Smart Phone App usage at sea

Are App-Based Alarms Reliable for Man-Overboard Rescue?

Fall overboard (FOB) occurrences are much more common than we would like to believe. A simple trip on the deck or dock, excessive speed, or even a storm can cause people to fall off the boat. The problem is that within seconds, the fall overboard victim can drift at least 100 feet from the boat, making it difficult to find the person who fell overboard. It is critical to wear a PFD, but just as important is to invest in an alarm to notify the boat and crew of the man-overboard for immediate rescue. This testimonial highlights how fast a fall overboard can happen.

As the reliance on our smartphones continues to increase, so does the usage of apps as utilities and even man-overboard alarms. Over the last 3 years, several apps have been created to serve as man-overboard alarms. These apps rely on Bluetooth technology to notify the app of a loss signal i.e. man-overboard and trigger an alarm on the phone. I decided to do a little research to better understand the reliability of these apps as a man-overboard alarm. I summarized my learnings below. Although an app can appear cheap and easy to use, there are a lot of variables to manage – fully charged phone battery, open application, phone/tablet readily available, reliable Bluetooth connection, and more. In conclusion, when it comes to boat safety and preventing needless man-overboard injuries and fatalities, it is worth it to invest in an alarm system that you can set and forget.

Connection Reliability and False Alarms

These app-based systems trigger an alarm when the beacons or devices worn by the person lose connection with the phone app. This connection is relying on Bluetooth. Unfortunately, Bluetooth on a good day has a range of about 150 feet and can be much less on a phone. This reliability on Bluetooth on a boat has resulted in triggering many false alarms. The person wearing the beacon may just be going down to the galley of the boat, lose Bluetooth connection, and then the app triggers the man-overboard alarm. These false alarm triggers can become exhausting to manage and even result in losing trust in the application, never knowing if the alarm is indicating a real man-overboard situation or just another false alarm. When it comes to investing in a man-overboard alarm, it is critical to have a system in place that you can trust the connection, signal, and viability of the alert to be able to respond immediately.

Charged Phone or Tablet Battery and Battery Consumption

Reliance on an app also means that you are reliant on your phone or tablet. Unfortunately, this means that your phone needs to be fully charged, readily available, and most likely connected to power as the Bluetooth will quickly drain battery life on the device. The reality is that most people don’t have a fully charged device on hand. If the device is charged, it will not stay charged for long, in which case it needs to be connected to a power source and therefore not as readily available in case of a fall overboard emergency.

Software and Hardware Compatibility

Most of these app-based systems require your smartphone or tablet to have Bluetooth 4.0 or higher. They also have hardware requirements i.e. iPhone/iPad 5 or later. Hardware and software systems are constantly evolving, which may require investments in hardware and software on a more regular basis to ensure that the app can be used.

Phone or Tablet Location and Availability

The reliance on the app’s device may require a dedicated tablet or phone just for this app-based man-overboard alarm system. We are used to living with our phones tethered to our bodies – in our pockets, hands, and sometimes we even forget where we leave them. This app will not be effective if it is in the man overboard’s pocket or somewhere else on the boat that is not easily accessible.

Alarm System Setup and Pairing Devices to the App

As easy as it can be to download an app to a tablet or smartphone, it can still be challenging to pair the man-overboard beacons to the app. Some of the forums that I came across indicated that it was sometimes very challenging to pair the beacons to the app.

When it comes to man-overboard safety, it is critical to know that the connection between the transmitter or beacon and the receiver or app is reliable and constant. When it comes to setting up any system, ease-of-setup is essential and the ALERT Transmitter and Receiver are created to automatically connect and maintain that connection at all times.

Fall-Overboard Rescue

When it comes to an actual fall overboard situation, it is critical that the alarm immediately alerts the crew and that there is a way to locate the man-overboard person. Some of these apps can take 5-10 seconds to sound the alarm after losing connection. In a man-overboard situation, every second counts. By 10 seconds a person may already have drifted 100 yards. Click here for an article about the activity of a fall overboard situation within the first minute.

There is a high likelihood that someone could fall overboard when it is dark or there is low lighting. Ideally, there is lighting on the man-overboard device to help find the person who fell overboard. It is best to have a device that has a strong light on it to help identify the person in the water. Some app-based systems don’t have LED lights on the units attached to the person involuntarily in the water. This could mean the difference between life and death.

