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Electronic lifelines: MOB insurance

Raymarine LifeTag

Raymarine's Life Tag provides an audible alert when a person or pet goes over the side.The LifeTag system addresses the MOB situation on a scale geared more toward larger vessels. The system provides not only an audible alert when a person goes over the side, but also SeaTalk integration with Raymarine multifunction displays and instrument systems.

LifeTag can trigger the automatic MOB function in compatible chart plotters, radars and instruments, providing audible and visual alerts to all stations; record GPS coordinates of the MOB event, making it the target waypoint; and lower the range scale on connected plotter and radar displays. There is also a built-in relay contact for triggering external devices, such as lights or horns.

The basic LifeTag system consists of one base station and two personal pendants, or “tags,” worn by crewmembers. The system has the ability to monitor up to 16 tags and can be further expanded by purchasing additional “repeater” base stations. Each repeater base station added will increase the systems-monitoring capability by 16 crewmembers.

The base station and repeater stations are designed to be surface-mounted vertically and hard-wired, as they require a fused external power source of 8 to 16 volts DC. Each station measures 4-3/4 by 2-3/4 by 1-3/8 inches, with wiring pigtails extending from the lower edge of the plastic housing. Two electrical cables exit the case: the SeaTalk power/data cable and the included remote alarm buzzer pair. Another pair of wires would be required if the 12-volt auxiliary output is used. I would have preferred the option of running the wiring out the back of the base station, which would protect the wiring and provide a more professional-appearing installation.

Installing a LifeTag system interfaced with SeaTalk requires a double pole switch in the SeaTalk cable, while only a single pole switch is required without SeaTalk. Neither switch is provided. The repeater base station must be connected through a SeaTalk three-way connection block (not provided). Wiring and terminations within the base stations use push-in connections that are well laid out.

The base station will emit a chirp when powered up, but there are no visual indicators to confirm operation. This is a critical piece of safety equipment and, as such, I think it should have a readily visible indicator light confirming system status. The audible, remotely mounted “buzzer” provided with the system produced 84DBc at three feet, more than most other on-board alarms.

The plastic buzzer measures 2-1/4 inches in diameter, 1-1/2 inches thick, and includes a small zinc-plated steel surface-mounting bracket and 12-inch wire leads. For a decidedly high-tech system, Raymarine might have given a bit more consideration to its mounting and installation.

The personal tags for the system measure 2 by 2-1/4 by 1 inch, weigh 1.65 ounces, and float. They can be attached to a crewmember’s belt or PFD with the included closed clip, placed in a pocket, or strapped to an arm or wrist with the included hook-and-loop strap. The tags also feature an eye that can be used to attach a lanyard or keychain. I dropped one in a jacket pocket along with keys and completely forgot about it for the afternoon without incurring any false alarms. Each tag is powered by a single CR2 lithium battery that Raymarine says has a 2,000-hour life. The alarm will sound if the tag’s button is held down for five seconds, if the tag is submerged for longer than 10 seconds, or if the tag is out of range of the base unit (approximately 30 feet) for 10 seconds or more.

The Raymarine LifeTag System, with its 16-person capability and electronics interface, can certainly provide MOB alert coverage for an entire family, crew and pets. By providing lat/lon coordinates within seconds of the incident (when interfaced with appropriate on-board electronics), it offers security in knowing you can return to the exact location to retrieve the person. The ability to easily provide MOB monitoring for a large number of people and pets makes the system valuable aboard larger vessels, especially those that already make use of the Raymarine SeaTalk system.

The basic LifeTag System retails for $695, which includes the master base station and two tags. Additional tags are $115 each, and the repeater base station retails for $469. www.raymarine.com

ACR ResQFix

The ACR ResQFix PLB has a 16-channel GPS to transmit the wearer's position, along with their personalized identifier code.The ACR ResQFix 406 GPS personal locator beacon is a last-ditch “send in the cavalry” device. The ResQFix PLB does one job, and it’s the one job you’ll need done when everything else fails.

The PLB is manually deployed and activated. With the push of a button, the ResQFix will use its internal 16-channel GPS to acquire and transmit your position, along with your personalized identifier code, through the COSPAS-SARSAT satellites, instantly alerting search-and-rescue forces that you need immediate help. ACR makes it clear that PLBs are not to be misused: “AUTHORIZED FOR USE ONLY DURING SITUATIONS OF GRAVE AND IMMINENT DANGER.”

PLB registration with a “national authority” is mandatory, which in the case of devices purchased in the United States is NOAA (www.beaconregistration.noaa.gov). Required information is clearly marked on the PLB and in the manual; registration is free and can be updated as often as you need. On the registration site you’ll find provisions for change of ownership or contact information if you lend the PLB to a friend.

The manual provides a telephone number for the U.S. Air Force Rescue Coordination Center to report a false alarm, but unfortunately it doesn’t appear on the unit. There are severe penalties for not immediately reporting a false alarm, so I’d want that number handy. However, the PLB’s design makes it nearly impossible to activate the unit unintentionally. The on/off button is covered until the antenna is deployed.

The ResQFix PLB weighs 10 ounces, measures just under 6 inches tall, 2-1/4 inches wide and 1-1/2 inches thick. It will float, but only with the aid of its included neoprene flotation pouch. A very effective belt clip and an 18-inch bungee lanyard are included, so there are options for attaching it to yourself. I attached the ResQFix to my belt during a full day of working in the shop. The belt clip worked exceptionally well. The unit stayed put, and I actually forgot I was wearing it.

The PLB is waterproof to 16-1/2 feet for an hour. Battery life exceeds the required 24 hours for a Category 1 PLB and, according to ACR literature, typically tops 40 hours at minus 4 F, longer in higher ambient temperatures.

The PLB includes a self test of internal circuitry, battery voltage and power, 406 MHz transmission, and GPS acquisition. ACR recommends performing the simple test monthly. The PLB’s condition can be confirmed without deploying the antenna and without risk of activating the distress signal. To activate the unit in an emergency, unfasten the antenna from the case, move it into the upright position (exposing the on/off button), and press the button for one second.

What I truly like about PLBs is they are personal devices. It seems that I spend a lot of time aboard boats that I don’t own, and many have marginal safety equipment. I always take along my inflatable PFD and a belt pouch with a small amount of traditional MOB gear.

ACR is a company with worldwide recognition and acceptance. Its PLBs are used by the U.S. military, Coast Guard and NATO, to name a few. With a retail price of $599, it is worth serious consideration. www.acrelectronics.com



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