Marine Communication Safety: a review of the Standard Horizon HX300 VHF radio and ACR Personal Locator Beacon PLB-350C

The ACR Aqualink PLB-350C adjacent the Standard Horizon HX300

The ACR Aqualink PLB-350C adjacent the Standard Horizon HX300

When I was first invited to paddle OC2 in the New York harbor with an experienced friend, I saw him put on his PFD and put his radio in a pocket. He put his cellphone in a waterproof Pelican box and connected it to the front of the canoe, under the crisscrossing bunjees. He plainly stated that communication must always be carried. I went home that day, in the summer of 2017, and put considerable time into reading reviews of VHF radios. Ultimately I selected the HX300 for its size and features. Over the past year and a half I have frequently paddled with it and have always had it with me on my OC1 in the Hudson River and Long Island Sound.

My review is overdue and prompted from the news of the drowning death of my associate paddler, Alistair Collier of the UK. I spent a week paddling with Ali at the Guadeloupe downwind camp hosted by Woo last year and am utterly disheartened to hear of the paddling community loss of this wonderful gentleman. I have certainly come across the blogs of others covering tragedy, and the focus of this entry is the prevention of any other. Ali’s close friends informed me he did not have any communication device on him and for reasons as yet unknown, the safety boats lost track of him early on during his final race.

I never would have thought a safety escort boat would not be paying attention. We must be prepared for worst case scenarios. I write this entry now not as an idle review but to urge you to be the most responsible person in your canoe.

Your safety is in your hands. The first step you need to take as a paddler is the commitment to safe paddling. When you can save yourself, you have a chance of saving others.

Now for the dry technical stuff.

My biggest concern was size. The bulkier the radio, the bulkier the assembly of stuff on my person, the bulkier my PFD, the harder it is to get onto the canoe. After considerable deliberation I finally chosen the HX 300, which easily fits inside the large front pocket of my Mocke PFD. At 5.25”x2.5”x1.5” this was as compact as I could get with its features.

Standard Horizon HX300 inside the Mocke PFD front pocket. Note the orange whistle also.

Standard Horizon HX300 inside the Mocke PFD front pocket. Note the orange whistle also.

Another major consideration was the USB charging port and the orange back light.

The orange light could be indispensable in night conditions.

The orange light could be indispensable in night conditions.

I have now been using the HX300 for a year and a half. The battery life is great. I actually don’t know how long it lasts before it dies because it has not even gotten close to dying. What little recharge is required takes no time with the USB connection. This is also invaluable for travel outside of the U.S., because of the USB ports-to-other country-voltage chargers prevalent on the phone/computer market.

I recently returned from 2019 downwind paddle camp in Guadeloupe, where channel 71 (canal soixante dix-un) was used by our French coaches for their communication. I tuned in just to have it, just in case. I do not recall seeing any other paddler in the group with a communication device.

For those researching VHF radio use for travels I urge you to make the purchase and ask the locals how it is used in your paddling location. In the U.S., in the New York harbor, we use channel 16 to reach the Coast Guard. Typically I leave the radio on and listen to the intermittent chatter. It is quite reassuring.

If you are thinking your phone will take care of you, keep in mind that you might be in a dead zone for signal, especially in a foreign country or on an island like Guadeloupe. Also keep in mind that you will need to know the local dial code to reach police, etc. A VHF radio could get you in contact with another vessel in close proximity to you right away. “Mayday,” is the universal distress call, which I recently learned is French:

Owing to the difficulty of distinguishing the letter "S" by telephone, the international distress signal "S.O.S." will give place to the words "May-day", the phonetic equivalent of "M'aidez", the French for "Help me." 
—"New Air Distress Signal," The Times [London], 2 Feb. 1923



universal distress call

If no vessels are close enough to hear your call for distress and survival is questionable, your investment in a personal locator beacon, like the ACR Aqualink PLB-350C is your way to alert the global emergency response teams you are in peril. I purchased the ACR for my trip to Guadeloupe in 2018, and I kept it inside my paddle shorts pocket at all times. I chose the product that is a little bulkier because it incorporates technology that allows you to test that it works periodically. I needed the peace of mind. When I heard about Ali’s untimely fate my first day of camp in 2019, both of my communication devices became my closest allies, ensuring to me that my idea of the greatest time in the world - playing in the ocean - was also respectful of the ocean’s power. We love the ocean, but she has no emotions for us.

