'For offshore voyages leisure sailors are recommended to carry a satellite form of communication.' These are the words of Britain's Maritime Coastguard Agency. This statement was the final statement at the end of a press release concerning the rescue of a solo sailor in a 22ft sailing boat headed for the Azores this week.
Satphones - are they to become mandatory
Does this mean that long range (or even short range) cruising sailors will be in future exhorted to carry a satellite phone, which has never been part of the automatic safety equipment for a sailing boat? Is it the first step toward making the carrying of such a phone mandatory?...and if in the UK, where else next?
The story goes that the sailor, being overwhelmed by Force 9 conditions (41-47knot winds, 7-10metre seas), set off his UK registered Personal Locator Beacon 40 miles south of the Lizard, thus prompting a search and rescue mission:
Falmouth Coastguard issued a Mayday relay message to ask for assistance from vessels in the area, which was responded to by two vessels, the Grace II and the Baltic Advance. Falmouth Coastguard also sent the Rescue Helicopter from RNAS Culdrose to the location of the beacon, along with requesting the launch of the Lizard RNLI Lifeboat. A French Customs Aircraft that was also in the area agreed to assist in the search. The weather on scene was particularly poor, with the lifeboat battling through force 9 strong gales and very rough seas to reach the yachtsman in distress.
At 9.04 am the Grace II confirmed they had spotted the casualty vessel, with the Baltic Advance, French aircraft and Royal Navy helicopter all arriving minutes later. The crew on board the helicopter were able to talk to the yachtsman over VHF radio, and he confirmed that he wanted to be taken off the vessel, which was being overcome by the rough seas and high waves. The lone sailor was then taken to RNAS Culdrose, where he is now being looked after by the Mission to Seafarers. The vessel has been abandoned.
However, it was the comments of Terry Collins, Watch Manager, of Falmouth Coastguard which were interesting, in that they actually made the carrying of a satphone (not HF radio) an official recommendation: Collins statement reads:
'The single handed sailor, who had sailed from his home in Jersey to Plymouth before setting off to join the sailing challenge to the Azores, set off his Personal Locator Beacon as his yacht was being overcome by the incredibly rough seas.
The conditions on scene today are not suitable for a small craft such as this and we do advise anyone setting out on the water take heed of weather forecasts and do not make journeys in conditions unsuitable for their vessel.
The locator beacon was crucial in the ability to rescue this person, as it was the only form of distress received ashore. For offshore voyages leisure sailors are recommended to carry a satellite form of communication.'