James Stevens explains which skills are best to perfect while you have plenty of time to do so. This week, learning how to raise the alarm

Learning how to raise the alarm

James Stevens

James Stevens, author of the Yachtmaster Handbook, spent 10 of his 23 years at the RYA as Training Manager and Yachtmaster Chief Examiner

An EPIRB is pretty high on my list of must-have kit. If the worst happens, however skilful you are at survival and liferaft management, you still need to be rescued, and the sooner the better. By definition, things are going to be pretty desperate when you activate it. It might be dark and, as you and your crew are in grave and imminent danger, it’s no time to start looking for the ‘on’ switch. A couple of minutes reading the instructions and checking the battery is time really well spent. You might think this is obvious but a surprising number of RYA exam candidates are unable to describe how to activate the EPIRB on board. The same applies to PLBs (Personal Locator Beacons) and the handheld VHF.

Raising alarm

A quick press won’t send a distress call. There’s a routine to prevent accidental alerts

Someone onboard should have a Short Range Certificate and know how to send a Mayday call, but it could be dark with water sloshing round your knees, or the SRC-qualified crew might be unconscious, and it’s too late to be thumbing through the VHF handbook to find out how to send a Mayday. A procedure card next to the radio is the obvious answer. Read it in the quiet of the harbour. Digital Selective Calling (DSC) has simplified the job down to pressing the red button – provided you understand that the call will not transmit unless you press the button for several seconds or select a distress option. Once sent, you should follow up with a Mayday call complete with the MMSI number.