This past Saturday morning, the 36-foot catamaran 'Cata-Tonic' was 80 miles southeast of Southport, NC in a 20-knot breeze when without warning, the boat’s mast and rig suddenly crashed down on deck, dangerously spilling sails, mast and rigging into the sea. While none of the three sailors aboard were injured, the tangled mess soon became more than a simple inconvenience when it began to drag underneath the boat, its sails catching the sea, threatening to capsize the boat or punch a hole in the hulls.
The loss of the mast also meant the loss of the boat’s VHF radio antenna. The captain then did what most sailors hope they never have to do: he activated the BoatUS Foundation rental Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB), and grabbed a handheld VHF to call a mayday, knowing that the little radio may not have the power or range to be heard from so far out to sea. 'Redundancy is essential for offshore passagemaking,' said owner Jon Rodnon. 'But we didn’t see any vessels on the horizon, and we were 40 miles offshore and 80 miles to the nearest port.'
Within minutes of its 9:30AM activation, the GPS-enabled BoatUS EPIRB had set the wheels in motion of US Coast Guard response. By 9:40AM, Coast Guard watchstanders hailed Cata-Tonic on the VHF, acknowledging both the EPIRB and VHF distress calls, advising a cutter has already been diverted to the location to investigate. By 10:15AM the cutter was firing a heaving line to Cata-Tonic, and then ferried over hydraulic bolt cutters to assist in cutting away the snarled mast, rig and sails. Once free, Cata-Tonic stabilized and her engines were started. Safely free of debris, she was able to make her way back to port for repairs.
Rodnon, who rented the EPIRB from BoatUS, said, 'The level of care and professionalism from BoatUS and the Coast Guard, and follow-up from BoatUS was superlative. I couldn’t be happier with the outcome. The EPIRB saved us and I can’t think of anything more important than having an EPIRB when going offshore.'
Said BoatUS Foundation EPIRB Program Manager Ted Sensenbrenner, 'Making emergency equipment available and affordable for those going offshore is one of the key missions of the nonprofit BoatUS Foundation. Our GPS-enabled EPIRBs are available for $65 a week and Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) can be rented for just $45 a week, making these life saving devices affordable for any boater looking to make an offshore passage or delivery like Cata-Tonic.' Boaters can go to BoatUS.org/epirb to rent either. Since 1997, the rental program has had 28 EPIRB activations and 69 lives have been saved.