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InReach of civilization and rescue

Jan 11, 2012

Any at sea emergency can be broken down into these six main phases:

Control phase: You must maintain control of yourself, passengers, situation, and vessel as best you can.
Communication phase:
It is vital to alert the authorities to obtain assistance, and report your condition and position.
Abandonment phase:
If and when it comes to abandoning ship.
Survival phase:
You protect yourself from the harsh environment and wait for rescue.
Location phase: The rescue personnel try and fix your position and send rescue forces out to rescue you.
Rescue phase: Rescue personnel have located you and are on-scene to take you back to civilization for medical treatment, if necessary.

You might have noticed that if the communication phase is successful that the survival, location, and rescue phases will be abbreviated, which helps ensure one’s ultimate survival. That is why I like to concentrate on communication devices in this newsletter. Since this latest device uses the Iridium communications network we will discuss it first.

Iridium is a chemical element with an Atomic Number 77 on the Periodic Table of Elements. Because Motorola was planning to use 77 low earth orbit satellites in their worldwide communications network, they named their system Iridium. It was later found out that 66 satellites would do the trick, but the name Iridium was retained. All 66 active satellites in the Iridium constellation are low earth orbiting (LEO) types that circle Earth at 485 miles altitude roughly every 100 minutes. These satellites not only communicate in the vertical plane to and from Earth, but also pass signals in the horizontal plane between each other. This is why it is the only truly worldwide communications system where a person in the North Pole can talk to a person in the South Pole in real time.

DeLorme (a service disabled veteran-owned small business) has incorporated an Iridium 9602 Short-Burst-Data (SBD) transceiver into its recently introduced inReach satellite communicator to take advantage of this worldwide coverage. This coverage is especially important for those who are above 70 degrees north or south latitude and who find themselves in some type of distress. This was the case in 2009 when Canadian Air Force Major, Meagan McGrath found herself trapped and stranded in a crevasse in the Antarctica wilderness. The Iridium system was her lifeline and even though it took rescue forces over eight hours to rescue her, it could have been much longer had she used the standard SAR distress alert system using a personal locater beacon (PLB). This is because the Polar Regions are being covered by six LEO SAR satellites that have 100-minute orbits and that use store-and forward mode of operation, all of which can cause added delays in alerting rescue authorities. Iridium, however, is practically real-time. Also a PLB is a one-way communications approach whereas Iridium is two-way which means you can communicate with your rescuers.

The inReach satellite communicator is compact and lightweight at less than 5 inches by 3 inches by 2 inches and weighing only 8 ounces which includes its two lithium batteries. It can be used as a standalone messenger where it sends out pre-loaded one-way text messages or triggers an SOS alert and even sends out periodic tracking mode signals. It is also designed to be paired with either an Android phone or a DeLorme PN-60w handheld GPS for full two-way messaging.

Besides being waterproof and buoyant, it is also impact-resistant and has a built-in GPS with accuracy of about five meters. All of these features make it a perfect back-up communications/emergency alert device for boats of any size and I would highly recommend carrying one on your next voyage. The costs are quite reasonable especially when one considers the two-way messaging and the device itself retails for about $250. There are three subscription categories with varying monthly costs and a one-time $11.95 subscription activation fee. After that the cost per month per category is as follows: Safety ($9.95/mo), Recreation ($24.95/mo), and Expedition ($49.95/mo).

If you would like to check out more about this capable little satellite communicator, then go to DeLorme’s inReach page at: http://shop.delorme.com/OA_HTML/DELibeCCtpSctDspRte.jsp?section=10820&minisite=10020

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Fredrick Gary Hareland holds an AAS degree in rescue and survival operations and in avionic systems technology and is a certified marine electronics technician and NARTE certified telecommunications technician. He has served in the U.S. Navy, Coast Guard, the Military Sealift Command-Pacific and has worked for Maersk Line Limited and Norwegian Cruise Line. Hareland currently works at China Lake Naval Air Warfare Station as a microwave-communications technician. He lives in Ridgecrest, Calif.

More articles by Fredrick Gary Hareland:
Using online tools to troubleshoot electronic gear

Cell phone boosters

Check your shore power

SpotHug GPS ship security alert system

Green solder blowback

Bumps in the night