Safety has long been an aspect of my dayjob. The general rule is that the day you become so comfortable that you no longer respect your environment, that is the day you are open to getting hurt or worse. When a man at camp told me to do whatever the leader said, because the leader was a safe guy, I respectfully declined and used my own leg leash instead of the one provided. Something as simple as a minor equipment substitution can throw our game. Do what you know is right for you. Rehearse with your safety gear, practice hulis and distress maneuvers with your club. Be your own best guide.

And now for more technical information.

I fumbled with the the ACR antenna when I first got the equipment. The antenna wraps around the body and a male notch on the antenna fits into a female notch on the body of the unit.

The antenna.

The antenna.

When the antenna is up, the red emergency button is exposed. Once pressed a signal is sent to an emergency satellite system, and the dispatch process to search and rescue teams proceeds. Each unit is registered to its individual owner. Mine is registered with NOAA. You must fill out documentation that comes with your unit to get it registered. The search and rescue team will know who you are, where you are and be able to notify next of kin. There are additional packages for texting and so forth depending on what you choose.

The bulk of the unit is the built-in battery, which has a multi-year life expectancy. The only thing it does is send the distress signal and provide your GPS to the search and rescue team.

I’m pretty sure I read something like this when I was reading PFD reviews, but you won’t care what the thing cost when it saves your life. This unit runs about $400. I bought both units online.

Here is a video of what happens when you press the test button:

You won’t be allowed to obsessively test the unit. Doing so would drain the battery. So the computer in the unit will only allow you periodic tests. Don’t abuse it.

The Aqualink comes with a strap and a place to secure it. It also comes with a clip system. The HX300 does not have a strap that works without a clip, which ads to its bulk. I’ve left the clip off and just kept it secure in the PFD pocket.

The straps, clips and belt clips.

The straps, clips and belt clips.

In closing, please be an ambassador of the water. Play it safe for yourself and for all others.

Rest in peace, Ali.

Ali Guad.jpg

Manu'iwa Milford Gulf OC1, OC2, SUP, 9 Mile Race, 2018

At the start of every race, I question my sanity. There is no harder work than trying to beat the ocean at its own game. Soon the heart rate builds, the power propels the canoe forward, and I get lost in some kind of alpha wave trance with flickers of beta - where my brain analyzes the waves, conjures some distraction then ultimately sinks into a meditative state. I pull myself, stroke by stroke, forward across the water and eventually, around forever minus twenty-two minutes to be exact, I cross the finish line between two yellow buoys.


The Ghost Hope, a Puakea Kaku Elua, origin Hawaii, exact circa per Johnny Puakea: “Back in the day.”

Ted Taylor, head honcho at Manu'iwa Outrigger Club, introduces himself before the race as an Englishman, coaching outrigger, in Connecticut. Nothing like hearing a Hawaiian Mahalo with a UK twang on the sands of an ocean inlet in the USA. Later at the luau, Ted requests a plug on social media (click here for media/photo links). Was this race better than last year's, he wants to know? For me, yes. And it isn't just because I took first place (for finishing in 2018 the race I started in 2017) nor because I took first place in the $175 canoe class. It was, dare we utter its name, because of the Milford Triangle.

The Legendary and Deadly Milford Triangle

The Legendary and Deadly Milford Triangle

I personally find races that follow a coast a little difficult to mentally tag. Coastline unfolds like a rocky rope with nothing terribly remarkable. The triangular buoy set up gave me a mental check and a goal with enough frequency to keep me motivated. It also gave me three different wave and current patterns - four actually - because the southerwestly wind (that some of us surfed after the second buoy turn) tapered off near Charles Island. So the overall pattern was 1: flattish , 2: turn into the wind with bigger waves (ama bouncing up), 3: turn and surf (bow lifting high, ama rolling under the swell) and 4: calm and flat for a dash to home - then repeat. On the second round we all had a learning curve down, and mentally it wasn't just another 4.5 miles but 1.1 mile (buoy turn = Pavlovian reward), 1.5 mile (buoy turn) and 1.9 mile (beer is in sight).


