Each year, an average of 2,000 people die at sea. Commercial seafaring is considered to be the second most dangerous occupation in the world; deep-sea fishing is the first. In 2013, 138 ships were beyond recovery and 85 of those ships had actually sunk below water level. On average, two ships a week are lost at sea, mainly due to failures in emergency response, engineering, and seamanship, especially when those factors are combined with a ship navigating in bad weather or remote surroundings. Even though cruise ships and passenger ferries usually attract the most attention, since they mainly carry people, freighter ships account for the large majority of accidents. 
To prevent being lost at sea, carrying some form of emergency signaling device should be considered imperative by any ship or person that’s traveling far from shore. Quickly notifying other ships when a ship and its crew are in danger, especially emergency responders like the Coast Guard, is the key to avoiding casualties. And, using a radar system and an emergency signaling device either integrated with a digital chart plotter, is the best form of protection, since this combination allows the entire ship to become an information hub, with the ship’s radar networked to the chart plotter and EPIRBs.
Emergency Signaling Systems
- AIS: Automatic identification systems (AIS) consists of a transmitter and a receiver that provides a way of identifying and gathering information on many boats and most commercial ships. The broadcast made by an AIS unit includes data like a ship’s name, size, destination, and speed. AIS is one of the newer forms of marine electronics and became mandatory on many commercial ships as a security measure in 2011.
- Chart Plotter: A chart plotter displays digitized charts on a screen with a real-time display of the ship’s exact location. All chart plotters offer a number of functions ranging from creating waypoints and routes to displaying navigational data like course over ground, speed, and time to destination.
- EPIRB & PLBs: Electronic position indicating radio beacon units (EPIRB) and personal locator beacons (PLB) both broadcast an SOS to satellites. EPIRBs are used when a boat needs assistance, and PLBs are used by individuals. Different models of each can be activated either manually or water-activated.
- Radar System: Radar broadcasts pulses which are reflected back by other boats or land, and are displayed either on a dedicated radar screen or on a multi-function display (MFD). Recreational units can look off into the distance for at least 20 or so miles and some can reach all the way out to 70-plus miles, although the height and nature of the target and the height of the radar antenna have a dramatic effect on a radar’s useable range.
- Satellite Phones: This is a mobile phone that connects to other phones or the telephone network by radio through orbiting instead of terrestrial cell sites. The advantage of this phone is that its use isn’t limited to areas covered by cell towers since it can be used almost anywhere.
- VHF Radio: Using very-high frequency (VHF) radio allows people to talk with other boats from 20 or more miles away. Due to digital selective calling (DSC), which all new VHFs are capable of, radio transmission can automatically let the authorities know exactly where someone is in case of emergency.
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