Above: The that-morning search and rescue patterns run by Coast Guard and Navy aircraft in their search for survivors of a Massachusetts commercial fishing boat whose EPIRB activated offshore during winter. The Coast Guard’s dirft model sent them on a search pattern far southeast and east/northeast of where the EPIRB was first spotted by an overflying jet.
If Coast Guard or other search-and-rescue air and seacraft are in search of us after receiving word via personal locater beacon, SPOT, VHF radio maday or friend that we are lost or in trouble, they’ll make many assumptions about where we are as time wears on.
Their predictions come from drift models (formerly JAWS, now SAROPS) that take into account surface current, tide and wind.
Created by tides and winds, surface currents tug us, along with our gear and kayaks, in reasonable-to-assume directions, which gives search-and-rescue personnel a leg-up on where in a vast ocean or bay to concentrate their resources. But sea kayaks drift differently than sailboats, which drift differently from a person in the water, which drift differently from a sinking fishing vessel — and so on down the line.
The Coast Guard takes into account all those differences – which drives home the point of identifying in a mayday what kind of boat you’re in: a sea kayak.
In the image above , you’ll notice that the Coast Guard made easterly assumptions about where the crew of Lady Luck, a 55-foot Newburyport, Ma. commercial fishing boat, would drift in the several hours after the sunken vessel’s EPIRB broadcast its distress signal.
Were the search for one of us equipped with a personal locater beacon or Spot beacon, the Coast Guard would assume something similar about our drift.
Since time is of the essence in rescues, and especially in this case, given that the Lady Luck sank during the winter, the Coast Guard concentrated their densest search patterns where they assumed the crew, in either survival suits or a life raft, would have drifted.
The image below shows the later, that-afternoon search. Note how the drift model has made different predictions now that time has worn on and conditions have changed: the densest searches took place far northeast, and southeast, of where the EPIRB was first located.
By now a Coast Guard cutter and Canadian helicopter joined the search. The search patterns take on an even more easterly aspect, as well as north and northeast, of the initial sighting of the EPIRB:
Later in the day the search shifited further east, with the densest patterns running north and east, and trending southeast, of the original sighting:
The search would grow ever wider in the coming 36 hours. Neither survivors nor the Lady Luck — aside from assorted pieces of commercial fishing gear that floated off the sinking boat — were ever recovered.
The search pattern evolved further, as you’ll note in a post coming out in a couple of days
To read more about the personal locater beacons which act as stand-ins for EPIRBs for kayakers in remote waters, and about the newest addition to emergency electronics, the SPOT beacon, which sends text or email messages and Google Maps showing your exact location, to friends or emergency personnel, wait a few days.