TEXAS BOATING by Lenny Rudow – August 2019

July 24, 2019
July 24, 2019

How Wide Is Your Boating Safety Margin?

THERE WAS A TIME when outfitting your boat with high-tech safety gear was prohibitively expensive. Those days, thankfully, are long gone.

In fact, there’s a slew of gear on the market today that can vastly improve your safety margin at a cost that’s shockingly low. Today there’s really no excuse for failing to have at least one of these aboard your boat.


ResQLink personal locator beacon (Photo Courtesy of ResQLink)

Having a PLB aboard your boat adds another layer of safety. Like an EPIRB, the PLB broadcasts an SOS along with your position data when it’s activated.

The new ACR ResQLink is the smallest floating personal locator beacon available today and it’s no larger than those old flip phones, yet it has the functions and features of a full-sized unit. It has a foldout antenna, a built-in strobe, and GPS functionality.

If you ever have the need to trigger it, the ResQLink utilizes the Cospas-Sarsat satellite system to alert the Coast Guard and give them your exact location. New models have a small LCD screen called the AquaLink View and have a battery life of up to 35 hours, a signal strength of 6.3 watts, and they float.

So, how much do you have to shell out for this type of capability? Just what will the latest and greatest in a PLB cost? Prices start at a mere $300 and there’s no monthly activation fee. That’s dirt-cheap, for the ability to send out an SOS anywhere, any time.

What about EPIRBS? These days, you can find them at the $400 price-point. A PLB goes with an individual, and EPIRBS are registered to a boat. They’re a bit larger, have more potent batteries, and often have more features such as strobes and the ability to float upright. Whichever you choose, these devices make your boat astronomically safer every time you leave the dock.

Digital Selective Calling (DSC)

If you have a VHF radio on your boat, this safety feature isn’t just inexpensive—it’s absolutely free. All fixed-mount VHFs built in the past decade have DSC capabilities. Many handheld models now have it as well, though the range is much more limited.

To take advantage of DSC you have to register for a (free) MMSI number, then program it into your radio. (Doing so is uber-easy—just pull up Google and type in “Get MMSI” and you’ll have it in moments). VHFs with built-in GPS will then be DSC-active. Those without an internal GPS will need to be interfaced with your chartplotter/GPS.

Don’t worry, this consists of merely connecting two wires: a data-in positive and a data-in negative on the radio with the data-out positive and data-out negative from the chartplotter. Any chartplotter that’s NMEA2000 compatible (which is virtually all chartplotters, these days) already has those wires hanging out the back, just waiting to be hooked up.

Google-up the model of your radio and chartplotter. It’ll take you all of 10 seconds to figure out how to do it and 10 minutes to actually attach the wires.

Once DSC is active, if you ever need to call the USCG in an emergency your radio will automatically broadcast not only your verbal communication, but also your exact GPS location, the size and type of your boat, your speed and direction of travel, and other information. The moment you hit the SOS button and say “mayday,” you give SAR personnel the critical data they need to get to the scene faster and more efficiently.


We won’t dwell on this one because unless you do your boating in West Uzbeki-beki-beki-stan-stan, you already know the score. Today’s belts and suspender-style PFDs are incredibly comfortable. In fact, you’ll forget you’re wearing one moments after clipping it on. Cheap ones go for about a hundred bucks, and even expensive ones with hydrostatic activation are only around twice that much.

Satellite Communicators

Satellite messengers have come a long way in recent years. Although they do require subscription plans, (as low as $12 a month for basic functionality), they offer a safety margin with added value. You can use them not only to call for help in an emergency, but also to send and receive text messages from virtually anywhere on the face of the planet, regardless of cell coverage.

Since Garmin purchased DeLorme a few years back, they’ve rolled out some interesting new models with greatly expanded capabilities. This triggered a dose of competitiveness in the field. SPOT also has new models, and features such as keyboards, LCD screens, and pairing with your cell phone. Pricing for these satellite messengers, once again, is amazingly affordable and ranges from just $150 to $400.

Wireless Kill Switch

Fell Marine’s wireless kill switch system. (Photo Courtesy of Fell Marine)

How often do you actually attach your outboard’s kill switch lanyard to yourself? If you’re like 99.9-percent of all boaters, you never even think about it.

We don’t blame you. Those lanyards are a pain in the keister. When you wear them, you’re more likely to lean too far the wrong way and shut off the engine by accident than you ever are to trigger it in an emergency. Yet, if you get thrown from the boat when you’re out alone, it can be a total lifesaver.

The answer? —a wireless kill switch. Both Fell Marine and Autotether make models with “base stations” that mount in the boat and attach to the kill switch. They have small key-FOB-like units you can wear as you would a watch or lanyard, or clip to a belt or PFD.

Distance or water immersion triggers them and shuts down your boat’s engine with no physical lanyard required. That. Is. Smart.


Email Lenny Rudow at [email protected]


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