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9th District Great Lakes Public Affairs
U.S. Coast Guard

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News Release

May 22, 2013

Ninth Coast Guard District

Contact: U.S. Coast Guard Great Lakes


Office: (216) 902-6020

Mobile: (216) 310-2608

Coast Guard urges boaters to carry lifesaving equipment

Monday is 3rd day of National Safe Boating Week

Media Note: Coast Guard spokespersons in your area may be available to discuss the importance of safe boating and swimming for the duration of National Safe Boating Week. Please contact us at 216-902-6020 to check on availability. If no answer or after hours, wait for a voicemail prompt to be forwarded to a 24/7 on-call duty public affairs specialist. Click here for more information about the 9th Coast Guard District's NSBW outreach.

CLEVELAND — Continuing our active outreach during National Safe Boating Week, the 9th Coast Guard District is reminding Great Lakes boaters of the importance of carrying life-saving communication and emergency distress equipment.

While not all boating safety equipment is required by law, all the equipment described below can play a hand in saving lives during an emergency situation and is highly recommended by the Coast Guard. Click here to read a blog post about the importance of safety equipment.

The Coast Guard believes that some equipment is so essential that they will even provide it to boaters they are assisting. During a rescue or assist, Coast Guard rescue crews are prepared to pass on materials such as:

  • blankets, hypothermic kits or first aid kits;
  • communications equipment, such as a handheld VHF-FM radio or a message block, which is used to pass written messages to survivors;
  • various miscellaneous materials such as flares, survival knife or strobe light.

Click here to read a news release about Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City, Mich., assisting the Michigan State Police locate a lost kayaker in northern Michigan. The equipment dropped to the kayaker was essential in the ground search party locating him.

While many boaters rely on cell phones for emergency communications on the water, VHF-FM radios are much more reliable in the marine environment and work in areas where cell phones sometimes may not.  Additionally, when a mayday is broadcast over FM channel 16, the international hailing and distress frequency, response agencies and other nearby boaters can hear the distress call and offer immediate assistance. It is also a good idea for a boater to carry a cell phone in a waterproof container as a backup form of communication.

The Coast Guard also highly recommends all mariners equip their boats with emergency position-indicating radio beacons or personal locator beacons.

“EPIRBs and PLBs are absolutely invaluable during emergencies because they instantly alert responders to your distress, provide a precise GPS location, and give a description of your vessel when they’re properly registered,” said Cmdr. Joseph Buzzella, commanding officer at Air Station Traverse City.

EPIRBs and PLBs may be activated manually by the push of a button or automatically when coming in contact with water, depending on the model.

Additionally, in accordance with federal law, recreational boats 16 feet and longer are required to carry visual distress signals such as flares, smoke signals or non-pyrotechnic devices in all five of the Great Lakes, and vessels 12 meters or longer are required to carry sound-producing devices such as whistles, bells and gongs. State and local laws may require further safety equipment.

Last week, two people were assisted to shore by the Mooring Point Fire Department after they fired off an orange flare in the vicinity of Point Place, Ohio. At about 11 p.m., Coast Guard Sector Detroit received a report of an orange flare and diverted a boatcrew aboard a 45-foot Response-Medium, from Coast Guard Station Toledo, Ohio, already underway in the area. While Sector Detroit was gathering information, the Mooring Point Fire Department located the 24-foot pleasure craft with two people onboard. The two boaters confirmed they had shot the flare and, because they were prepared, they prevented a possible dangerous and long night in Lake Erie. Unfortunately, earlier this month, two men lost their lives near the same area of western Lake Erie.

The best equipment to have in an emergency situation is a plan. If a boater has a plan and follows through with that plan, the chances of surviving an emergency situation increases significantly. Plan to wear a life jacket at all times while boating. Plan to submit a float plan, which lets a third party know where you are going and when you plan to return. Plan on dressing for the water temperature and not the air temperature. Plan on having a registered EPIRB onboard your vessel. Plan on knowing your limitations. Plan on knowing navigational rules. Plan on knowing current and future weather conditions.

Federal requirements can be found in the brochure A Boater's Guide to the Federal Requirements for Recreational Boats.

  • All of these devices will greatly assist you if you are in distress.  Click here for more information on visual distress signals.
  • Click here to learn more about registering your EPIRB.
  • Start the season off right with a thorough boat inspection, including the hull and propulsion equipment. Pay particular attention to through-hull fittings and hoses that may have cracked or become brittle over the winter.
  • Obtain a free vessel inspection from the Coast Guard Auxiliary. Boating safety courses are also available.
  • Click here for additional boating safety tips
  • Click here to read a series of safe boating blogs published by the 9th Coast Guard District

For further boating safety information, check online at one of the following:

U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary:

Vessel Safety Checks:

National Safe Boating Council:

U.S. Power Squadrons:

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