Though some of life’s most enjoyable moments take place while boating, it’s no secret that Mother Nature can be unforgiving when it comes to the ocean. Indeed, the worst-case scenario is always a possibility. There have been many technological advances in marine electronics in recent years designed to help ensure safety on the water. Automatic-fire-suppression systems? They have been standard equipment on most boats for a while now. Automatically inflating PFDs? Introduced just a few years ago, they’re now common as well. EPIRBs? You can buy them at any marine-supply store for less than $1,000 or can rent them from BoatU.S. for about $50 per week.
Now comes the latest trend in marine safety: the man-overboard (MOB) alert system. Reliable, affordable, and way more practical and high-tech than a life ring, it promises benefits that are so obvious they hardly need explanation. If you don’t already have one on your boat, you’ll want to know more about them. So here’s an overview of the currently available systems and what to expect from each.
MOBi-lert launched in 2004, and we actually had its 720i installed on our Cruisers Incorporated 447 company boat Office Ours last summer. Fortunately, we never had to use it. The heart of the system is its rechargeable, waterproof personal transmitter, a base receiver that mounts in your boat, and an alert module that affixes to an easily noticeable location like your helm. When you remove one of the color-coded transmitters from the MOBi-lert’s charger and affix it to yourself, a guest, or a crewmember, it sends a message to the base unit indicating that it’s active. If the transmitter comes in contact with the water (i.e. you fall overboard), it activates what its U.S. distributor describes as an “extremely loud” alarm. Since the 720i is an “active” system, it constantly monitors the whereabouts of the transmitter(s), as opposed to a “reactive” system that sends an alert only when the transmitter/alarm-signaling device comes in contact with the water. The 720i doesn’t send GPS coordinates upon water contact, but MOBi-lert’s 7200 and 7600 series, designed for boats in the 45- to 65-foot size range (the 720i is designed for vessels 45 feet and smaller), feature a “track-back” screen that immediately appears on the MOBi-lert console to guide you back to where the wearer went overboard.
Australia-based MOBi-lert makes man-overboard systems like this one for boats up to 65 feet LOA. The higher-end units feature a track-back screen for rescue ops.
The 720i comes with two standard transmitters and retails for $895; it can handle up to six transmitters, which cost $160 each. The 7200 retails for $1,250, the 7600 for $2,050, and both systems can handle up to 18 transmitters.
Paradox Marine expects to enter the MOB-alert-system market sometime in the third quarter of this year with its Panic Pendant, which hangs on your wrist like a bracelet or from your neck on a chain. When the user is in distress for any reason and presses the button on the Panic Pendant, it sends a signal to the company’s Marine Magellan onboard security system, activating an alarm. The system also immediately dials as many as five pre-programmed telephone numbers and continues to do so until the call is acknowledged, at which time it plays a message that’s been recorded by the owner, indicating the nature of the emergency. The system then offers options to “press one to connect to the Marine Magellan” or “press two to disarm the system.” When integrated with one of the company’s Nav Trackers, it also sends an e-mail or text message to as many as four recipients containing information about the situation including date and time, lat/lon coordinates, the nature of the problem, and the speed and heading of the person in the water.
The $150 Panic Pendant from Paradox Marine links to a Marine Magellan security system and can be worn on the wrist or around the neck.
Although Paradox was still finalizing pricing information as this issue was going to press, the company expects the Panic Pendant to retail for about $150.
Although Raymarine launched its MOB LifeTag at the 2005 Miami International Boat Show, it wasn’t officially available to the public until November 2006. LifeTag, which can monitor as many as 16 individuals, is an “alarm-on-failure” system, which means that the receiver triggers an alarm whenever one of its constantly transmitting pendants goes overboard, is more than 30 feet from the boat, malfunctions, or loses battery power (Raymarine claims a 2,000-hour battery life), or when the wearer pushes the emergency button. PMY electronics editor Ben Ellison tested this system and says, "It works exactly as promised. The basic stand-alone system was easy to install and learn. The buzzer sounded if I wandered too far away or pushed the help button, plus you can disarm the alarm with the tag, and the [tag’s] multicolor LED tells you what’s going on," in terms of alarm, battery life, and transmit status.
The $695 Raymarine LifeTag is an alarm-on-failure system and can handle up to 16 pendants. We tested it and confirmed: It’s easy to install, and it works exactly as it's supposed to.
But the real icing on the cake is that LifeTag is compatible with Raymarine’s SeaTalk network, which links the life-saving device to Raymarine multifunction displays and automatically provides a go-to waypoint on your plotter so you can quickly find and retrieve your man overboard.
The complete starter system, which includes two LifeTag wireless pendants and receiver, retails for $685. Additional pendants are $115 each.
Sea Marshall SMRS8-LR
Sea Marshall’s $295 PLB hangs from your neck and was developed in England by a man whose father drowned at sea.
U.K.-based David Marshall, Sea Marshall’s CEO, lost his father to the sea when he fell overboard and drowned, and David nearly suffered the same fate. So it was no surprise that upon being rescued, David committed himself to developing an MOB system. The result is the Sea Marshall SMRS8-LR SOS, a personal locator beacon (for information on another type of PLB, see the ACR ResQFix review) that operates on a frequency of 121.65 MHz, which makes it compatible with standard international search and rescue (SAR) equipment.
The $295 beacon hangs around your neck via a rope antenna that gives off a bright light when immersed. After about 15 seconds of immersion, it automatically transmits SOS radio and light signals. The radio signal can be picked up by one of two base units, the $649 Crewguard CG121-MKII, which sounds an alarm only, or the SARfinder 1003, which sounds an alarm and displays the direction of the MOB in relation to the boat on a backlit display. The 1003 emits a radio signal that reportedly can be picked up by the boat at a distance of three nautical miles, by a helicopter at seven to 15 nautical miles away at an altitude of 1,000 feet, and by a fixed-wing aircraft at 35 or more nautical miles away flying at an altitude of 10,000 feet. The SAR 1003 is $2,795.
This article originally appeared in the June 2007 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.