Transpac's New Rule Stirs Debate

Water Ways
Honolulu Star Bulletin (10/17/98)
By Ray Pendleton

I've often said that I'm never sure if anyone - except my editor and my mother - ever reads this column, but that certainly wasn't the case with my recent report on Transpac requiring personal flotation devices (PFDs) to be worn at night during next year's race.

Once the text was put up on CompuServe's Sailing Forum - an Internet discussion group - sailors and cyberspace voyagers from around the world began debating the pros and cons of such a rule.

"If the Transpac directors really want to save lives, they would require all crew members to wear harnesses attached to the boat," renown sailor/author Earl Hinz proposed.

"Sailors should be free to sail anyway they want to," another voiced. "Taking risks is part of the attraction to some people."

"Would you feel that way if you were the sailor's parent, child or friend?" countered another.

Naturally, the question was never resolved, but the debate was educational and it led me to another question regarding successful ocean rescues.

What is the best device to help an overboard sailor be seen by rescuers? After all, locating a person floating in heavy seas has been likened to finding the proverbial needle in the haystack.

The Transpac directors have established that all PFDs will be equipped with strobe lights, and over the years other methods have been tried, such as signal mirrors, dye markers, smoke and incendiary flares, and lately, emergency position-indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs).

"All of these devices have limits to their usefulness," Dr. Robert Yonover, of Rescue Technologies, told me. "Batteries wear down, dyes, smoke and flares drift away or disappear quickly, EPIRBs are expensive and still require visual sighting, and mirrors require active use by the survivor.

"On the other hand, our SEE/RESCUE device provides continuous passive signaling that will enhance a person's visual target, without the need for batteries, chemicals, or electronics that all require regular, and sometimes costly, inspection and service."

The SEE/RESCUE Yonover speaks of is a brilliant orange polyethylene banner that deploys across the water from a small tube into a 11-inch wide, 40-foot long "exclamation point," with the survivor as the dot at the end.

Two versions - the one described above and a smaller, 6-inch by 25-foot model - were recently tested and approved by the U.S. Navy, Marines and Air Force for use in survival kits and life rafts. Both were detected in daylight from an altitude of 1,500 feet and from a distance of over one mile. And at night, they were visible with night-vision goggles.

"Once deployed, they operate indefinitely," Yonover said. "Or, until you're rescued."

If you are like me and need to be shown a product's effectiveness graphically, you should check out the SEE/RESCUE Internet web site at for a dramatic demonstration.

If you do not have Internet access and would like more information about this product, call Rescue Technologies at 483-3255.

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