A first place trophy for a first place race!

A first place trophy for a first place race!

I have raced in Milford four times. The first two were OC6 races, and after training on the stinky Hudson River in New York City, let's just say I was astonished by the beauty of the Gulf, a tranquil little curve tucked into the greater ocean inlet of Long Island Sound. This is a five star race, where the quality of the food down to the quality and craft of the prizes are not forgotten. Manu'iwa's own novice Nicky not only came in first for women's OC1, she got to take home one of the first-prize, bottle-opener-paddles she made--and the rest of us got to choose from Monique's thoughtful and unique commemorative tiles. Thanks for a great race and bringing us, no matter our accent or World Cup favorite, together. Mahalo, Manu'iwa. Mahalo, ocean.

This one matches the heart-shaped squeaky toy my dog ripped out of a stuffed Cat-in-the-Hat. Concidence? The secret lies in the Milford Triangle.

This one matches the heart-shaped squeaky toy my dog ripped out of a stuffed Cat-in-the-Hat. Concidence? The secret lies in the Milford Triangle.

Salem flyin' the ama. Well, sort of...

Salem flyin' the ama. Well, sort of...

Nicky rockin' the Hurricane and snatching 1st place!

Nicky rockin' the Hurricane and snatching 1st place!

Guadaloupe Downwind Camp with Woo

January 2018. Guadeloupe Downwind Camp. Woo.

Let's just start with the action, my first successful downwind:

This is an edited version of an approximate 10K downwind run from Petite Anes to St. Francois. I don't wear a GPS, so the paddle path is general, based on our southerly trek against the wind and waves until we turned west to make the downwind run. My technique is truly lacking here, but I started to get the feel for timing, and

I did not huli.

Which is a little remarkable given some of the action.

I am a novice OC1 paddler, or as my new paddler friend J.P. told me in French, a


.  Fool might be a more appropriate word. What was I thinking taking on the Caribbean Ocean? This was probably my 8th paddle in an OC1


. I had spent more time fixing my canoe than I did paddling it during the 2017 season. (Vintage Puakea Kaku, see previous repair blog entries). I did get to spend a lot of quality time in an OC2 in the New York harbor and signing up for Woo downwind camp stands as testimony to my enduring foolishness. I emerged from camp as a full-blown downwind addict. Where can I get more???

The Hole, Hull and Huli Truth - Testing Carbon Fiber Repairs

I did a very lazy huli (boat flip) on the Hudson River without thinking through that I had cut an 8" hole in the Puakea Kaku just behind the seat. This was patched in with a deck plate and white silicone. It wasn't until I had righted the craft and paddled back to shore that I realized I should have not only checked the canoe for leaks when it was right side up in the pool but also when it was upside down. About twenty years ago I caulked a 26 story hotel as an apprentice, so I guess you can say it paid off!

Picture Perfect Portal into the Carbon Hull
 It was time to epoxy the top of the bow back into place. There was concern it might not quite fit the same way, and there did prove to be a minor snarl in the top where the major puncture had contracted during repair. Nothing some fairing compound couldn't cover up later.

