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Offshore Sailing With A 406 EPIRB - What Price Safety ?

Posted Feb 11 2013 12:00am
Like many cruising sailors, we've been is Asia for some time, in our case over seven years.  We frequently look westward, hoping that the piracy problems will go away and allow us to continue our voyage towards Europe.  Unfortunately the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden are still not safe, as confirmed in recent sailing advisories . There is a strong trend amongst cruising boats to travel westwards on a safer route, via Rodriguez, Mauritius, La Reunion, South Africa and the Cape of Good Hope.  A loose but effective communication network has been established for those boats, supported with great energy by Richard & Susan Kidd on SV Sea Bunny , who are this year maintaining a list of vessels planning to head west, and sharing information on weather, anchorages, pilotage etc.

Here on Crystal Blues we're busy servicing and checking everything we need to cross oceans safely.  As cruising sailors we absolutely depend on our primary safety tools - a sound vessel and responsible seamanship.  However when things go really wrong we would turn to our secondary safety systems to help us out - life jackets, life rafts, radio communications and the Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, or 406 EPIRB. 

This is the first of several stories discussing the recent changes in technology and the challenges we have selecting the right safety tools for a life afloat.

406 Emergency Beacons

Ten years ago we invested significantly in the latest and greatest EPIRB, a 406mhz device with built in GPS, designed to alert the rescue services and tell them (accurately) where we were.  It cost over $2,000.00 !  This year, we wanted to replace the battery, as required, preparing the unit for further service.

Here Is What We Found .....

First of all, a "certified" new battery installation for our beacon, installed by the nominated agents in nearby Singapore, will cost around US$750.00.  However, a brand new McMurdo 406 GPS EPIRB, a later generation with improved specifications, will cost about $20.00 less !  Other brands have similar options.  Understandably, many cruisers are opting to buy the new product, though we've now found there is an attractive option. Our research has also uncovered some interesting gaps in our understanding and some surprises regarding the performance of existing EPIRB products!
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