The Nautilus Lifeline is a product intended never to be used: a combined VHF radio and GPS transmitter, making it possible for divers who get separated from their boat to radio their own boat or any boats in range and transmit their position.
On a recent liveaboard to the Red Sea, I got the chance to bring one along for a bit of testing.
Out of box
The Nautilus Lifeline comes with, aside from the unit itself, a carrier bag that can be attached to the BCD, and a USB cable.
On first impressions, the unit seems sturdy and well-built, and the waterproof lid seems very solid. The buttons are easy to operate and the display easy to read.
First thing to do is to charge the unit, then plug it into your computer (PC or Mac). Then you need to download a small program from the Nautilus web site, which will allow you to set up the unit for use.
You first need to input your region. If you’ll be using the unit for diving in a region other than your home region, you need to input this again.
I was heading to the Red Sea, so I set “Egypt” as my region. You also need to input an MMSI number, an identification number that all modern VHF radios need and which needs to be obtained from your appropriate authority (the procedure varies from country to country).
The computer program is free and very easy to use, though setting your unit up for use does take a bit of time and effort (including requesting an MMSI number from the authorities).
On the boat
Once I boarded the liveaboard, I approached the captain and told him I was using the unit and asked what VHF channel they’d be using. I changed the channel on the unit, which is done easily by pressing the green button three times and then scrolling through channels to the right one.
Using the Nautilus Lifeline
The unit is a bit bulky but reasonably lightweight, so once it is in your BCD pocket, you’ll forget it’s there. It didn’t take in water at any time, even though my deepest dives were routinely in the 35-40 meter range.
All controls, as well as the clasp that holds the lid in place, are reasonably large, so they can be operated even with gloves on.
In an emergency
In case you need to call for help, you’ll have three options:
- Press the green button to call your own ship on a predetermined channel
- Press the orange button to call all ships within range on the emergency channel (typically channel 16)
- Press the red “Distress” button to send out a distress signal with GPS location to all GPS enabled VHF radios within range (this function will only work once the MMSI number has been entered).
Needless to say, I never tested the two latter options, as emergency calls aren’t something to be played around with. However, I did test radioing my boat and telling them my coordinates.
Sounds quality is good, and waves didn’t seem to interfere with the signal, though I did try it on a fairly calm day. But the process couldn’t be simpler: just press the green button, speak, then release and wait for the reply. The range is roughly 2 nautical miles.
The Nautilus Lifeline is not inexpensive (expect to pay around 200 GBP for a unit), but compared to the more traditional EPIRBs, it’s reasonably inexpensive. And where EPIRBS need a satellite connection and only alerts a country’s rescue service, the Lifeline allows you to make direct calls to your own boat or others nearby.
Needless to say, bringing a piece of kit like the Lifeline should never substitute good dive skills. Navigation, awareness of currents and the boat's position, adherence to time limits, and the proper use of an SMB are still your first and most important way of staying out of problems. And for easy shore dives or dives on house reefs, the Lifeline is definitely over-doing it.
However, if you, as I did on the liveaboard, venture far from shore, to remote reefs and in sometimes challenging conditions with strong currents and unpredictable winds. Bringing one just might prove to be exactly what it says on the box: a Lifeline.
I, for one, will probably be sticking it into my BCD pocket for these sorts of dives from now on, and I’ll feel safer for it and I’m sure my wife will sleep better.
What kind of safety precaution do you take before a dive? Tell us in a comment below!