Calling for Help - Sail Magazine

Calling for Help

The three boats in Tom Cunliffe’s scenario all found different ways of coping with difficult weather conditions, and all made it to port with little or no drama. But what if things had turned out differently? How would they have called for help?Visual distress
Author:
Publish date:
Social count:
0
incendiary_electronic_distress_signals

The three boats in Tom Cunliffe’s scenario all found different ways of coping with difficult weather conditions, and all made it to port with little or no drama. But what if things had turned out differently? How would they have called for help?

Visual distress signals

Lives are lost each year because people go out on boats without packing any means of attracting attention. Few of them are sailors; a healthy respect for the sea and the dangers it presents to the unprepared and the foolish is drummed into us from our earliest days on boats, so we tend to actually carry items like flares and signal mirrors and whistles. Having always packed a good selection of pyrotechnics, I had never felt the need to check the Coast Guard guidelines for visual distress signals; I was surprised to find that they’re not as rigid as I’d expected.

For instance, if you have an open, engineless boat under 26 feet, there is no requirement for you to carry any distress signals at all, unless you sail at night on coastal waters. Huh? It seems to me that since 90-something percent of all sailing is done in daylight, you are more likely to get into trouble in daylight. Nor do you have to carry a distress signal on any boat under 16 feet, or on a rowboat. Well, maybe that’s fair enough. On the other hand, I’ve often seen boats much smaller than 16 feet bobbing around several miles offshore, their occupants cheerfully fishing without a care in the world. Since it’s mainly fishermen who tend to get themselves into trouble, it would seem to be a good idea to encourage them to carry flares or even a VHF.

But let’s not talk about compulsion. The key here is common sense. Anyone who’s actually been even a few miles offshore knows how hard it can be to see a small boat afloat just a few hundred yards away, let alone one that’s swamped or barely awash. If there’s a swell running it might be visible for 10 seconds or so out of every minute. This is why, if I owned a 26-foot engineless open daysailer, I would be sure there was a box of assorted distress signals stowed on board. You don’t want to get obsessive about safety, because that detracts from the sailing experience, but there’s no shame in being prepared for the worst.

The Coast Guard only requires you to carry three day and three night signals (or three day/night signals, e.g. red flares), no matter if you’re sailing on a lake, river or open ocean. That, to my mind, is nuts. If you are in a situation where you need to attract attention, you’re going to want more than three red flares.

Throw in a few red aerial flares or a flare pistol, a smoke signal, perhaps a dye marker, a strobe, a whistle, a signal mirror, and you’ve got a decent coastal cruising distress kit. If you think some of this stuff is non-essential, you may be right—but what’s the harm in carrying it? Lives have been saved by silly little things like the sun reflecting off a CD.

Annoyingly, flares need to be both Coast Guard-approved and replaced every three to four years. Out-of-date flares can be kept on board as backups to your in-date signals. There’s no consensus on when you should throw out old flares, but I would be leery of expired-date parachute flares. Either way, the leather gardening gloves that you wear when you’re getting the anchor up will come in handy if you ever need to set off a flare.

Flare types

Handheld Red: Visible for about three miles and last for around 40 seconds. Only use them when you have a possible rescuer in sight.

Red Parachute: In clear weather these can be seen up to 25 miles away. Some will climb to nearly 900 feet.

incendiary_flares_distress

Aerial Flare: Fired from a 12-gauge launcher, these can reach 500 feet and will burn for 7 seconds. Like parachute flares, you should fire two within two minutes of each other; one to alert rescuers, the other to provide a bearing.

Orange Smoke: Only use in daylight if a rescuer is within visual range—one to three miles, depending on wind strength. Handheld smokes last around 40 seconds, floating signals up to three minutes.

Related

180615-01 Lead

A Dramatic Comeback in the Volvo

After winning three of the last four legs in the Volvo Ocean Race (and coming in second in the fourth), Dutch-flagged Brunel is now tied for first overall with Spanish-flagged Mapfre and Chinese-flagged Dongfeng following the completion of Leg 10 from Cardiff, Wales, to ...read more

MFS-5-2018-Propan-SP02

Tohatsu LPG-powered 5hp Propane Motor

Gassing it UpTired of ethanol-induced fuel issues? Say goodbye to gasoline. Japanese outboard maker Tohatsu has introduced an LPG-powered 5hp kicker that hooks up to a propane tank for hours of stress-free running. Available in short-, long- or ultra-long-shaft versions, the ...read more

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell.Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.comThink Deeply When chartering, I am always maddened to be told that the echo sounder is calibrated “to depth under the keel, plus a bit for safety.” Such operators seem to imagine that the instrument’s sole ...read more

180612-01 Landing lead

Painful Sailing in Volvo Leg 10

It’s looking to be a case of feast or famine for the 2017-18 Volvo Ocean fleet as it continues the epic struggle that has been Leg 10, with it having been all famine thus far. Painful is the only word to describe the light-air start in Cardiff, Wales, on June 10, as the 11-boat ...read more

01-13_07_180304_JRE_03695_4605

Tips From the Boatyard

Within the Volvo Ocean Race Boatyard sits a communal sail loft which provides service and repairs for all seven teams sailing in the 2017-18 edition of the race. The sail loft employs only five sailmakers who look after 56 sails in each stopover. If you’re thinking, “wow, these ...read more

sailCarwBasicsJuly18

Sail Care for Cruisers

Taking care of your canvas doesn’t just save you money, it’s central to good seamanship  Knowing how to take care of your sails and how to repair them while at sea is an important part of overall seamanship. The last thing any sailor needs is to get caught on a lee shore with ...read more

Ship-container-2048

The Danger of a Collision Offshore

This almost happened to me once. I was sailing singlehanded between Bermuda and St. Martin one fall, and one night happened to be on deck looking around at just the right time. The moon was out, the sky was clear and visibility was good. Still, when I thought I saw a large ...read more

New-MHS-Promo

Multihulls on the Horizon

Fountaine Pajot New 42The French cat powerhouse has been on a roll these last few years, cranking out new models that not only replace their older line but take a step forward in design and user-friendliness. The New 42’s “real” name had not been revealed as we went to press, but ...read more