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March 2010    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 36, No. 3   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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New Diver-Tracking Rules in the Red Sea, But Will Divers Abide?

from the March, 2010 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

After a recent spate of boats losing divers in their part of the Red Sea, Egyptian officials want to put a lid on it. In late January, the Minister of Tourism issued a decree that all dive boats in the remote and currentexposed southern dive sites of the Egyptian Red Sea must carry an approved diver-tracking system by no later than July 1. To date, only the Seasafe tracking system has met Egypt’s approval process; two other systems are still being tested.

Seasafe, made in New Zealand, is a small, box-like tracking unit that a diver wears on his arm or BC. If he goes astray, he pushes a button on the unit to alert all boats in the area with the Seasafe system. The alert triggers steps to coordinate a search, using a directional antenna to pinpoint the missing diver. Emperor Divers in the Red Sea installed Seasafe last fall and says the system tests accurately up to 11 miles away. Seasafe charges $1,100 for the boat’s receiver and $300 for each transmitter unit.

Satellite-signal devices are catching on with liveaboards elsewhere. Aggressor Fleet president Wayne Hasson tells us the Okeanos Aggressor in the Galapagos now uses Globalstar’s SPOT Satellite Tracker. It’s similar to Seasafe, with GPS transmitters working on 406 megahertz that, with a push of a button, sends a signal to the satellite, which in turn alerts authorities to call the boat and alert it to the diver’s whereabouts.

These aren’t perfect yet, Hasson says. “There’s no directional finder, so there’s no way for them to call us and say, ‘Here’s the exact location.’ And if it’s very cloudy that day, you may not get a satellite signal. Still, we’ve found plenty of lost divers who were wearing these devices. The hardest time we had was last year when we were looking for a guy in the water, but he had actually climbed up on some rocks.”

The biggest obstacles for diver-tracking systems, says Hasson, are the divers. “Most people don’t like them because they’re cumbersome. They’re not waterproof so we need to put them in cases, making them bulky to carry. We strap them on people and say they’re highly recommended but we can’t make them mandatory and tell people they can’t dive without them. You can’t force somebody, or take away their diving privileges.”

True, but diving with a bulky little box on your BC is a small price to pay to avoid the lost-at-sea-at-night scenario without the tool that could rescue you a whole lot quicker.

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