Last Minute Emergency Beacon Rental From BoatU.S. Foundation Saves Three Lives

U.S. Coast Guard helicopter homed in on EPIRB signal during search.

To learn more about the dangers of cold water immersion be sure to check out Boating Safety: 5 Minute Rule.

The day before departing Crescent City, California, on July 1 for an offshore passage bound for Alameda, California, the shore-bound father of one of three crewmembers aboard the 32-foot catamaran sailboat Catalyst wanted to ensure his daughter was safe. So he went to www.BoatUS.com/Foundation/epirb to rent an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB).

Normally costing about $800, the BoatU.S. Foundation rents the life-saving units for just $65 per week. The rental program is intended to fill the short-term safety need for occasional offshore cruisers. When activated by immersion in water or manually by pressing a button, the units broadcast an emergency mayday signal via satellite along with precise location information of the vessel in distress, allowing for a speedy rescue. A dedicated global satellite system relays 406-MHz EPIRB distress signals to rescue stations around the world.

The last-minute rental saved all three this past weekend when stormy seas led the crew to activate the beacon just minutes before massive waves capsized the vessel, plunging all three into the frigid Pacific waters 20 miles off Fort Bragg on the Northern California coast.

On Saturday July 4 with winds gusting past 50 mph and seas treacherous, the three crew -- two men in their 40s and a woman of unknown age -- activated the EPIRB at about 12:44 p.m. Soon after, 15-to-20-foot waves knocked the boat completely upside down, pinning all three underneath. Once they freed themselves from the overturned boat, the three lashed themselves to the overturned vessel, but without survival suits to protect them from the cold water, hypothermia quickly set in.

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter was able to home in on the signal given by the EPIRB, and after commencing a search pattern, quickly found the floating wreck awash in the sea. With the help of a rescue swimmer, Catalyst's three crew were quickly loaded into the helicopter for a life-saving flight to the hospital. The female crew member's body temperature was only 79ºF and pulse barely 30 beats per minute. All are expected to fully recover.

The signal from the EPIRB was the only distress signal received by the Coast Guard from Catalyst. The Coast Guard also credits the crew for staying with the boat after it capsized and filing a float plan, which allowed the rescuers to expedite the search.

"That EPIRB saved their lives," said USCG Lt. George Suchanek, an MH-65C Dolphin helicopter pilot that responded to the call.

The BoatU.S. Foundation EPIRB Rental Program is funded by the voluntary contributions of BoatU.S. members, and 65 lives have been saved since 1996. For more information, call 888-663-7472 or visit www.BoatUS.com/Foundation/epirb.