Nelson boatie Blair Taylor learnt the hard way recently that you need reliable communications to call for help when in trouble at sea – and even more importantly: If in doubt don’t go out.
Blair, 33, had a close call off the Nelson coast with his 10-year-old son, William, and he urges other boaties to prepare properly before heading off-shore.
When the wind picked up and his five-metre run-about was swamped by waves in a turning tide, the pair ended up treading water five kilometres off Boulder Bank.
The experience has taught them to check the weather forecast, and to take two types of communications device that work when wet – like a distress beacon and a hand-held VHF radio.
It was blind luck that saved the father and son.
Nobody was nearby and the only way they had to contact emergency services was via a smartphone that Blair’s wife had fortunately bought for him just the day before.
As they bobbed in the swells, in their lifejackets, Blair was surprised the phone remained waterproof enough for him to call 111.
He then phoned his wife to make sure help was on the way.
Just as William was starting to really feel the cold, the pair was picked up by Coastguard – who was directed to the location by Police using binoculars from a hilltop.
Check the weather
Blair says next time he will check more carefully that the weather is going to be suitable for boating, and carry the right type of communications when on the water.
He says “my mate and I are getting PLBs (personal locator beacons) to strap to our lifejackets. I understand now how important it is to have some way to call for help on you at all times”.
“I was just so lucky my wife had bought me the phone and my son reminded me to take it with us when we jumped overboard. While the iPhone is supposed to stay waterproof for half an hour, a rescue beacon or VHF radio would have been safer options.
“This experience has made me realise that lots of boaties are not prepared when they head out from shore.”
Blair says he was also fortunate he had had water safety training when working on commercial vessels, and he knew he and his son needed to stay calm. The near miss has reminded him that boaties:
• Must check the forecast that the weather is going to be suitable for recreational boating
• Should be alert to changes in the weather and turn back if the wind and sea conditions deteriorate;
• That lifejackets save lives;
• And to take two forms of waterproof communication devices to call for help if need be.
This summer Maritime NZ and the Safer Boating Forum are raising awareness about the need for boaties to make sure they take two waterproof ways to communicate for help – in addition to checking the weather and wearing lifejackets. VHF radios can be permanently attached to the vessel, or hand-held VHF radios can be carried on a person or in a grab-bag nearby.
Vessels as 'stations'
Every vessel with a VHF radio acts as a ‘station’ and the skipper come to the rescue of others if they hear a distress alert on the emergency Channel 16, or a local channel.
Recreational boaties who get into difficulty can get help quicker if they are able to alert the crews of nearby vessels, and make direct contact with the Maritime Operations Centre.
The centre then puts out an alert to all vessels in the vicinity and to the 24/7 Rescue Coordination Centre of New Zealand (RCCNZ). Search and Rescue Officers (SAROs) raise the alarm with Police, Coastguard or other rescuers as required.
RCCNZ also monitors signals from distress beacons, which have the benefit of transmitting an exact location.
SAROs then check with the emergency contacts for the registered beacon to learn what rescue services - such as the crews of a helicopters, or Police and Coastguard patrol boats - can expect when they arrive on the scene.
This includes how many are in the party and the intended activity, such as fishing or sailing.
Ideally two forms of communication should be carried by boaties – such as a VHF radio and a distress beacon.