The Press Newspaper

Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

The Press Newspaper


A perfect day on the water can quickly change. The boat may hit an unseen object, a wave may capsize the boat, a sudden storm may make it too difficult to navigate, or equipment may fail.

In situations like these, owning and registering an emergency locator beacon can mean the difference between life and death.

Representatives from the National Safe Boating Council say they hope stories of boaters and their loved ones facing tragic outcomes will resonate with others about how an emergency locator beacon can save lives.

These boaters were truly “Saved by the Beacon.”

“Boaters may feel confident they are safe because they have a VHF radio or cell phone,” said survivor John Silverwood, who was sailing with his family of six when they hit a reef late at night. “We had other communication devices, but what got us the help that saved our lives was the EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon).”

Survivor David Hope and his crew were caught in a severe storm that made their 37-foot vessel inoperable.

“A U.S. Coast Guard Falcon jet homed in on the EPIRB signal and came right to us,” Hope said. “It takes just a few minutes to purchase and register a 406 MHz beacon that might become a lifetime of survival.”

Many boaters operate in locations beyond cell phone towers and the line-of-sight capabilities of their VHF radio, so an emergency beacon can make the difference between life and death.

“It’s relatively new technology. People do use them and it’s very wise to have them on board,” said Officer Sarah Genzman of the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Division of Parks and Watercraft.

“As officers, we haven’t seen many in use, but as technology progresses and they become a little more accessible, I think more and more people will use them. In combination with having a life jacket and having an emergency beacon on board, it can dramatically increase rescue time.

“Basically, if a boat capsizes and someone is in a boating emergency out on the lake, this device will send a satellite signal directly to emergency services and allow us to pretty much find where these people are in a relatively small radius.

“We actually have one on our patrol boat, and what happens is if our boat would capsize, you can manually remove it from the cradle, or as the boat would begin to submerge, the device would release from the cradle, sending a satellite signal with our GPS location and distress signal advising that we are in trouble, which would go to the Coast Guard and emergency services. The one that is on our boat has a bright light that would shine, so if it was at night, that bright beacon light as well as that GPS signal would allow help to come.”

An emergency locator beacon alerts search and rescue assets by transmitting a coded message on the 406 MHz distress frequency via satellite to the nearest rescue coordination center. Boaters mount an EPIRB which is registered to the vessel, waterproof and may be manually or automatically activated. Personal Locator Beacons (PLB) are registered to the person, may be operated on land or water, and must be manually activated with the antennae out of the water with a clear view of the sky to properly function.

All emergency locator beacons must be registered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. In 2015, 138 people were rescued at sea thanks to the international Cospas-Sarsat Program, which uses satellites to relay distress signals from emergency beacons to a network of ground stations. This year, already 175 lives have been saved.

Saving lives in western basin
Officer Genzman says she has seen incidents in the western basin of Lake Erie that might have turned out differently if a beacon was on board.

“In the western basin, I have not experienced anyone in an accident situation that has used a beacon. The incidents that we’ve responded to, I could see where a beacon would have dramatically helped our rescue effort. It’s hard to say,” Genzman said.

“In a lot of the situations that I have been involved with, I can remember one in particular. Several fishermen, their boat had capsized relatively quickly, and they didn’t have any type of VHF radio and they didn’t have a beacon or anything like that. All they had on board was a cell phone and as their boat sunk, they are trying to dial 911 and their fingers were wet so they couldn’t get the phone call out. In their situation, it would have dramatically helped those gentlemen.”

Last week, Genzman was teaching an Ohio boating education course at Bass Pro Shop in Rossford. The eight-hour course is offered year-round and state law requires that anybody born after Jan. 1, 1982 is required to take a safe boater course in order to operate a boat over 10 horsepower. Genzman suggests older boaters should take the course, too.

“The older people who have been grandfathered into this law — we see a lot of these experienced boaters coming into this course just to kind of hone their skills and get some updates,” Genzman said. “The class is very current and there is a ton of information in there. We hear a lot of boaters say that even with a lot of experience they will take a lot away from the course.

Geznman teaches the course approximately a dozen times a year to western basin boaters, but ODNR watercraft officers are offering the course statewide, too.

“The main thing we’d like to get across is risk management, safe operation in coordination with wearing your life jacket and in coordination with the proper distress signals. Especially on Lake Erie, we see a lot of fishermen going out in kind of a shoulder season, the spring and the fall, and the air temperature is still warm but the water temperature is low,” Genszman said.

“There are still a lot of fishermen on Lake Erie and its just the whole idea of risk management, wearing your life jacket. We have the Wear It Ohio campaign where the Department of Natural Resources is strongly encouraging people to wear their life jacket in any situation, especially this time of year.”

Rachel Johnson is executive director of the National Safe Boating Council, the lead organization for the ‘Saved by the Beacon’ campaign, produced under a grant from the Sports Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund, administered by the U.S. Coast Guard. Press staff writer J. Patrick Eaken was invited to add his comments based on his interview with Officer Genzman.

Learn more how an emergency locator beacon can save your life during an emergency at For more information about boating safety, follow the National Safe Boating Council at and #savedbythebeacon




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