Posted 07 April 2017
Nautilus Lifeline Marine Rescue GPS
You don’t think you need a PLB – until you do. If there have always been reasons not to invest in one, a new product looks set to sweep them away. NIGEL WADE tests it.
Posted 07 April 2017
You don’t think you need a PLB – until you do. If there have always been reasons not to invest in one, a new product looks set to sweep them away. NIGEL WADE tests it.
Nautilus Lifeline Marine Rescue GPS
HAVE YOU SEEN “Open Water”? It’s a chilling film about two scuba-divers lost at sea after becoming separated from their dive-boat, designed to get divers’ hearts racing as they witness the events leading up to the realisation of one of our worst nightmares.

It’s loosely based on the true story of Tom and Eileen Lonergan, who in 1998 went diving on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and were accidentally left behind by the dive-boat when the crew failed to do an accurate headcount.

This type of incident isn’t common, but it’s not that unusual either. A quick Internet search reveals an alarming number of tales of divers adrift in big oceans, and I’m sure many other incidents are never reported.

Last July, experienced diver Jacob Childs sparked a massive search and rescue operation after disappearing from a group dive off his local Queensland coast. He later said that he got lost after surfacing in strong currents and drifting away from the boat.

The 30-year-old recorded dramatic footage of the ordeal on his GoPro. He feared the worst as the sun began to set, and filmed what he thought would be his final moments.

In the video he said: “So, that’s it. The sun goes down, they won’t do nothing. That’s a wrap on old Jakey.” Luckily, after six hours adrift and in darkness, the crew of a search aircraft located him. He had drifted some eight miles.

Also last year, British divers Jeff and Julie Byrne were with a group that became lost after surfacing off Mauritius to find that their dive-boat had disappeared. 

Along with three other divers, including a divemaster, they were swept 12 miles by strong currents. The SAR operation involved 22 boats, two helicopters and a spotter-plane.

The divers were found seven hours later by a pleasure boat and recovered, dehydrated and sunburnt. Mrs Byrne was later diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

“Panic immediately set in and some of the group’s younger members freaked out,” she said. The five divers had linked arms and inflated their BCs to stay afloat and together.

“We thought we were done for,” she went on. “When you’re in seas where sharks are common, your mind plays tricks on you. Each time a fish, leaf or piece of seaweed brushed my ankle my heart would stop. 

“We saw helicopters flying overhead, we yelled and screamed, but they couldn’t see us.” 

It might be argued that such incidents could have been avoided by following safety guidelines and employing lo-tec location aids such as DSMBs, whistles and air-horns or dive-lights.

However, divers are mainly lost at sea when changeable weather, unpredictable currents and, most importantly, human error combine to reduce the effectiveness of such locators. 

It’s in these rare but life-threatening situations that hi-tec systems could be the only way out of serious trouble.

All the electronic emergency location systems on the market require a sender and receiver. Some have their own vessel-mounted base-stations directly linked to dedicated transmitters, and some deliver a distress signal to receiving satellites (SARSAT) orbiting Earth, alerting global SAR operators to the victim’s location via GPS.

These emergency position-indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs) are used widely in the marine environment, and are registered primarily to individual vessels.

An alternative is a personal locator beacon (PLB), a smaller unit with the same features as an EPIRB, sending a coded message on the 406MHz distress frequency monitored by the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite system, but registered to an individual. PLBs are generally rated as waterproof to a maximum of 3m, so have to be kept in a dedicated depth-rated container.

One of the most popular locator devices designed for the dive world has been a distress-signal unit with an integrated marine VHF radio. This allows direct contact to the dive-vessel’s onboard radio or further afield using the universal emergency channel 16 frequency, and also providing GPS co-ordinates.

There’s much to be said for this type of VHF radio safety instrument, but because of countries’ differing laws regarding licensing for the operators of marine VHF radios, divers without the necessary certification are often not allowed to use them – and this applies in the UK.

The company that produced the original marine VHF radio device has since released a new diver-locator system, one that doesn’t involve dedicated base units, registration, licensing, subscription or certification.

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