The Chicago Yacht Club’s 2022 Race to Mackinac has new safety equipment requirements, including requiring participants to wear a personal man overboard (MOB) device with AIS. In this report by Craig Warner, he explains the safety training that will be available:


Studies of past man overboard incidents, where victims could not be located quickly and spent a significant amount of time in the water, have highlighted the need to implement new technologies to shorten the time that victims pass through the water. Personal MOB devices with AIS are the technology that will enable faster rescues.

Personal MOB devices with AIS are attached to the person’s PFD and, depending on make and model, are automatically triggered when the PFD inflates. When fitted with DSC, personal MOB devices with AIS alert the boat that a crew member has fallen overboard.

The AIS signal from the MOB personal device and its associated GPS will indicate the victim’s current position to any vessel with AIS reception and within three to five nautical miles of the victim. Rescuers can accurately and quickly navigate to the victim’s location and begin a rescue.

As a result, the time spent in the water is greatly reduced and will increase the victim’s chances of survival. This technology represents a significant increase in man overboard rescue capability.

Last year, these personal devices came highly recommended by Mac organizers, and there were three on-water exercises allowing participants to view the MOB AIS signal presentation by their on-board chartplotter.

While all participants were successful in finding the source of the AIS signal, they expressed a common theme that training is needed before experiencing a real emergency. This year, the yacht clubs of Chicago, Milwaukee and Macatawa Bay will sponsor this unique formation (click here), the largest in the country.

The dates are June 5 at the Macatawa Bay Yacht Club; July 6 at the Milwaukee Yacht Club with a second date in June to be determined; June 15 at the Chicago Yacht Club off Belmont Harbor, June 22 off Monroe Street Harbor and July 10 off Monroe Street Harbor.

Like pilots practicing in-flight emergencies in a simulator, realistic training allows flight deck crews to successfully resolve a real-life emergency. This on-water exercise aims to provide racing crews with the same realistic training.

The exercise will allow crews to practice in a man overboard emergency environment. The purpose of the exercise is to prepare crews to locate a victim in the water using the AIS signal from the personal MOB device and successfully navigate to the victim.

The simulated emergency will begin with the deployment of a man overboard dummy approximately two miles from port. The manikin is equipped with a personal MOB device with AIS. Participants will quickly hear alert alarms from their chartplotter (if configured for audible warnings), indicating AIS signal reception. The man overboard device will confirm its position via its internal GPS within minutes.

When the chartplotter receives GPS data, it displays a man overboard icon with the nine-digit MMSI number of the personal MOB device beginning with 972. Some older chartplotters and VHF radios respond differently to AIS signals and DSC. This is why exercise is essential for boat owners and their crews to find out how their equipment displays a man overboard.

Vessels can now electronically navigate to the source of the AIS signal. Simultaneously, the command boat will launch at five-minute intervals; two red SOLAS Signal Rocket Parachute flares. This visual distress signal will reach an altitude of approximately 1,100 feet, burn for the better part of a minute while slowly descending by parachute, and may be visible at distances up to 35 nm.

Ten minutes after the start of the exercise, the command boat will send a DSC man overboard message to all ships. Participants will hear an audible alarm and can read the message on their VHF radio. The DSC message will be terminated after 10 minutes.

Twenty minutes into the exercise, the command boat will broadcast a MAYDAY call on VHF CH 16. The MAYDAY call will use standard phraseology and allow participants to hear the exact format of this emergency radio transmission. After the MAYDAY CALL, the Coast Guard will respond with questions. During the MAYDAY call, ask the ship’s navigator to write down the latitude and longitude mentioned on the MAYDAY call, load it into the ship’s GPS, and relay the navigation solution to the helmsman.

Flares, DSC/AIS alarms with their respective messages, a MAYDAY CALL and Coast Guard response are all part of an active rescue. This is your chance to experience this scenario under training conditions and then be able to execute a quick MOB recovery in a real emergency.

As a special note for training purposes, all facets of the exercise are to be closely coordinated with the United States Coast Guard. You cannot launch flares, activate a personal man overboard device with AIS, send an all ships DSC man overboard call or a training MAYDAY call unless the coast guard did not approve it in advance.

The exercise will last one hour (2 hours for our Macatawa Bay event). Participants are encouraged to navigate electronically (not visually). Electronic navigation simulates operations in conditions of reduced visibility.

This exercise is unique in the racing community in the United States. It is anticipated that these devices will quickly become standard equipment for all offshore racers and adopted by boaters in general.

All boats, motor or sail are welcome (you never know when a Good Sam will perform the rescue) and experience this technology now necessary to save lives.

If you would like to attend, please contact one of the host yacht clubs for details.

I forgot to mention one thing. The training is free for all participants!