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Old 08-09-2009, 10:13 PM   #1
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I've been researching the pros and cons of getting an SSB radio or a HAM rig for offshore cruising, when I came across this quote from Eric Hiscock, "We in yachts do not have to go to sea like the professional seaman does, we go because we want to, and therefore we have no right when in trouble to call on other, perhaps with risk to them, to get us out of a difficulty which, with a bit of planning and some common sense, we could probably have avoided." He also said that he thought that in most circumstances ship-to-shore radio should be prohibited on yachts.

I'm not sure I agree with that, but I wonder what others think. Things have changed a lot since Hiscock was sailing, and what was dangerous then might be a lot safer now.
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Old 08-10-2009, 12:55 AM   #2
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Welcome to Cruiser Log,

Not only is an HF radio useful in emergencies, but opens a whole spectrum of information for the cruising fraternity wherever they maybe. Have a look at our CruisingWiki on the subject :-

WIKI HERE
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Old 08-10-2009, 12:59 PM   #3
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Husband Peter hates to ask for help, and just doesn’t do it. I often think he’d rather sink than call for assistance.

I ask for assistance and advice a lot.

We have been in some nasty seas and storms, though nothing disastrous and certainly we never felt we needed help in making it to port. (lots of stories about this)

We were in Australia during the 1994 Queen’s Birthday Storm in the South Pacific, and worried about friends caught in it. We saw a video documentary of the rescues of the crews of five boats, and read Tony Farrington’s book. In the video we learned that four of the five boats whose crews were rescued survived the storm after the crews left, and the fifth was deliberately scuttled at the request of its owners by the rescuing ship. *

One of the crews needed rescue because of a serious injury and dismasting of the boat. Another boat had one crew member injured with a broken arm, but the entire crew was removed because it was a ‘now or never’ situation – the ship wasn’t going to return. The trimaran that was abandoned because its steering was damaged in the storm survived and was eventually found and towed into port. A sixth boat and crew was lost in the storm with no information of what went wrong, though the crew on that boat were apparently the least experienced of the six boats that were the focus of rescue and seemed, from the video and book, to be the most panicked. *

The sailboat SATORI from which its crew of three was removed by the US Coast Guard during storm described in the book and movie The Perfect Storm was also recovered after the storm. A rescue made at great risk to the rescuers that was apparently unnecessary.

The report of the 1979 Fastnet Race emphasizes that most of the loss of life was due to the many crews who abandoned their boats for life rafts. In general, those who stayed with their boats, and also those abandoned boats, survived the storm. The liferafts and crew mostly did not.

I have sought out and read as many accounts of rescues and losses at sea as I can find. Too many rescues were, in my opinion, unnecessary, and in many of the accounts of boats sunk I was appalled to note that the crews never made an effort to find and stop the leak that caused the sinking.

Because of this, I agree with Eric Hiscock, somewhat. The rescue of Satori and one of the boats in the Queen’s Birthday storm were not requested by the skipper but rather by its panicky crew. It seems to me that had there not been a ship-to-shore radio on board Satori its panicked crew would not have called for help without permission of the owner and others would not have been placed at risk in effecting the rescue, and a huge expenditure of time and money would have been avoided.

This does not mean I believe that people on small boats should die rather than ask for assistance to be saved. However, I believe that before one goes out to sea in a small boat one should be as prepared as possible. And that means knowing how to obtain weather information and being able to interpret it. Knowing the boat’s and one’s own strengths and weaknesses. Understanding and practicing navigation until it is as close to instinctive as possible. Also, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of all other members of the boat. *

No matter how capable and experienced the skipper of a yacht is, (s)he cannot carry all the burden where there are inexperienced and potentially panicked crew aboard. Crew who are looking forward to an ‘adventure’ without bringing knowledge and skills to the voyage can be a dangerous handicap to the boat. I’m not sure we address this issue adequately, but looking at how long my diatribe has become, it’s time to stop.

