Sunday, April 8, 2012

Registering Your VHF and EPIRB

Click the picture for details
The boat came with an old VHF radio built into the Nav Station but it didn't have DSC. It's a newer technology that allows the user to signal a distress call through the radio by programming in a unique MMSI identification number that tells the SAR (search and rescue) authorities who and where you are.

Bruce picked up this radio in Rhode Island after doing some research and reading reviews.  This is an inexpensive model that basically coordinates with the boat's chart plotter to show other vessels within range as it also contains an AIS receiver.  It will actually post other ship's positions on the radar with information about the ship using AIS. Older DSC enabled VHF radios had to be connected to a GPS externally. This model has an internal GPS which cuts out that vital and often missed step.  

This unit does not transmit our position via AIS however.  There are other radios that do both, but we plan on purchasing a separate AIS unit closer to the time we go cruising.  This way we can choose between the latest technology and the slightly older versions that should have slightly lower prices... at least that's what we hope.  It also separates the two functions so that if one goes down we don't lose both. 

Anyway... this radio has internal GPS as well as connecting to the chart plotter.  It adds a layer of safety on top of our EPIRB for sending out a distress signal.  Bruce and Chuck were in charge of installation and functionality, while back home it was my job to make sure that we obtained our MMSI number and registered the EPIRB.  Coincidentally, while all of this was going on, I ran across an article about what happens when your EPIRB is deployed.  Thanks to Cruising World Magazine for the valuable information.

First the MMSI:  Chip has been an invaluable source of information and I can't thank him enough for his help in pointing me in the right direction.  The Boat US Website handles the registration of the VHF radio.  It is a simple process of entering the required information online.  A certificate is then emailed to you containing your MMSI number.  It's free, it's easy and it makes it possible for SAR teams to find you should you ever have to press that button. 

It is important to know that your MMSI number is attached to that VHF radio on that boat.  If you sell the boat with the radio you must de-register so that the new owner can use it.  If you install the radio on a different boat, you must update the MMSI registration with the new boat information. 

The MMSI number is also listed in your EPIRB registration so get one before you begin the next step.  NOAA is the entity that provides for registration of EPIRB units.  It's another easy online process.  You will receive a certificate and a sticker.  Make sure that you have chosen your emergency contact people before beginning.  You should also update your registration at least yearly.  Remember:  Your emergency contacts should not be ON THE BOAT WITH YOU and they should know your up-to-the-minute plans and contingencies.  These are the people that the SAR authorities will contact if they are unable to reach you on the boat when your EPIRB is deployed. 

If you sell the boat with the EPIRB, you should update this with the NOAA website.  Otherwise, when the new owner attempts to register, the process is delayed until they can reach and verify with the previous owner that the boat was sold. 

It was very empowering for me to be a part of this process.  Educating myself in small digestible bits about life afloat makes the process a bit less daunting.  It also makes me feel that we are moving purposefully towards our goal.  Another feeling this process gave me was comfort.  I know it was dangerous out there for Bruce and Chuck.  It's "Big Water" and they were out there on a relatively unfamiliar vessel.  Bruce said something to me once they were safely tied up in a slip in Hampton, VA.  He said that while they were underway, they never raised the mainsail.  They had jacklines in place but one of them would have had to leave the cockpit and go to the mast to raise the sail.  If one of them were to fall overboard in these cold waters, the other would have had only about 30 minutes to get them out of the water or he would be dead.  They didn't want to risk it so they stayed in the cockpit.  Somber thought...  Properly register your DSC and EPIRB before going offshore.