Published: April 2014
What do you do when your old Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) needs to be retired? One thing you shouldn't do is simply throw it in the garbage.
Last year, the U.S. Coast Guard searched the New Smyrna Beach, Florida area for two hours before finding an EPIRB in a trash can at a marina. The owner had simply tossed the unit into the trash and once it got wet, it activated. Unfortunately, this was not the first time the Coast Guard has had to deal with this problem and old EPIRBs have been activated in dumpsters and landfills. These types of false alerts put Search and Rescue (SAR) crews at risk, make SAR assets less available for actual distress, and fatigue the SAR system. There were 178 cases in 2012 and the problem is increasing. As new EPIRBS come on the market with more features and lower price tags, and old units reach the end of their lifespans, more and more boaters need to dispose of an old one. So how to do it properly?
First, notify NOAA that you're taking it out of service. Find out how here: www.beaconregistration.noaa.gov. Next, remove the battery. Often the manual will have instructions. If not, call the manufacturer. Service facilities that replace batteries can also give you guidance. The body of the EPIRB can then be disposed of at places that accept computers, TVs, and other electronic equipment, often sponsored by local counties. Be aware that the Coast Guard routinely refers cases involving the non-distress activation of an EPIRB to the Federal Communications Commission for possible prosecution.
Nav Light Check up
Imagine driving on a busy road at night with no taillights. Any driver coming from behind wouldn't see you and you could easily cause an accident. Navigation lights on boats are even more important in some ways — not only do they allow other boaters to see you, but depending on what lights they see, they also tell others if you're under sail or power, what direction you're traveling relative to them, and what action to take to avoid you. Pounding seas and saltwater can cause bulbs to fail and contacts and connections to corrode.
While your boat is easily accessible this spring, make sure all of your nav lights are working and nothing is obstructing the light in any of its arc. Boats under 39.4 feet must carry, at a minimum, an all-around white light visible from any direction and red and green sidelights each visible through an arc of 112.5 degrees. If the battery is in the boat, wait until it's dark, turn the lights on, and take a stroll around. Replacing any bulbs that have burned out and fixing any wiring problems may well keep you from getting an unexpected bump in the night.
Make Sure Your EPIRB Works When You Need It
An EPIRB requires a certain amount of faith — how do you know you'll be rescued once it's activated? One way to put your mind at ease is to test it every month and at the beginning of an extended trip. Each manufacturer has a slightly different method, but all of them test the output of the transmitter, the internal circuitry and the strobe light. When activated in test mode, EPIRBs send a specially coded signal that's ignored by the Search and Rescue satellite system. Here's how to do it:
- Remove it from its bracket and place it with a clear view of the sky.
- Find the test switch; most EPIRBs have a well-marked test switch, often under a cover marked LIFT.
- Press the TEST switch for two or three seconds.
- Your unit should give an indication of a successful test, usually a couple of beeps and a flash of the strobe light. If you don't get a signal that the test was successful, test it one more time and if it fails, take it in for service.
Note that some older models may not have a signal test feature and those with a single-use folded antenna usually can't send a signal. Also, some models have an additional GPS test, but since they require a lot of power, they should only be performed once or twice over the life of the battery. For a fee, some newer EPIRBs from ACR can test the actual satellite reception.
Affordable weekly rentals are available from the BoatUS Foundation for Boating Safety and Clean Water www.BoatUS.org
Superstorm Sandy may have come and gone a year-and-a-half ago, but her effects still linger. Many boats were out of commission for the season last year undergoing repairs, and many more sat unused as marinas rebuilt their infrastructure. As a result, there is a lot of gasoline sitting in fuel tanks that's now way past its shelf life. What's worse is that many boats, even those that were not submerged, may have gotten water into their fuel tanks through vents due to the heavy rains. Most gas tanks in the area contain ethanol, and it's possible that water in the tanks has phase separated from the gas, making it unusable. Even without ethanol, gasoline may have oxidized or become otherwise contaminated.
If your boat hasn't been used since Sandy, don't start your engine until you've had the gas removed. While it might be problematic to remove the gas, the alternative could be a damaged engine. Many marinas have facilities for disposing of small amounts of gas, but you'll probably need to call a pro for larger volumes. You might be able to negotiate lower per gallon disposal prices if you can get several dockmates to negotiate together.
Beware Of Your Boat Lift
Boat lifts lead a hard life. Once a boat is back safely in its lift, boaters typically don't give it a second thought, which is a bad idea. Lifts use cables, pulleys, shackles, wire, and other hardware that must work together, and the failure of the smallest part can bring the whole thing down.
During routine servicing of a boat lift in Florida, a sharpeyed service technician noticed all four shackles had stress cracks. One was severely cracked, probably on the verge of failure. The lift was only 10 years old and though rated at 7,000 pounds, never had more than a 2,500-pound boat in it. The shackle was stamped "304 stainless" and had been made in China. 304 stainless is strong, but more susceptible to stress-crack corrosion; 316 stainless is a much better choice. If the boat's weight was closer to the lift maximum, it's likely the shackle would have failed, which could have caused serious injury to anyone who was in the boat when it let go.
Have your lift inspected annually by a qualified technician and make it a point to do your own once-over every time you use it.
Seaworthy, the damage-avoidance newsletter, is brought to you by the BoatUS Marine Insurance Program. For an insurance quote, please call 1-800-283-2883 or apply online at BoatUS.com.
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