Black epoxy used to join carbon seams
 It is critical to mate the seams and not get too ambitious with laying carbon on the exterior. If anything budges during curing, you have to cut the nose and start all over.
Black seam epoxy sanded smooth and surface of gelcoat sanded down
 Twenty four hours after the seam cured I sanded with a heavy grit (80 and 100) to smooth the epoxy at the seams and also to take down the surface of the gelcoat. At this stage we are only repairing the section above the waterline. NOTE: all critical structural repairs were done from the inside and not the outside. Blue tape was set to mark out 3" for carbon tape.
Carbon Fiber Taped Seams
 Clear West System epoxy was laid in the marked out area and the carbon tape (which had been precut and dry-fit) was run across joints. Wax paper was taped around the repair and a few sand bags set in place to hold some key areas down.
Wax Paper and Sand Bagged Repair
 The next day, after successful curing, West System fairing was mixed into the epoxy to peanut butter consistency and troweled over the exposed carbon.
Fairing Compound
 The following day, it was time to sand. Always wear a respirator!
Darth Paddler
The OC1 was then spot checked across the hull for its numerous gelcoat cracks, which were chased open with a flat razor knife and then also hit with fairing compound. Below is an image of where there were structural fractures which were repaired on the inside with carbon fiber through the 8" hole behind the seat.
Cracks chased open in gelcoat after structural repair
 You do not want the gelcoat flaking off, so its imperative you chase the crack until it stops flaking off, then lightly sand the edges of the remaining gelcoat at the perimeter. Take your time.
The following day I hit the fairing compound with some 120 and 240 on an orbital sander with a soft backer pad. I hand sanded with 240 and 320 to feather but decided to leave everything a touch high and spray the repair spots with a plastics paint (Krylon Fusion) and give the craft a test spin. This way if anything did not quite work out, I would not have finished the project in remorse.
Three Weeks After First Receiving the Damaged Outrigger Canoe: SEA WORTHY!
In upcoming posts I will cover the headaches associated with understanding gelcoat, the difference between non-laminating and laminating gelcoat, tuning up the steering, rudder mounting and making your own rudder - as well as how to mount a GoPro to your outrigger. STAY TUNED!

Hudson River Cup & Maiden Voyage

We interrupt this repair blog to give kudos to the Ke Aloha outrigger canoe club of Hoboken, New Jersey, which hosted the first OC6 sprint races on the Hudson River along with OC1 and OC2 races to the Statue of Liberty and back. In addition there was a SUP and kayak race.
Hoboken Cove, Ke Aloha Hudson River Cup
Many thanks to the club for a fantastic blast of a day - and for mother nature who, after cutting loose with torrential rain throughout the morning, whisked the dark clouds away and replaced them with an astonishingly blue sky. Downright cerulean, if you ask me.
Sprinters Returning from Finals
This event was also an opportunity to give the OC1 I've been repairing a maiden voyage launch, after the recent swimming pool venture baptism. Let's just say I got first place in the Staten Island Swimming Pool Cup and was guaranteed a dead last if not a DNF in the Hudson Cup in case the repairs catastrophically failed. So, I skipped the race and dallied around on the Hudson, soon forgetting the invasive surgery to the craft. 'Cause this boat, which I've named GhostHope, floats! This narrative will soon return to what you're really hungry for: tips on rebuilding a hull, epoxy, gel coats, color matching, etc. In the meantime enjoy the fruits of my labor. If you likewise are faced with major repairs, have faith, buoyancy is right around the bend of bay and swerve of shore to where the river runs! (To paraphrase James Joyce).
First Place Swimming Pool Cup

In closing, here's a glimpse of the GhostHope, named for all of the waters she's seen and the waters to come! (The New York City skyline might be a bit more attractive than my stroke! So, don't mistake this for an instruction video. Especially if you are Johnny Puakea!)

Foam Foam Foam your Boat

After laying new carbon fiber cloth on both interior sides of the bow, which stiffened the hull and gave it integrity again, it was time to follow through with setting the blue XPS foam. I had tried cutting the foam with a razor knife, a hand saw and even a kitchen knife. Of those three the kitchen knife was easiest to work with to get a clean cut. However, I spent $20 on a hot foam cutter through Amazon and got my best results. None of those little blue styrofoam balls and relatively easy to cut complex curves. You definitely want to wear a respirator. The fumes are nasty.

All in all, I figure I added about 2 ounces of foam to the weight. I left a little gap on other side to ensure I was not spreading the hull and ensure the top would fit.

Hot Foam Cutter
Dry Fitting Foam

Foam Inset by Repaired Crack

Phase 1 of Returning the Top Nose

Since I also needed to repair cracks in the hull under the seat, it was decided to simply add a deck plate with access cover instead of returning the carbon patch. The deck plate cost $15 from West Marine and the hatch will be utilized to attach a small storage bag. The plate is made from ABS plastic, heavier and stiffer than carbon, so I think it will actually stiffen the area of the hole, though it added a few ounces as well.

