It was just after 1300 when the distress call came in last week - a good time, given that there were still some hours of light for a search. For the Coastguard station, monitored by volunteers, an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) distress was a signal to spring into action, adrenaline up. Half drunk coffee was forgotten, all knew their jobs.
The position was identified, on or near the coastline, which could mean a vessel on or nearing rocks or sand. The EPIRB was not registered, indicating it could be a foreign vessel, or an unregistered owner, so no phone call was possible to give an indication of the number of people on board or the kind of vessel. There was no time to waste. An all weather lifeboat was asked to assist, and coastguard rescue teams from two other stations were called. A rescue helicopter was scrambled. All the available assistance then sped to the scene.
After two and a half hours of desperate, then puzzled, searching, a fire damaged EPIRB was discovered, buried with other items, in a skip. The EPIRB had been in a shed that had caught light some time previously, and was believed to be broken. In fact, it was working perfectly, and had been picked up by multiple passing satellites, triggering a Coastguard response.
The incident happened last week in the UK's Yarmouth Coastguard, the EPIRB having fired off near Saltfleet in Lincolnshire. Called to assist were the Humber all weather lifeboat, and rescue teams from Donna Nook and Mablethorpe. It was Royal Air Force Rescue Helicopter 128 that scrambled to assist.
'EPIRBs are an excellent means of alerting rescue services to a distress situation,' said Watch Manager of UK's Yarmouth Coastguard, Mario Siano, 'but it's very important they are correctly registered so that we can quickly identify the source of the alarm and react accordingly. Without registering it, we get nothing more than an alert, a position and a beacon number, which makes our job that much harder.'
'It's also very important that you correctly dispose of all emergency alerting devices – in particular by remembering to remove the battery, even if you think it's dead. These devices are designed to be hard-wearing and take considerable punishment, so the only way to be sure it’s disabled is to remove the battery.'
Under the circumstances, Sail-World Cruising thinks his response was very mild.