In summary, I believe that calls for help are too often premature and/or unnecessary, but that does not mean I begrudge anyone assistance and salvation when it is requested.

As always,*

Fair Winds,

J
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Old 08-10-2009, 02:10 PM   #4
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- -I would beg to disagree that the HF SSB radio is of any value in an emergency situation. However, it is extremely useful in preparing and gathering information to help prevent an emergency situation. Mainly the Hf SSB is used to keep in touch with other cruisers and gather weather information when internet access is not available. Most active cruisers only listen/use the HF SSB radio during the morning or evening Cruiser Nets.

- - Every new model VHF radio introduced after year 2000 has built-in a feature known as "DSC." Pushing and holding for 4 seconds the red "DISTRESS" button on this type radio will set off an ear-splitting alarm in every other DSC equipped radio - that is turned on - within the maximum range of your radio (anywhere from 10 to 50 nm). All the radios will be automatically be set to your VHF Channel and will display your "Ship's Station Identity" which the US Coast Guard and other emergency service providers will use to look up who you are and what your ship's name is - and - if you have a GPS hooked up to your DSC VHF radio your latitude and longitude will be displayed. You can then transmit the name of your ship and the nature of your emergency. Unless you are really "out there" in the ocean and more than 50nm from anybody - you will get many responses to your call and offers of assistance. It is the basic nature of mariners to help each other on the seas when possible.

- - But first and foremost, what Eric Hiscock was talking about - in my opinion - was the need to be a responsible mariner in the first place and not just wander offshore willy-nilly expecting "big brother" government or anybody else to automatically "save your bacon" for you. You must learn, educate yourself of the ways of the oceans and the boats thereon, and get practical experience in repairing and maintaining and planning "what the F__ do I do now" answers/solutions to as many anticipated problems possible that you might encounter ranging from navigational disorientation to changing fuel filters and plugging holes in the hull to avoid sinking. Think about your vessel as a "space ship" traveling from earth (shore) to another planet/space station (your destination). You are on your own and your need to be prepared to patch, repair and to make alternate solutions to problems. Generally - especially out in the oceans any help is many hours to days away. You live or die by your knowledge, experience and wits. This was especially true back in Hiscock's time when modern radios and satellites did not exist.

- - Most cruising is now centered around coast lines and island chains where help is within a few hours range - boats move very slowly! An excellent VHF modern radio with top of the line antenna cable and antenna is your first resource to get aid and advice on how to manage a crisis. Beyond that there are EPIRB (emergency locator beacons) for out of radio range and ocean crossings. But still you need to educate, prepare, plan and practice being your own "rescuer." And that is one of the most rewarding aspects of cruising - you are in command, in control, responsible for your own life - or if a couple - each other. Nobody else. It is the real freedom or liberty that marked the basis of original pioneer American.
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Old 08-10-2009, 02:24 PM   #5
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Not being an American pioneer myself :-), IŽd surely get the radio on board and make the most of it for our own safety. Sending out a distress message is something else, though. Having full awareness that you should care for yourself as much as possible and having a radio on board that can make your cruising easier and more pleasant, and even save your life, are complementary thoughts IMHO.

Fair winds and a good week!

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Old 08-11-2009, 03:08 PM   #6
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- - I think I forgot to really answer your question: >> I'm not sure I agree with that, but I wonder what others think. Things have changed a lot since Hiscock was sailing, and what was dangerous then might be a lot safer now. <<

- - We have added many more layers of "potential" safety enhancements to modern sailing/cruising since Hiscock's time. But unless you know how to effectively use them, you are right back where he was or maybe worse - as you are "playing" with the "new-fangled" stuff and not paying attention to the ship and what is happening around you. So it just might be Less Safe now than in Hiscocks time.

