Locator Device Could Help Rescue Stranded Fishermen

Source: John Wollwerth - 123RF

Commercial fishing ranks among the most dangerous professions, according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

Between 2000 and 2013, more than 660 American fishermen died at sea, of whom nearly one-third fell overboard.

CBS12 News reports that after a Treasure Coast fisherman was recently reported lost at sea after falling overboard, a push for more boaters and fishermen to wear small Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) while at sea has surfaced.

The small GPS devices, which cost a couple of hundred dollars, transmit an alert message using satellite frequencies to NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard.

The U.S. Coast Guard urges the user to register the beacon at beaconregistration.noaa.gov. Beacon registration is free and there are no monthly fees associated.

According to the NOAA, PLBs are portable units that operate much the same as EPIRBs or ELTs. These beacons are designed to be carried by an individual person instead of on a boat or aircraft.

Unlike ELTs and some EPIRBs, they can only be activated manually and operate exclusively on 406 MHz. Like EPIRBs and ELTs, all PLBs also have a built-in, low-power homing beacon that transmits on 121.5 MHz.

This allows rescue forces to home in on the distress beacon once the 406 MHz satellite system has provided the necessary position information. Some PLBs also allow GPS units to be integrated into the distress signal.

Since 1991, the NIOSH Western States Division (WSD) office in Alaska has conducted studies of fishing safety to reduce the incidence of injuries and fatalities among the nation’s fishermen.

Studies show that the greatest dangers to fishermen are vessel disasters, falls overboard, and machinery on deck.

NIOSH recommends that all fishermen should:

  • Take a marine safety class at least once every 5 years;
  • Find a comfortable PFD and wear it on deck at all times;
  • Do monthly drills including abandon ship, flooding, fire, and man overboard;
  • Heed weather forecasts and avoid fishing in severe sea conditions;
  • Maintain watertight integrity by inspecting and monitoring the hull of the vessel, ensuring that watertight doors and hatches are sealed, and inspecting and testing high water alarms regularly;
  • Utilize a man overboard alarm system; and
  • Test immersion suits for leaks if operating in cold water.