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Best signalling equipment from the searchers point of view

Discussion in 'General Scuba Equipment Discussions' started by Navy OnStar, Dec 1, 2007.

  1. Navy OnStar

    Navy OnStar Angel Fish

    As a Navy Helicopter Pilot I have had training in, and experience conducting Search and Rescue. None of my experiences have been to find overdue divers but they have been to find people lost in the Oceans.

    Chance are (hopefully) none of us will be left by a boat or swept out to sea by currents but in the event you find yourself in this predicament here are some things to help you out.

    Here are MY OPINIONS (disclaimer) on what TYPE of gear is best to signal an aircraft/rescue boat(i.e. Coast Guard/Navy). This is based on my experience in actual search and rescues. I'll let the experienced divers here fill in what specific gear they like.

    Nothing earth shattering here but may serve to let New Divers know what works well.

    Everything listed here is good but their effectiveness is more than doubled if the searchers know you have the equipment. Leaving a list of signaling equipment on the boat/ with a responsibile person along with your dive plan will greatly improve you chances of being found.

    #1 Signal Mirror.
    PROS: Cheap. Never runs out of batteries. Very bright on a sunny day. Can still be seen on overcast days but not as bright. WILL get the attention of a pilot/boat
    CONS: Useless at night (nothing to reflect). Have to see the rescue craft to reflect light towards them. (CD's are not as good as a mirror)

    #2 SMB (or large bright colored object) Size does matter!
    PROS: Cheap. easy to use. Easy to see! Helps pilots to see you in the troughs of waves.
    Cons. Bigger the better....means can be bulky.

    #3 Sea DYE Marker
    PROS: Cheap. Passive marker. If you are tired/incapacitated you don't have to do much to deploy.
    CONS: Choppy/strong current/rough waters tend to dissapate quickly. Useless at night
    If you dunk it to make a "Dye slick" and then put away until slick goes away and repeat - it'll last longer

    #4 Smoke Marker/flare.
    PROS: Everyone investigates smoke. Seen from large distances.
    CONS: Water friendly ones are expensive. Short burn time. Pyrotechnic.

    #5 Light/ Strobe light
    PROS: Strobe in the day time is O.K. Excellent at night. Aircraft on Night vision will see more than 30 miles away. These light up the sky on night vision.
    CONS: Light good at night but rescuer must be looking directly at in the daytime to notice. Batteries run out.

    #6 Glow Stick.
    PROS: Last 12 hours. Will be seen by Night vision.
    CONS: Harder to see with naked eye at night

    #7 Air horn/whistle
    PROS: Will get attention without anyone looking at/near you.
    CONS: Limited range. 1 mile for Air Horn/much less for whistle. Useless for aircraft.

    #8 ELT Emergency Locator Transmitter/Radio
    PROS: Will give a signal right to you!
    CONS: Cost Prohibitive. Bulky. False alarms from those who are not 100% familiar with their operation.

    In my Emergency kit I have a Mirror, Sea Dye Marker, SMB, Whistle (came with BCD) and a strobe. I feel these give me the best spread for any condition and also minimize bulk.

    Please feel free to add anything I may have missed and your thoughts on specific gear.

    Bycatch, jerbee, couv and 16 others like this.
  2. Jim Ernst

    Jim Ernst Instructor, Scuba

    # of Dives:
    Location: Sacramento CA
    Great thread subject to start!!

    Great information also .

    It seems that a diver being left behind has some how become a bit more common or at least it being reported is maybe.

    I carry a whistle and an SMB , and I need to get a mirror.

    A rocket launcher would be nice so I can shoot at the boat that leaves me....ha ha LOL!!
    Littlerayray and jennysdayoff like this.
  3. Web Monkey

    Web Monkey Omniheurist ScubaBoard Supporter

    # of Dives: I just don't log dives
    Thanks for the post!

    That's great information, especially coming from somone who actually does searches.

