Personal GPS helped Coast Guard find kayaker


MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — A kayaker who became stranded on Lake Michigan during an endurance trip was rescued quickly thanks in part to a type of GPS device that’s becoming more popular.

Matt Frymire, 31, was attempting to paddle across the widest part of the lake when big waves made it impossible for him to finish Monday. Thankfully, he had a personal locator beacon, or PLB, that told rescuers where he was.

“That device was very important in his case. He was on a very small vessel on some very rough conditions and time was of the essence. So instead of searching for him for hours, we knew exactly where to look,” Boatswain’s Mate 1st Class Chris Apple of the U.S. Coast Guard in Muskegon said.

The Coast Guard found Frymire in minutes rather than hours.

Matt Frymire is rescued. (Courtesy the U.S. Coast Guard - Sept. 1, 2014)
(Frymire is rescued. Courtesy the U.S. Coast Guard)

“We can pinpoint … and be there in a matter of minutes to help your chances of survival,” Apple said.

Frymire’s PLB connected with a satellite to send a signal with precise longitude and latitude to the nearest Coast Guard station.

“The process is very quick,” Apple said.

The PLBs are easy to use and reliable. Each member of the Coast Guard carries one on their person when they’re on the water.

Bob Zimmerman, the manager of the West Marine boating goods store in Muskegon, said he recommends PLBs for boaters who go out on their own, hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts who could find themselves in need of help. Some PLBs are specifically designed for land.

PLBs range in price from about $100 to $1,000.

“The $100 one has services attached to them and those are going to be monthly. $300 average range, no services attached to them,” Zimmerman explained.

Some PLBs send a signal only when a user needs help. Others can be used to track a user’s location online, so family or friends can know where they are and pick them up if necessary.

Zimmerman said which device is best “depends on who you are” and what activities you’ll be using the device for.

PLBs are available at most sporting goods stores.

Since Frymire’s story was posted on woodtv.com Monday, several viewers said the Coast Guard should charge him for the rescue. But the Coast Guard says all of its rescues are free. Search and rescue is one of the 11 guiding missions given to the Coast Guard by Congress.

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