By Deane Barker on September 29, 2004

Briartek Incorporated: Falling overboard from a Navy ship must suck. It’s a long way down, and there’s a good chance that you wouldn’t be missed for a while.

When I was in the Navy, a knew a guy with the odd last name of “Hugeback” (he was actually quite thin). He’d previously worked on the deck of an aircraft carrier and had been blown off by a pilot who hit afterburner too early on takeoff.

Hugeback told me that it was four stories from the deck of the America to the water and the surface of the ocean wasn’t very forgiving at speed. He was lucky he maintained conciousness after he hit. Even though rescuers were scrambled within seconds of him hitting the water, he still had to tread water for 34 minutes until a helicopter could pluck him out.

He was lucky, because someone noticed him. An aircraft carrier is a busy place, and if no one sees you go in the drink — especially at night — you’re in very bad shape. When you miss morning muster, and the battle group has been traveling at 20 knots all night, there’s very, very little chance you’re going to be found.

This is where this little tool comes in:

The [Orca] is the first of its kind to provide a unique identification for every user, and a digitally encoded message that can be used to trigger or reset the bridge alarm.

[…] The receiver is capable of tracking multiple alarms, indicates the user ID in the event of activation and displays the total number of beacons activated in the event several people are lost overboard.

Deck personnel wear this little gadget on their life vests, and after it’s submerged for five full seconds, it goes off, transmitting the wearer’s name and location back to a base station on the bridge of the ship. It has a built in GPS system that guides the helicopter right to where you are.

In a battle group, it may transmit to the ship best equipped to rescue a swimmer, and thus transmits the name of the ship you belong to as well. (So you can be property screamed at by your commanding officer once you get back on board.)

I couldn’t find any indication that’s it’s available for private use.

Useless trivia (isn’t this entire blog “useless trivia”?): when the “Man Overboard” alarm is sounded it’s accompanied by “port side” or “starboard side.” The ship is immediately turned in the same direction to swing the props away from the swimmer.