Another digital 'big switch' will help boaters in distress

Rob Mathews
Rob Mathews
Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher Martinez
Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher Martinez

By Paul Drewes - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) - While you've heard about the big switch to digital TV, there is another switch that will help boaters in distress.

It's a relaxing day on the sailboat for longtime Honolulu resident Rob Mathews, back from another sail.

"We just came back from Molokai," said the island boater.

A trip he wouldn't have made without his emergency position indicating radio beacon or EPIRB, something he keeps on board in case there is a problem.

"I think in Hawaii its imperative, cause anytime you go out of the harbor you're in open ocean. The next stop if the trades are blowing is Tahiti." added Mathews.

Using alarms from these digital EPIRBS, the Coast Guard can pinpoint boaters in the ocean.

"It basically takes the search out of search and rescue. And allows us to go directly to the victims," said Petty Officer 1st Class Christopher Martinez, with the US Coast Guard.

The Coast Guard used to monitor analog EPIRB channels but not anymore. They've made the switch to a digital channel that greatly reduces false alarms.

With the old analog system, false alarms could be triggered by all kinds of things - like microwave ovens, garage door openers even FM radios.

Coast Guard crews would get 50-100 false alarms a day. Now that number has been reduced to two or three, giving them more time and resources to help boaters who really need it.

For boaters themselves, the digital switch gives them more peace of mind on our waters.

Because accidents and catastrophes can do more than just take the wind out of your sails, it can be a matter of life of death.

"The new EPIRB is like an American Express don't leave home without one," said Mathews.

EPIRBs are not required emergency equipment, but for those that do have the devices -

the Coast Guard reminds you to register it after you buy it. That way, important information is readily available in an emergency.