ST. PETE BEACH
When Kevin Sherburne heard that a group of men, some of them professional football players, were missing and presumed dead in the Gulf of Mexico, he picked up the phone. "How much is a life worth?" he said. "Is it worth the price of an EPIRB?" Sherburne, of HWH Electronics on St. Pete Beach, spends his days counseling boaters on the finer points of offshore safety. "People will spend tens of thousands of dollars on a boat," he said. "But when it comes to safety equipment, they often don't have what they need to make it back safely." Sherburne believes the main reason so many people venture offshore unprepared is they simply do not know what safety gear is available.
Emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB)
A GPS-equipped model will provide a faster response time and create a smaller search area. With a standard 48-hour battery life when transmitting, these units also have built-in strobe lights. The two types — manual (Cat II) or auto release (Cat I, which floats and turns on automatically when submerged in water) — have a five-year shelf life before battery replacement.
Cost: $600 to $1,000
Coastal compact life raft
Designed for coastal boating (not offshore use) these rafts are relatively inexpensive but do not come with prepacked survival gear. Compact and light (15 to 20 pounds) these rafts must be repacked every three years.
Cost: $995 to $1,500
Elite series life rafts .
Designed for offshore use, midweight category (45 pounds and heavier), these rafts come with reflective tape and a strobe attached. Some models have an inflatable floor and canopy as well as standard survival gear (such as flares, knife, and first aid kit).
Cost: $1,700 to $4,400
Inflatable life jackets
Most boaters don't wear personal flotation devices, even when under water. Yet research shows most drownings could be avoided if boaters wore PFDs. Automatic and manual inflatable PFDs are unrestrictive and can be worn all day. Coast Guard-approved Type III (manual) and Type II (automatic) come with reflective tape and are ideal for those 16 and older.
Cost: $100 to $200
Personal locator beacons (PLBs)
With a 24-hour battery life when transmitting, these units do not float without an external floating case. Manually activated, these units are registered to a person rather than a boat. It's ideal for kayakers, hikers and other outdoors enthusiasts.
Cost: $300 and up
VHF fixed mount
Designed to be a vessel's primary VHF radio for marine communications, they have an FCC-mandated 25-watt transmit power. A larger remote antenna can increase range and reception capabilities. Digital Signal Calling (DSC) adds to the safety factor.
Cost: $200 to $800
With waterproof ratings and/or floating options, 5- or 6-watt output and a small, built-in antenna, these radios have limited range and battery life but are good backups for a primary fixed-mount radio and an excellent way to tune into NOAA weather channels.
Cost: $200 to $500
Iridium handheld satellite phones
Offering worldwide coverage, compact with built-in or remote antenna's available, the typical monthly service charge runs about $32 with a $1.50 per minute airtime charge, including data e-mail communications. These phones are water resistant but not waterproof and need a clear view of the sky for a connection.
Cost: $1,500 to $2,000 with accessories
Source: Kevin D. Sherburne, HWH Electronics, www.hwhelectronics.com