Tag Archives: safety at sea

All is Lost, Robert Redford’s movie or how to save your life on a boat

How would everything have happened if the skipper (the actor Robert Redford) had taken the best-in-breed measures to avoid the problems he found himself drawn into

I have just watched All is Lost (2013), the latest film from Robert Redford.

It is amazing how a simple accident that really could happen to anybody while sailing, can turn into a dreadful experience. In this case, the context was harder since the sailor Robert Redford was during a solo (singlehanded) navigation. But I believe that the initial problem, crashing with a floating container lost in the middle of the sea, is something that can happen also with a crew, but under low visibility conditions such as night navigation or under a storm.

All is Lost - 203 movie by Robert Redford

All is Lost, movie about a sailor that breaks into a container and has to fight for survival

What strikes me most is how vulnerable this sailor is when the little accident takes place. The radio stops working, and you wonder if there is no simple solution to it like carrying a simple handy vhf radio that is water resistant. Well, everything should be water resistant in a Yacht, shouldn’t it.

Also, I don’t understand why he is not carrying a Distress RadioBeacon. This is a very simple piece of equipment that as soon as taken out of its craddle, it will start transmitting. In many countries, this is a compulsory equipment for the yacht that is in open seas.

Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon

Distress Radio Beacon – Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon

They are making a very little favour to those people who are navigating seriously. I mean, after watching this movie, somebody who is not knowledgeable or experienced in the matter could think that sailing is an extremely risky activity to undertake. And it is not true. It is risky, but not that risky. Moreover when you are taking the measures to minimize risk, and when you are equipped to face these types of situations, they should have an easy solution.

Equipment I recommend to the All is Lost captain:

- Handy VHF radio
- Distress Radio Beacon
- AIS transmitter and AIS Beacon

Also, next time, please do notify your friends and family about your plans, if you spend 8 days in open seas they would search for you. You can use a GPS satellite tracking solution such as AtPosition to let the people know the position of your yacht, or even Spot.

Even the first problem of the collision with the container could be solved with a navigation radar system programmed with an alarm while the sailor is sleeping.


With the latest events ocurring in Somalia, looks like an obvious solution to send a military ship to the area.

Very simple telematic alarms and an AIS transponder transmitting, or several frequent control calls, would have allowed just one war ship to control a large area with many boats in it, being able to intervene in a matter of a few hours, with no time for the pirates to re-enter Somalian waters.

Let’s hope the very best for our seamen.

Search and Rescue AIS

It seems like the Spanish authorities with Search and Rescue responsibilities are pioneering the way into AIS. The AIS SART standard starts being a reality in the rescue vehicles in Spain.

Our friend Eladio has sent us the AIS info sent by a target that in his screen showed up like a rectangle with blades near the Spanish coast. Once he clicked on the contact, the info that appeared was the following (check the mmsi, different from the Spanish 224……):

Type:    S.A.R
SOG:    155kn
COG:    81.7°
Lat:    40°48.598′N
Long:    002°01.671′E
MMSI #:    111224101
RNG:    37.039NM
BRG:    119°

 Any boater that has found him/herself in a scary situation will be aware of the undoubtful benefits of being located almost instantaneously by a rescue helicopter.

AIS and the radar transponder (II)

We talked the other day about the differences between radar transponders and AIS transponders, because we are often asked what are they when we explain the benefits of AIS. We found today a very interesting conversation in La Taberna del Puerto, the well-known association of boaters in Spain, about an accident that took place last year close from England, particularly a collision between a 7.5m long yacht and a ferry with destination Bilbao.

There is a detailed explanation, and a report from the British Authority about the probable malfunction of the radar transponders.

There are many reasons to explain why a Class B AIS transponder is far superior to a radar transponder. It is important to understand that, nevertheless, no electronics nowadays will be able to substitute a good captain on board.

AIS and the radar transponder (I)

When we explain the functionalities of an AIS class B Transponder, we are often asked if that is the same as a radar transponder. The answer is clearly no. A radar transponder is an emergency device included in the internationally proposed GMDSS measures for search and rescue at sea, i.e., a radar transponder is used at critical situations, to detect radar targets at emergencies. This system is also called SART (Search And rescue Radar Transponder)

It works by answering to a radar eco signal. That is why it is sometimes called “responder”. When activated, it starts transmitting signals as soon as it detects one from a radar. It is expected to be mandatory in Spain since 2009.

Therefore, essential differences between a radar transponder and AIS, are:

- SART does not work on a regular basis, but only under emergency situations.

- SART does not identify ships, only sends a signal that lets a radar know that there is somebody out there.

- Therefore, SART does not let you tracking a fleet, and identifying them; it is only able to show unidentifiable targets with no extra information.

AIS has nevertheless it’s own emergency standard, proposed by IMO here. The proposal is the AIS-SART, not to be confused with the radar transponder, since it actually means: AIS Search And Rescue Transmitter. But we will write about this in future posts.

Salvamento Marítimo adds AIS to its aerofleet

Spanish Safety at Sea organisation, Salvamento Maritimo (SM), the Department of the Government in charge of rescues in Spanish waters, will have its own airplane, named Isabel de Villena, dedicated to cover the southern mediterranean, and will be based in Valencia. SM will have 3 more aircraft very soon.

We are glad to know that this aircraft will count with an AIS receiver, confirming the importance of counting with such an identification system for SAR missions.

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