When handheld electronics are mentioned, first thoughts may be of simple devices that are appropriate for use on small boats and tenders but that do not have the capability of more sophisticated electronics onboard. That may have been the case in years past but today’s technology has improved and miniaturized so much that there is now a wide variety of capable handheld devices that can improve your time on any size vessel. From fully capable and featured VHF handhelds to two-way satellite communicators and personal locator beacons, impressive technology that fits in your pocket is no longer relegated to just your smartphone.
All in One VHF Handhelds
One of the latest truly useful offerings now available from major marine VHF manufacturers worth consideration is the inclusion of an integrated GPS in handheld models. Handhelds such as the Cobra MR HH600, the Icom M93D, Standard’s HX870 and Uniden’s MHS235 all offer a full-featured handheld VHF with the addition of an internal GPS. Apart from the obvious advantage of having a secondary or back-up GPS aboard, having a built-in GPS enables the handheld to have Digital Selective Calling (DSC) capability. As is found on any current model fixed-mount radio there is a button on the handheld that when depressed will send an automatic distress signal with your individual MMSI (Marine Mobile Service Identity) number along with position information in the form of GPS coordinates. In the past the ability of transmitting your position information along with a distress signal was only possible through a fixed mount radio either hardwired to a GPS or chart plotter or through a newer fixed-mount VHF with built-in GPS. Having this feature in a handheld VHF has obvious advantages, the main being you can take it with you anywhere, overboard, in a life raft or on a trip to shore. By doing so you also have a GPS that can aid in navigation and situational awareness and you can even mark and store important waypoints while you are away from the mother ship or while in the tender. Key waypoints can also be preloaded in the radio and it can serve as a portable back-up should your main system go down. Features and ease of operation vary by manufacturer, so be sure to get a feel for which will be easier for you to operate on the water prior to purchase. Whichever is chosen boaters now have versatile and capable communication in the palm of their hand.
Texting without a Smartphone
Garmin now offers another interesting development in a handheld communicator. The Garmin inReach communicator gives its user global satellite connectivity in a small versatile handheld unit. With this device, users can send and receive text messages or text emails from anywhere in the world via the 100% global Iridium satellite network. The size of a small handheld GPS unit, it picks up with texting communication where your cell drops off out of range. It easily pairs up with your phone via an intuitive app that allows you to operate its messaging functions directly from your phone as you normally would. This feature-rich device can also be used to trigger an interactive SOS message. The signal is received by a professional global monitoring center (GEOS) that can then confirm receipt of the message and notify you that help is on the way. You can even identify your emergency situation and get a confirmation that the appropriate type of help is on the way. GEOS will stay in contact with you until help arrives and can potentially also offer life-saving assistance until emergency services arrive on the scene. This life-saving device can also act as a tracking device. You can let others know of your progress or have them ping the unit and see where you are via MapShare. If you are not in trouble but want to know what the weather is going to be like you can get that information displayed on the inReach, too. Weather information is displayed in three formats based on your subscription. At the time of writing plans are available starting at $11.95 a month and go to $79.95 a month for a plan with unlimited text messages and a lot more. If use is intermittent they offer what are called Freedom Plans that are month to month and can be suspended and reinstated, starting at $14.95 a month. Check Garmin’s web site for the latest subscription offers. There are two models available, the inReach SE+ and the inReach Explorer+ which has all the features of the SE+ with the addition of preloaded DeLorme TOPO maps with onscreen GPS routing as well as a digital compass, barometric altimeter and an accelerometer. Having all this capability in a compact life saving device for under $500 makes the inReach a good option for those venturing out of cell range.
Ocean Signal, a British company that produces emergency rescue beacons, has developed a small device that can fit in the palm of your hand and is capable of providing a safe and speedy recovery should a crewmember go overboard. The MOB1 is the world’s smallest personal locating AIS (Automatic Identifier System) man overboard device with DSC (Digital Selective Calling) capability. Easily attached to your inflatable lifejacket’s inflation tube the MOB1 will activate automatically when the jacket inflates and will notify those on board and nearby vessels of your overboard situation via a DSC alarm signal to compatible and capable VHF radios. It will also transmit an alert eight times per minute to AIS receivers and AIS capable plotters on board and to other vessels monitoring AIS in the area. The signal contains the GPS position of the overboard crew member along with distress identifiers and allows for rapid recovery. Once the alarm on the VHF is activated and alerts those aboard to the MOB situation they can then use the AIS signal to return to the overboard crew and undertake a rescue. A built-in strobe also provides a visual aid during recovery. With an MOB1 on each crewmember’s inflatable life jacket a fast recovery without having to rely solely on visual location is more likely. Powered by an internal lithium battery with a shelf life of seven years, continuous transmission for over 24 hours and a range of up to five nautical miles, this small transmitter could be a lifesaver.
Glenn Hayes is a freelance photographer and writer living in west central Florida. Specializing in marine and location photography, his work covers commercial, editorial and fine art work. www.HayesStudios.com