Beacons, radios key for ocean boating safety

- It was one of the most dramatic rescues the Tampa Bay area has ever seen.  

After two days of straddling an overturned boat, Nick Schuyler was pulled into a Coast Guard helicopter in the waters off Clearwater Beach in 2009. He was the lone survivor of a fishing trip where three others, including Oakland Raider Marquis Cooper, lost their lives.

According to Schuyler's book about the ordeal, the 21-foot boat didn’t have any Personal Locator Beacons, or PBLs.

PLBs are now standard on each Coast Guard crew member. They beam signals to satellites relaying information to rescue teams.

Similarly, a vessel's EPIRB, Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, automatically activates when submerged. They also have a manual button to send rescue crews a pinpointed location.

But in 2015, up to 96 percent of the almost 12 million registered boats didn't have one. Recreational boaters often rely on mobile phones instead.

"Cell phone service is a good back up but it could be spotty," says Coast Guard spokesperson Michael De Nyse. He also recommends buying a good radio.

"It's important to have a VHF radio on board and once you hit that alert button, on channel 16, letting people know you're in distress and giving them a digital location where you are, you're letting all the other mariners in the area know where you are as well," he explained.

Before you leave the dock, he suggests checking in using the free Coast Guard app. It lets you file a plan, which can let friends and family know where you are, where you plan to go, and when you plan to come back.

The app has buoy locations and state boating information. It also connects you with Coast Guard Auxiliary members like Jim Fogle, offering boat safety checks.

"We will send someone to your house, to your marina or to the dock to inspect your boat, and it doesn't have to be in the water, it can be on a trailer," says Fogle.

Most boating deaths are due to drowning, so most importantly, be sure to wear a life jacket. 

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