There is a lot of confusion in the marketplace for effective fall overboard alerting. Emerald Marine Products has compiled both a presentation and an article to hopefully clarify the strengths and weaknesses of the products and technology acting as fall overboard alarms. Emerald Marine Products specializes in products specific to fall overboard situations. Alerting, training, retrieval, and recovery – the complete package to put you and your crew at ease when concerned about someone involuntarily entering the water.

Learn more about Emerald Marine Products’ set it and forget it man-overboard alarm system. For additional information about preventing fall overboard occurrences, check out Key Learnings from the American Waterways Operator’s committee panel discussion.


United States Coast Guard

United States Coast Guard Issues Safety Alert Reassessing Man-Overboard Risks

On April 24th, The United States Coast Guard released a Safety Alert reassessing man-overboard risks in response to a fatality that occurred while a personnel exchange was taking place at sea. You can read the full Safety Alert here  In the Alert it was stated, The ship’s Boatswain and Ordinary Seaman (OS) were manning the port side shell access port and pilot embarkation space behind a hydraulically operated bi-fold hatch door and were preparing for the pilot’s arrival. The port was located forward of the house and approximately 13-feet above the waterline. The Boatswain and OS were unable to monitor the seas from their position behind the hatch door. As the two crew members were in the process of opening the door, seas unexpectedly struck and violently forced it open, flooding the space. The OS was not wearing a harness or safety line nor a personal flotation device; he was subsequently swept out to sea. The Boatswain was forced onto the deck whereby the pilot ladder fell on him, fracturing his leg. The side shell door also sustained structural damage during the incident. Coast Guard Sector New York launched an extensive search and rescue mission that was terminated with no success after 28 hours. The OS was lost and presumed dead.”

The Safety Alert goes on to state, “This casualty reiterates the dangers of personnel exchanges at sea, especially in heavy weather conditions”. Emerald Marine Products agrees that casualty can occur in heavy weather conditions but we have historically seen casualties and near fatalities relating to man-overboard incidents occurring even in calm weather conditions. As reported in the past, man-overboard incidents are caused from many conditions, such as tripping on misplaced objects, dehydration, exhaustion, poor training. Regardless of weather, actions should be taken by companies to assure their employees are protected.

The Safety Alert goes on to state; “The Coast Guard strongly recommends owners and operators of deep draft vessels:

  • Review vessel Safety Management Systems, procedural manuals and guidance that relate to pilot transfers and update as appropriate, considering risks revealed by this casualty;
    • Reinforce the importance for crew members to wear personal protection devices and safety lines when working over the side of a vessel, when exposed to the elements or when there is an absence of a barrier that prevents an accidental water entry;
    • Ensure officers and crew identify potential hazards and conduct a risk assessment, to include consideration of weather conditions, prior to opening the side shell port hatches;
    • Ensure crew communications between Navigation Watch Officers and crew are clear and provide suitable supervision of activities, considering sea state and other changing conditions.”

Emerald Marine Products has heard that more Form CG-835V have been issued to companies that don’t fully comply with Management Safety Systems (SMS) or Towing Safety Management Systems (TSMS). In light of this latest Safety Alert, we are sure the US Coast Guard will be actively looking at many companies compliance with SMS or TSMS.

When companies review their SMS or TSMS policies they should seriously look at the ALERT Man-Overboard Alarm System. In the case of the tragedy outlined earlier, the use of the ALERT system would have helped to track the seaman who was swept out to sea. The ALERT Man-Overboard System is recognized as the leading and fastest indicator of a man-overboard situation. Our automatic water activated transmitters report to the wheelhouse or other monitoring station within seconds of a MOB. A visual of a person in the water will assure a quick response and will be integral in the execution of your MOB recovery outlined in your SMS or TSMS. Why not invest in an alerting system that compliments your mandated MOB procedures? The investment is a fraction of your cost to implement a SMS or TSMS and will pay dividends by providing your employees with the confidence that in the event of a man-overboard incident, the crew will be notified within seconds, and tracking in the event that the MOB is lost will help in their quick recovery.

For more information about our products and how we help companies comply with their Safety Management System or Towing Safety Management System procedures, contact Emerald Marine Products via this contact link or call, 800-426-4201.


OSCAR – Water Rescue Training Dummy in action

Recently Kenny Brown, Founder of Maritime Throwdown used OSCAR – Water Rescue Training Dummy to show the differences between a retrieval of a Man-Overboard (MOB) with and without proper retrieval equipment. Thank you Kenny for a well produced video. Every maritime company doing MOB drills should look at OSCAR – Water Rescue Training Dummy as a cost-effective and efficient training dummy. Your employees will appreciate both your concern for their lives and their backs as they carry our lightweight (when empty) and full weight (when filled with water) dummy to provide realistic MOB retrieval exercises.


