NTSB Pushes Locator Devices for Maritime Safety

A life buoy on a vessel
Updated Published

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recently released a safety recommendation encouraging the provision of personal locator devices for each crew member by ship owners and operators, aiming to enhance rescue possibilities in urgent situations.

Such devices, including personal locator beacons or satellite emergency notification devices, are pivotal in increasing survival odds during emergencies by providing precise location details, thereby focusing rescue operations effectively. According to NTSB investigations, the current personal locator beacons are capable of pinpointing a location with about 300 feet accuracy and offer almost immediate search and rescue notification upon activation.

Several maritime incidents investigated by the NTSB highlight the potential or actual benefits of these devices in locating survivors.

For instance, the NTSB's analysis of the 2015 El Faro tragedy, in which a U.S. cargo ship sank leading to the loss of 33 crew members, indicated that Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs) might have enhanced the initial rescue operations. In this incident, the remains of a crew member were located in an immersion suit three days after the sinking, but recovery was unsuccessful. Following this, the NTSB suggested that the U.S. Coast Guard mandate the use of personal locator beacons for all personnel on coastal, Great Lakes, and ocean service vessels, to improve survival chances.

This recommendation was reiterated by the NTSB following the investigations of the 2019 F/V Scandies Rose sinking, which resulted in five fatalities, the 2020 loss of the F/V Emmy Rose with four casualties, and the deadly overturning of the liftboat Seacor Power in the Gulf of Mexico, where 13 lives were lost.

The NTSB’s Safety Alert emphasizes the importance for vessel owners and operators to carefully select the most suitable personal locator device for their crew, ensure every crew member is equipped with one, and to register each device with the relevant authorities.