    This part is especially interesting:
    I always told my wife that if I was missing, to "send the search people out looking for the guy with the two 9' red and orange SMBs and strobe, waving a big light and honking an air horn".

    It was actually intended as a joke. I never really thought about it, but it would be much easier to find something if you know what you're looking for.

    Great post! Thanks!


    soggybadger and Gr8WyattWhale like this.
  4. D_B

    D_B Kimber/TekDiveGirl storyteller and memory keeper ScubaBoard Sponsor

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: San Diego, Ca.
    Thanks for your thoughts and your perspective .. especially the "let them know what you have" part

    Welcome to ScubaBoard, Navy :D

    one thing I would add is that your mirror be a signaling mirror , the kind with an aiming hole/sight .. makes it much easier to aim

    I carry always ... signal mirror, whistle, light, SMB, spool, knife, and I will be getting a strobe to put in my unused trim pocket (lol, rocket launcher :) )

    This question comes up often and I've saved what I think are best/most often referenced sites ...

    A very good, if long, read on rescue trials conducted in real world conditions in the Scapa Flow ... probably my favorite
    ... How far can you see me? ... Diver location trials: Introduction

    .. Surface Survival Primer ... Surface Survival Primer

    .. Equipped to Survive ... EQUIPPED TO SURVIVE (tm) - SIGNALING GROUP and the rest of the website is a treasure trove of info ... Survival Gear and Equipment Evaluations - EQUIPPED TO SURVIVE (tm)
    soggybadger likes this.
  5. dumpsterDiver

    dumpsterDiver Banned

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    I have been "lost" a few times and the Coast Guard has had to look for me. One thing to consider, those large SMB are VERY difficult and tiring to hold vertical for more than 15-20 minutes, especially if it is rough. One option to consider is to tie/clip/attach the weight belt (after it is removed from the diver) to the bottom of the SMB to allow it to stand vertically in the water "on its own". Then you just need to stay attached to the SMB not support it and NOT try to hold the bottom of it down.
    Tfast78 likes this.
  6. marcienko

    marcienko Solo Diver

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: New York City - Brooklyn
  7. RJP

    RJP Scuba Media & Publications

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: New Jersey
    Thanks - this post should be made STICKY.
  8. DennisS

    DennisS Marine Scientist

    # of Dives: 500 - 999
    Location: Sebastian, FL
  9. Navy OnStar

    Navy OnStar Angel Fish

    I believe the Coast guard and the Navy both use the same Search And Rescue Checklist. Before we launch on a search we go over all the weather conditions and any signaling gear the lost person is known to have. We actually punch this into a formula from the checklist that will give us a specific search pattern to use for the highest probablity of detection. So you can have all types of signaling equipment but if we don't know what you have we will search as if you have nothing at all.

    As a side note I have seen some things advertising radar reflectors. Several of the Navy and Coast Guard Helicopter have radars (specifically the SH-60 B and R SeaHawks and the Coast Guard Jayhawk) All of which are very sensitive. I have picked up Dolphins at 15 miles, 3/4 submerged 55gal drums from 40miles and other small objects from over 60miles. The actual reflectivity of these items is not known but I would be checking out any returns I got if I knew you had something radar reflective. I was actually thinking about carrying a small (or piece of a)space blanket which would not take up much room but could (probably) give off large returns. But the searchers MUST know you have it or they might think you are a boat if the return is large enough.
    Schwob likes this.
  10. D_B

    D_B Kimber/TekDiveGirl storyteller and memory keeper ScubaBoard Sponsor

    # of Dives: 50 - 99
    Location: San Diego, Ca.
    When I was doing my dives in the Dry Tortuga's , in pretty rough seas, I would pass the spool down between my legs and up the outside and hold it in my hand, now you can keep the SMB vertical, it's also helping you to float, and I could have clipped it to a chest D ring if I needed to use both hands

    More good points Navy, thanks for that info :)
    pauldw and Gr8WyattWhale like this.

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