Some comms gear have safety features built-in, such as GME’s GX600D, which will connect to your GPS and transmit your coordinates the moment you press the distress button.
Boating is fun and we are right to enjoy it, but we all need to take safety equipment seriously. If you know you have the right safety gear aboard, and that it all works, you’ll feel more relaxed. If you’re not sure about your gear, talk to other boaters, especially the more experienced ones. Or talk to boating industry professionals before buying safety gear. Your life might depend on it.
Review supplied by Modern Boating