The Importance of Communication in
by Wayne Spivak;
National Press Corps United States Coast Guard Auxiliary
"BOSTON (AP) - A disabled fishing vessel
that drifted overnight in waters 80 miles south of Martha's Vineyard
during the first major snowstorm to hit New England this season, was
being towed to shore Saturday."
"WARRENTON, OR - An amazing story of
survival, after a 67-year old man gets stuck on a sand bar in the middle
of the Columbia River and ends up spending the night there." – KATU 2
"LONG BEACH, Wash. - The Coast Guard
airlifted Tyler McLaughlin, 21, of Tillamook, Ore. from the fishing
vessel Grenada yesterday evening." – US Coast Guard
Three events, seemingly un-related:
fishing vessel south of Martha's Vineyard; man on the Columbia River
near Warrenton, Oregon; and another man off Long Beach Washington. Three
events that happened in the first week of December 2003.
No, this is not the beginning for a new
episode of the Twilight Zone. It's real life news, events that have
happened, and unfortunately will probably happen again.
In New England, the vessel Miss Judith,
out of Freeport, NY lost her engines. She was adrift in 60-knot winds
and 18-foot seas. What did the Miss Judith do? They called the
In Warrenton, Oregon, Jerry Hanes was
moving his boat from Chinook, located in Washington State to Warrenton.
As is common in that area of the country, fog rolled in, but what was
uncommon was the density of the fog. Mr. Hanes struck a sand bar and
grounded. What did Mr. Hanes do? He called the Coast Guard.
Seven miles off the coast of Long Beach,
Washington, Tyler McLaughlin was working the fishing vessel Grenada.
While handling deck lines, he suffered a compound wrist facture. What
did the Captain of the Grenada do? They called the Coast Guard.
Our stories all center on an emergency
and a call to the Coast Guard. In each story, the actions or the Coast
Guard differed. From just monitoring the situation, to air dropping
supplies, or airlifting the individual out of their situation, the Coast
Guard was in contact with the vessels in distress.
The story here is about communications -
emergency communications. Each vessel had the proper radio (VHF or SSB)
to contact the Coast Guard. Each vessel knew how to contact the Coast
Guard, and knew what information they needed at a minimum to provide
them in order to aid themselves.
The United States Coast Guard Auxiliary,
through its Recreational Boating Safety mission, urges all members of
the Boating community to become familiar with not only the operations of
their individual VHF/SSB radios, but what steps and information is
needed when contacting the Coast Guard in an emergency. "Time is
non-renewable," as, stated in a speech recently given by VADM Thomas
Barrett, Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard.
In an emergency, time may be of the
essence, and should not be wasted. Every crewmember and guest should be
given a briefing on how to use your radio, and what information is
needed in case of an emergency (and where to find it).
Here is what the Coast Guard Auxiliary
suggests you have in place before next boating season:
1. Knowledge of where you are
at all times (GPS/Loran helps, but a chart is imperative; and
electronics can – and often do fail).
2. How many are on-board:
Adults/Children and do they have PFD's?
3. What's wrong? What is the
nature of the distress?
Description of your Vessel
(Name, Make, Length, Type, Color, Registration numbers/Boat name).
These four simple but extremely
important pieces of information may just save your life some day. This
is the initial, crucial information the Coast Guard will request when
you call for an emergency. To see the actual "Initial SAR Check Sheet"
used by the United States Coast Guard go to
While we're talking emergency
communication, we wish to remind people that a MAYDAY call requires that
all chatter on the frequency be halted immediately, and that only the
parties to the MAYDAY transmit.
Should you hear a MAYDAY, and not hear a
response from the Coast Guard, it is possible that the transmission from
the vessel in danger did not reach the Coast Guard. It is highly
unlikely that you'll hear the distress call, and the Coast Guard will
not (due to the placement of many of the Coast Guard's antenna
installations), but it is possible.
If the Coast Guard does not acknowledge
the MAYDAY transmission, it is your duty to act as an intermediary for
that vessel and contact the Coast Guard for that distressed vessel. You
may be the only chance that the distress vessel has to reach the Coast
Lastly, only use MAYDAY if there is a
grave and imminent danger to life or property. Use Pan Pan, for serious
emergencies, that don't warrant a MAYDAY. Securite is used to warn other
boaters of issues that threaten the safety of navigation (a tow
underway, a log in the water, etc).
For more information on boating safety,
contact your United States Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla by visiting
them on the web at
http://www.cgaux.org/ or contacting your local Coast Guard unit