Safety? Check.

Posted: July 1, 2013

Onboard safety cannot be overlooked.

By: Capt. Frank Lanier

Any time is a good time to confirm or rethink your commitment to onboard safety. Three areas that are ripe for inspection or implementation will keep you and your passengers safe all year. And they don’t require a lot of effort on your part.

Fire Suppression

Install an automatic fire extinguishing system. When it comes to engine fires, the most natural reaction is also the worst — opening the compartment to see what’s going on. Doing so provides a rush of oxygen that could easily turn a smoldering fire into an abandon-ship conflagration. The safest way to avoid this problem is by installing an automatic fixed extinguishing system.

The American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) recommends installation of a suitable clean agent fire-suppression system on all inboard and sterndrive vessels. Dry chemical powder is effective, but the residue is difficult to remove and highly corrosive, and in some cases it can actually cause more damage to the engine than the fire itself. A clean-agent system kills the fire without damaging the engine and components, and in many cases the engine can be restarted (after correcting the initial cause of the fire), allowing vessels to return to port under their own power.

Fixed fire-suppression systems can be customized for your particular vessel, but pre-engineered, off-the-shelf systems are cheaper and easier to install. Halon was the clean agent of choice in the past; however, it’s an ozone-destroying chlorofluorocarbon, and its production has been banned since the 1990s. Today’s systems use “greener” alternatives such as FM-200 or FE-241.

If you already have a fire-suppression system, have it inspected and tagged annually by an authorized service facility. Existing Halon systems can remain in use but will have to be replaced with newer agents if Halon systems are discharged or found to be defective.

Get Found Faster

Buy an EPIRB or a PLB. EPIRBs and PLBs are probably the most important pieces of gear you can have on your person or in your ditch bag when the you-know-what hits the rotary oscillator. Nothing turns a search-and-rescue into a rescue better than an EPIRB or PLB, particularly one with built-in GPS. Many units also transmit a 121.5 MHz signal, which helps rescuers home in on your location. Units are available for less than $200, so even tight-fisted boaters can afford to add a PLB to their arsenal of onboard safety equipment.

If you already have one, always register your PLB or EPIRB unit, as required by law, with NOAA at beaconregistration.noaa.gov/. Doing so tells search-and-rescue organizations who they’re looking for (if your unit is activated) and who to call to verify that it’s not a false alarm. Verify your information annually, and don’t forget to update any changes (contact phone numbers, sold units, etc). For extended cruises, use the “Additional Data Field” to provide information such as number of passengers and special considerations (e.g., medical issues). Other excellent ideas include conducting a self-test of the unit on a regularly scheduled basis (and before each trip) as well as checking the expiration dates of batteries and hydrostatic release units at least annually.

Stay Afloat

Purchase a life raft. Like grizzly-bear pepper spray and supplies for the zombie apocalypse, life rafts are purchased in hopes they will never be needed. Designed to keep crew forced to abandon ship alive until rescued, life rafts provide protection from the elements and create a larger, more visible target for rescue personnel. While abandoning ship into a life raft should always be a last resort, knowing you have a life raft at the ready can provide peace of mind to all on board.

If you already have one, ensure the raft inspection sticker is current and the hydrostatic release mechanism hasn’t expired. In addition to testing and repacking your life raft whenever possible (to familiarize yourself with its operation), a good idea is customizing its contents. Additional water, a waterproof hand-held VHF or extra rations are just a few examples of good-to-have items in an emergency. Also consider an Automatic Identification System (AIS) Search and Rescue Transponder (SART) such as the Kannad Marine SafeLink or McMurdo Smartfind S5 units. Both units transmit GPS location, range and course to all vessels in the area equipped with AIS receiver equipment.

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