Losing a crewmember overboard is a surprisingly common occurrence, and a frightening one for all involved. At sea, one of the worse things you can possibly hear is a crew member shouting ‘Man Over Board’ at the top of their voice, however worse still is hearing nothing at all, especially if you are the one in the water fighting for your life. Thankfully there are various products available on the market to provide a voice to the man over board (MOB) to electronically say ‘Help, I am here!’ – but choosing one of these lifesaving products requires an understanding of what the various technologies can offer the MOB and which assets are to be used to operate the rescue in the quickest time possible.
Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) provide a direct method of alerting search and rescue authorities, using the 406 MHz search and rescue satellite communication system, COSPAS SARSAT, a global government-controlled system that defines a common standard for search and rescue by satellites. Once activated, using a simple three-stage activation, a PLB will transmit an alert via 406MHz through the satellite system and international rescue will send assets from land to effect a rescue. A PLB will also transmit a 121.5MHz homing signal to assist inbound helicopters and many units, such as the Fast Find 220, also feature GPS enabling a typical positional accuracy of +/- 62m. PLBs have helped save the lives of many over the past ten years on land as well as at sea – in 2011 alone 2313 people were rescued globally using information provided by the COSPAS SARSAT system.
However, the question amongst the seafaring community has always been, ‘How does my ship know I am overboard and what are they doing about it?’ A PLB will trigger a mayday situation, which will be transmitted through the GMDSS communication systems onboard, however in these situations, the asset, which is closest to the MOB, is usually the ship that they have fallen from. In any MOB situation, the time taken for the bridge to be aware of the situation is of the essence.
To fulfill this requirement, the ship can employ various electronic safety devices, which operate at a local level to alert the vessel to a MOB situation. Because these devices are not part of the COSPAS SARSAT system they can also be fitted to lifejackets for semi-automatic activation when a casualty enters the water – this is especially useful if the MOB is unconscious. Dating back to 1950s aviation technology, the 121.5MHz aircraft guard frequency has traditionally been used for MOB alerting and homing purposes. As ships are not generally equipped to keep a listing watch on aviation guard frequency’s dedicated 121.5MHz monitoring equipment must be employed. Again this system has saved many lives but has limitations of being in a closed system and the signal has difficulties broadcasting an accurate GPS position of the casualty. Also the cost of maintaining a receiver just in case of emergency is costly and one more thing to do on the list of jobs for an overstretched crew.
To solve this age-old problem of MOB location, Orolia Ltd, the company behind the McMurdo and Kannad Marine brands looked at a number of technologies from 406MHz, 121.5MHz, satellite phones and strobes. All of these products held their own merits but all required a variety of systems to be purchased to run them. Orolia wanted to offer a solution where the ship operator was spending 100 per cent on the beacon and not on the system to support it, making the Automatic Identification System (AIS) the perfect platform to use. AIS has been perhaps the most important innovation in navigation since the introduction of GPS, and is one of the fastest-growing segments of the electronic navigation business in recent years, with at least 170 countries mandating its use. It is currently mandated on all commercial vessels over 300 tonnes and moving forward, the EU Fishing mandate for AIS and market sizes states that EU Fishing vessels will gradually need to be equipped with Class A AIS. Currently this is for all vessels above 24m, with vessels above 18m becoming mandatory from 31 May 2013 and finally all vessels above 15m by 31 May 2014. Building on this technology, Orolia developed personal AIS devices, which could be integrated with existing equipment to avoid incurring the additional cost of a base station/receiver – an important factor due to the volume of crew per vessel requiring a personal AIS device.
Based on existing AIS SART (Search and Rescue Transmitter) technology that Orolia Ltd had launched in March 2010, which were designed to assist with the location of survivor craft during search and rescue operations, the Kannad Marine SafeLink R10 SRS and McMurdo Smartfind S10 AIS beacons were developed as a personal compact safety device small enough to be easily carried by members of the crew going about their daily duties on deck.
In the event of a MOB situation, the personal AIS device is activated and sends structured alert messages incorporating GPS position and a special identity code. The AIS MOB message can be received by both the mother vessels own standard AIS equipment and also by other AIS equipped vessels within (approximately) a four-mile radius. The accuracy of data is also guaranteed with the SafeLink R10 and Smartfind S10 thanks to inbuilt high precision location, bearing and range data given, all the information needed to locate the position of the person in difficulty and effect a speedy recovery is available, this greatly increases the chances of rescue. Some personal AIS devices, such as the Kannad Marine R10, can also be professionally fitted to a life jacket for semi-automatic activation when the lifejacket inflates.
In summary, operators of vessels on the high seas have an obligation to reduce the risks to crew operating in high-risk environments. Whilst there is a large range of emergency products on the market to assist in the recovery of a man overboard, it is key to understand the advantages and limitations of these technologies in order to choose the option that is best for your operation and the operators who need to carry/wear them. Personal AIS devices recognise that the key to a successful MOB recovery is the speed in which the mother vessel can be made aware of the casualty in the water by alerting the vessel immediately, through its existing navigation system, and transmit the casualty’s position regularly to offer the greatest chance of recovery and survival.
With any emergency product to assist in a MOB situation, the most important thing to remember is that no matter what technology they offer they are rendered useless unless worn/carried at all times.
David Duffin is marine products sales manager for Orolia Ltd. Orolia, through its McMurdo and Kannad Marine brands, is a world leading producer of Emergency Positioning Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs), Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs), Search and Rescue Transponders (SARTs), NAVTEX and VHF Radios for the maritime and leisure markets, including shipping, yachting, and outdoor adventure pursuits. The high quality product range is manufactured in the UK utilising the very latest technology available, and in partnership with the world’s safety regulatory organisations.
For more information visit:www.mcmurdomarine.com