- - As to calling for help - I would rather be embarrassed and alive than dead. Having the capability to summon rescue/assistance is very smart and prudent. However, relying on it as your "first" reaction to an emergency is neither smart nor prudent. To gain experience and enhance your safety and longevity of your life, it is important to "push" the limits sometimes. Kind of "on the job training." But you must have a responsible head and know when not to push the limits and when to call for assistance. Not being willing to call for assistance is stupid as is calling for assistance when the situation is not critical or the result of insufficient "brain power." In the later case, the person should stay on land as they constitute a hazard to the rest of us.

- - I would say that the hazards Hiscock experienced back then are still with us today and we have probably added a quite a few new hazards. They are mostly all survivable with a good ship and good crew.
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Old 08-12-2009, 11:23 AM   #7
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Go to sea without the correct equipment, planning and training is not only dangerous but puts a huge burden on those that have to rescue you. I was on a well prepared passage, great boat, good crew and up to date weather information. We ran into an unpredicted tropical storm and in winds in excess of eighty knot were rolled and eventually sank. Without the EPRIB onboard and the bravery of the US coast guard we would all be dead. However we knew the risks before we left and were not expected to be rescued.

Think Short band radios are going out of popular use for cruising although I know the old guard love them. Tricky to use, expensive to buy and use a tonne of electricity. I have on all my recent trips enjoyed the safety of a pre-paid sat phone and being able to send emails at sea using mail a sail and downloading weather updates. The technology does make things safer but that does not mean we should take greater risks.
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Old 08-12-2009, 12:58 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by osirissailing View Post
- -I would beg to disagree that the HF SSB radio is of any value in an emergency situation. ....
I would beg to differ on the above statement. If I had to recount the thousands of cruisers that have been directly assisted by HF net controllers in emergencies in every ocean, throughout the last 30 years, it would take a very long time. I am sure that many Net Controllers would agree with me - controllers like:

Tony Bridges (Kenya Net)

Fred (Indian Ocean Net)

Alistair (SA Net)

Robby Beats

Rowdy

MMNETSEA

Herb Hilganberg

and many others too numerous to list.

They have logged thousands of emergencies where assistance was sought and given - very many lifesaving.

HF radio, and the Net Controlers that give up so much of their time, are a Godsend for cruisers out there.

[EDIT] Also see THIS
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Old 08-12-2009, 02:16 PM   #9
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Leaving the question of whether it is appropriate to ask others to put themselves at risk to come to the aid of a (possibly ill-prepared) recreational mariner, lets focus on the ability of calling for help on an HF SSB or Ham radio in an emergency. In the morning and evening there are maritime nets when many mariners are listening to the frequencies designated for the net. In the middle of the day, propagation is often difficult and so the ability to contact a station who can get the word out is questionable.

2182Khz used to be monitored as an emergency frequency, but no longer is I think.

In an emergency the radio operator of a vessel in distress may not have much time to attempt to make contact. Those of us who use winlink and sailmail to do email and weather know that it can take some time to establish contact in a situation where a PMBO is known to be monitoring a given frequency.

For emergency communication, a sat phone is much more reliable given coverage in an area. I do not know how a storm laden atmosphere will affect sat phones.

There is no question that having a HF radio gives one access to a great deal of maritime info and fellowship and nets do great service to those in need. When you need help right now and are saturated with multi-tasking to deal with emergencies, I would reach for the sat phone unless a net was in operation.

BTW, the Maritime Mobile Saftey Net on Ham freq 14.300Mhz is on the air much of the day and a great first place to look for aid.
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Old 08-12-2009, 07:13 PM   #10
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Having HF radio and SSB aboard will help you in keeping in touch with other cruisers. This by itself can avert disaster simply because you may be able to keep more informed about the conditions you will encounter in your cruising grounds OR because you can obtain assistance with repair advice or relay a message for parts or other non-emergency assistance.

