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Coast Guard talks about preparedness

MIAMI - As the Miami International Boat Show was setting up, the Coast Guard briefed journalists at its Miami rescue coordination center on why boaters need to do their part so an “elegant, sophisticated” search-and-rescue system can work properly.

“We have all these wonderful tools, but unless you do your part it doesn’t work,” said Lt. Aaron Jozsef, a Coast Guard search-and-rescue controller in Miami.

As boaters headed to Miami for the show, Jozsef advised them to carry a 406 MHz EPIRB with GPS — integral to the unit or connected to it — so they can send a distress alert and location to the Coast Guard if they get into trouble.

He also recommended that they carry a DSC VHF radio, which with the push of a button sends a mayday signal and — embedded in that signal — the radio’s unique identifier number and the boat’s location (if it’s linked to GPS).

Both systems work most efficiently when the devices are properly registered, Jozsef said. Rescue center staff can quickly identify an EPIRB or a DSC VHF radio in a central registry from their unique identifier numbers if the boater has properly registered the devices.

Registration data identify the owner, boat, and — in the case of an EPIRB — emergency contacts that the rescue center can call to be sure it’s not a false alert. A high percentage of EPIRB alerts are false, so it’s important that the rescue center call the owner or emergency contact so the Coast Guard doesn’t go looking for a boat that is not in distress.

“Help us help you,” Jozsef said. Carry the safety gear. Know how to use it. Leave float plans with friends or family before setting off. Watch the weather. Notify the Coast Guard as soon as things start going wrong.

“Don’t hesitate,” he said.

And survive: Wear a life jacket and appropriate clothing, take a ditch bag and stay with the boat if you can.

“Know that if you are prepared and something goes wrong, someone will be looking for you,” he said.