Since I've lost 4 pounds, we're in good shape!

Stay tuned as we prepare for the Swimming Pool Test.


Planet Ocean and Boat Floating

This post will serve as an introduction to the greater topic of paddling and allow me to meander to thoughts about water, especially salt water, without which there would be no need for outrigger paddling. These thoughts about our planet ocean tie into the repair thread in that I am taking into consideration the force of the collision between the hull and the standing waves of water. I discussed this with my repair mentor Gil, and while it is certainly impossible to calculate where the bow bounces against wave peaks the most, the last thing I want is the hull to crack like an egg against waves or any flotsam.

I am guilty of salvaging a 1966 Chevy Chevelle that had a tree fall on it, but it's hard to sink in an old Chevy. If I get my boat repair wrong and hit a reef, so to speak, this could be life threatening. This hull repair must be brought to 110% integrity. Okay, how?

While it was decided that the top of the canoe should be cut open to fix it from the inside, there was concern about the possibility of new damage to the location brought on by new surf stress, which could lead to "catastrophic failure." Yikes. I decided it might be best to insert some XPS insulation in the area to provide strength, and came up with this initial design:
Just how hard is water in motion, and what kind of stress can a boat handle? I don't know, but after I came across this post on a craft marooned on a reef, once again, I felt a little better about my prospects.

Much better to add 4 ounces of XPS (fancy name for foam) with a compressive strength of 25 psi (pounds per square inch) to take any future blows than risk cracking the hull. While the foam might add 4 ounces to the canoe, I'll just have to go on a diet to offset it!

The foam brings one more aspect to the hull: it is buoyant.
If things didn't float on our ocean, there would be no paddling. So, why do boats float? The answer is buoyancy, which is actually a physics term. It means an object will float if it is less dense than the liquid under it. The pressure from the ocean is "upthrust" and is pressure against the object trying to displace it. The shape of a boat, or in this case, canoe, lends itself to buoyancy. This canoe is like a carbon fiber bubble where the length provides even greater stability.

The hull was cut open, and we took a peek under the "hood."

A Dremel was used to make the first incision, but I decided I'd get a smoother continuous cut from a jigsaw and ordered the Bosch carbon fiber blades online.

The XPS insulation discovered inside the hull seemed to be original to the canoe's creation and likely was meant either to hold things in place while the top was originally glued on or did serve some purpose for cushioning bounce. 4" holes are cut into it like Swiss cheese, presumably to cut down on unnecessary ounces.


Puakea OC1 Rescue

What kind of OC1 costs $175? Well, who knows? But that was the price tag the night I randomly googled for used outrigger canoes. 1: usually the hits are scarce. 2: usually the listings are for OC's almost as expensive as new. 3: usually these OC's are in California or Hawaii.

They are never in Lousiana and certainly not on a Louisiana Air Force Base. But there it was, $175 on eBay. It was listed as a fixer upper missing a rudder. Well, since I've thrown away a couple hundred dollar bills on much more foolish things, I gambled and bought it.

The seller was kind enough to wrap it in its case and bubble wrap the ama and i'aku's as well as the seat. Federal Express was dumb enough to lose the X-shaped PVC cradles it was sitting on.

The Fedex guys who carried it out marveled at how light it was, but I was concerned that the boat had parted ways with the cradles and been rolling around in transit  There is no way to insure a used craft like this, so it was all part of the gamble. (*Fedex freight cost $425 to bring it to New York City, where it was retrieved at the Elizabeth Port distribution center in New Jersey.)

By the time my friend and I picked it up and unwrapped it there was bonus damage: a good hit to the left side of the bow. However this exposed a weakness, for exactly in that location someone else had done a pretty sloppy repair. Naturally the most damaged area was exposed last, and I have to say it made me very nervous. But after my friend ran his hands up and down the hull and itemized each flaw he said cheerfully, "Nothing we can't fix!"

He handed me a sander and 15 minutes later it looked like this:

Should I say I was actually comforted by the fact my friend had crashed his marathon canoe 40 miles into the General Clinton Memorial Day race just a few days prior, which ripped it in half, and he expected to fix even that. So, this was nothing. Or so I hoped!