R/V Thompson off coast from Emerald Marine Products

R/V Thomas G. Thompson pays a visit to Emerald Marine Products

Can you imagine our surprise today as we were testing an ALERT2 Receiver bound for the R/V Thomas G. Thompson (currently in midlife overhaul) when we saw the R/V Thomas G. Thompson from our building. The Thompson is currently undergoing sea trials in Puget Sound. It was a great feeling knowing the product we were testing for use as their Man-Overboard Alarm System was just a mile from our facilities.


Instructors Agree on OSCAR Water-Rescue Training Dummy

Recovering someone who has fallen into the water is no easy task, especially if the victim is unconscious or lethargic due to cold temperatures. Training is essential to prepare potential rescuers for how difficult it can actually be. The OSCAR Water-Rescue Training Dummy™ from Emerald Marine Products is used by safety instructors across North America for teaching people what it’s like to retrieve a lifeless, 180 lb. adult.

“It’s definitely eye-opening,” says Alaska Marine Safety Education Association (AMSEA) instructor and US Coast Guard civilian commercial fishing vessel safety examiner Steve Kee. “It drives the point home that it’s not easy to yank a crewmember back on board.”

US Code of Federal Regulations 28.270 calls for those in charge of a commercial fishing vessel to conduct monthly safety drills to ensure everyone is familiar with their duties, including recovering someone from the water. Kee provides the 10- and 18-hour USCG-accepted drill conductor training to those who will oversee the monthly training sessions.

Atlantic Beach Rescue department chief Jonathan Kohan agrees. “From a command and control perspective, you want to train like you operate. It’s hard to put rescuers in real time situations when they haven’t trained in critical mass. It’s very different than lifting a straw or Styrofoam dummy.”

Situated on a barrier island, the small community of Atlantic Beach, New York, swells in the summer months to 15,000 people. Atlantic Beach Rescue is a first response agency with 38 volunteer rescuers. Its technical water team trains year-round.

OSCAR is a set of rugged vinyl bladders that when filled with fresh or seawater, realistically mimic the size, weight and jointed handling characteristics of a 6′, 180 lb. adult. Fitted with a PFD or immersion suit, it imitates a lifeless MOB victim in every way. After use, it is drained and weighs a mere 35 lbs. It can even be disassembled for easy transport. A video is at bit.ly/2h3AVEY.

Emerald Marine Products’ OSCAR Water Rescue Training Dummy comes with a one-year warranty on parts and labor, and costs $699.


University Readies Its Ships Against MOB Incident

Safety is important on any boat, even more so when scientists and inexperienced students are working on deck. The School of Oceanography at the University of Washington protects those on board its two research vessels with Emerald Marine Products’ ALERT Man-Overboard (MOB) Alarm Systems™. If someone should fall overboard, an alarm instantly sounds, providing critical extra time for a successful recovery in the cold Pacific Northwest waters and points beyond.

The university purchased ALERT2 systems for its 274′ R/V Thomas G. Thompson and 66′ R/V Clifford A. Barnes. Each is equipped with an ALERT2 Receiver, 18″ whip antenna, seven Transmitters with Spray Tight Pouches and a Man-Overboard Portable Direction Finder to pinpoint the victim in darkness or heavy seas.

Especially on the smaller Clifford A. Barnes, where people are often alone on deck, everyone wears a work vest and has access to a small and lightweight ALERT2 Transmitter. If the unit is immersed in water, it triggers the receiver to activate a piercing alarm in the wheelhouse. Unlike MOB systems that rely on satellites, like AIS, the ALERT2 is instantaneous.

There’s a need for immediacy. At even a mere 3 kts, an MOB will be 100′ astern in just 20 seconds. The sooner crew can launch a locally-managed rescue operation, the greater the success will be.

“We chose the ALERT system because of its simplicity and affordability—it’s a good value,” said Capt. Douglas Russell, manager of marine operations. “And, we received great customer care during the purchase process.” Package prices start as low as $1,068.

Founded in 1930, the Seattle-based School of Oceanography at the University of Washington provides its students with the academic tools and resources to study the marine environment, and its interaction with the earth and atmosphere. It offers baccalaureate and graduate degree programs. Its website is www.ocean.washington.edu.