Radios not required on surfboards after all

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin 05/04/02)
By Ray Pendleton

During its 2001 session, Hawaii's legislature attempted to create a new law for improving boating safety by requiring all boats to be equipped with emergency position-indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs).

The bill's rationale was based on the premise that if all boats had EPIRBs, in the event of an emergency, rescuers would be able to quickly pinpoint a vessel's location and effect a more immediate response.

At the time, I noted that given our state's isolation in the middle of the Pacific, such legislation had the beginnings of a good law. But for it to limit boaters' options to just EPIRBs and to demand it for all boats, no matter the situation, the bill was flawed by its simplicity.

To begin with, the cost of an EPIRB -- $500 to $1,000 -- would make it a very expensive piece of gear for the owner of a small boat who might never need it.

A less expensive and more versatile option to EPIRBs are VHF marine radios. The Coast Guard monitors them on channel 16 and if necessary, a boat's operator can explain the nature of the emergency. It can also be used for boat-to-boat or boat-to-shore communications.

And demanding an EPIRB aboard every racing canoe or every small sailboat in a racing fleet, when they are normally under the close supervision of committee boats, seemed a bit Draconian.

A friendly amendment, taking these items into account, was offered then by the Hawaii Ocean Safety Team (HOST), whose membership includes representatives from the Coast Guard, the state's Division of Boating and Ocean Recreation and the Honolulu Fire Department.

For some reason the amended bill failed to come out of last year's committee hearings. But, as they say, that was then and this is now.

This year's version of that legislation, Senate Bill 2309, has passed and will become law with Governor Cayatano's signature.

The bill's text points out that modern technology now allows recreational and commercial vessels to operate at greater distances from shore and thereby increases the risk of at-sea rescues.

But, it goes on to say that modern technology can also mitigate those risks by providing a quick means for boaters in distress to contact other boaters or persons on shore, and to alert the Coast Guard's search and rescue forces.

The beneficiaries of this law, it explains, include boaters, the general public -- in terms of less costly ocean search and rescue operations -- and rescue personnel, by making their jobs easier and safer.

Once in effect, the law will require all vessels operating beyond one mile from shore to be equipped with either a VHF-FM marine band radio or a 406 MHz-class EPIRB that is registered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The fine for violating this law will be up to $100 per day for as long as the violation is shown to have continued.

The only vessels exempt from this law will be canoes, jet skis, surfboards, paddleboards, kayaks and training sailboats when accompanied by a vessel equipped with a VHF-FM radio or an EPIRB.

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