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Old 08-15-2009, 07:14 PM   #11
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It is not the equipment(SSB< HAM<VHF<DFC) that calls for rescue. It is the people. The people that are experienced, well prepared and well equipped rarely call for help. They cope with the situation by themselves. I believe that Eric Hiscock's point was that cruisers should be self sufficient for many good reasons; one of which is that a problem may occur out of reach of any assistance. Relying on the ability to call for help is foolhardy as the equipment you may depend on to call for help may not work. (Murphy's Law--"What can go wrong, will go wrong, at the worst possible time")

Marine communication gear is just one of the tools a mariner uses to stay out of trouble. A prudent mariner uses a wide variety of tools to sail safely. he uses them all competently to cross check his information in order to make wise decisions.

This brings up another point. Navigation. GPS and Chartplotters have revolutionized navigation. Nowadays one can buy a GPS Chartplotter, learn basically how to push the right button and sail off into the sunset being totally convinced that the little boat image on the chartplotter represents exactly where one is. And it is true. These devices are incredibly accurate and quite reliable.

Unfortunately any electronics can fail for a variey of reasons.

1./The electronics depend on 12/24 volt DC. Todays boats have complicated electrical systems to attempt to cope with the demand we put on them. The failure of any one of may components will kill the DC system. No electricty no GPS navigation.

2./The next problem is the electronic charts themselves. It is not unusual to find your GPS boat is sailing over dry land while your boat is actually in deep water or if you eyes are only on the GPS image your boat may end up on dry land when the GPS indicates that you are at sea.

3./EMP caused by a lightning strike on or close to the boat will fry most of your electronics, including GPS.

4./The GPS Chartplotter unit itself may fail to operate properly.

5./Finally an national or international emergency may cause the Military shut down or reduce accuracy of GPS coverage.

Every mariner should be fully able to navigate safely without GPS. As they say there are only two types of boaters; those who have gone aground and those who are going to go aground.
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Old 08-15-2009, 09:19 PM   #12
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Apolima,

I don't think the original post was made by someone planning on RELYING on the radio alone but rather they were opening up the topic of if it is reasonable/prudent etc to call for help using HF/SSB or any other radio for that matter.

Even the most prepared cruiser is going to have moments when they don't have what they need aboard to do what they need to do self-sufficiently. They can either stubbornly "go it alone" or they can reach out and communicate with others. Other folks may be able to provide advice or actual assistance.

I am reminded of the story of Paul Mitchell and SV White Cloud. A very experienced and self-sufficient sailing couple, the Mitchells operated a sail loft from their large cruising boat. They had every tool, everything they needed to be totally self-sufficient and to run their business. Sadly, the Mitchells ended up on a reef in the middle of nowhere in the South Pacific (this was in the 1980's as I recall...), they could not kedge off, they could not rely on a tide to get them off, they were well and truly stuck. When they realized this, they radioed for assistance. As it so happened, someone, a friend, with a large motor vessel was able to come to their assistance. As I recall the story, they had more than a days travel to get to White Cloud and then the Mitchells were able to off load many valuable things from White Cloud onto the other boat. Sadly, White Cloud was lost to the sea, but the Mitchells were OK and they were able to take the many things they rescued from White Cloud with them to another boat that they continued cruising on.

It is a good thing that they had a radio aboard to connect with another vessel to obtain assistance...
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Old 08-17-2009, 09:49 PM   #13
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Redbopeep,

Your point is well taken. If there are no other viable options it is rational to call for assistance. In fact it is wise to make contact with someone, if possible, to explain the problem and to say that we will attempt to rectify the problem so no outside assistance is needed at this time. This alerts the contact person and verifies that communication is possible. Also valuable expert advice may be available.

My feeling about personal responsibility is that we should do everything within our means to solve our own problems before calling on other to risk their lives and vessels. I see and hear of many who go out unprepared and when things go wrong and they become fearful then panic ( "Change the channel/I want to get off") so call for help instead of trying to solve the problem. The boats usually survive despite the reason the crew used for abandoning. Rescue services are designed to save people in real distress, not just because they have run out of ice for drinks or are uncomfortable.
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