Sirius Signal C-1003 Distress Light - A newly improved flare replacement?

"The sea, the great unifier, is man's only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: we are all in the same boat." 
- Jacques Yves Cousteau

Jacques may be right about all of us being in the same boat, but that no longer means we all carry the same kind of emergency distress signaling gear.  As I wrote a few years ago when Sirius Signal released their original A-1001 LED SOS distress light, conventional pyrotechnic flares have some serious competition for keeping boaters safe and complying with U.S. Coast Guard regulations.

But before we dive into the details, you might be wondering just what is an LED SOS distress light and which USCG regs are relevant.  An LED SOS distress light, often referred to as an electronic Visual Distress Signal Device (eVDSD) in the industry, is simply a battery operated light that flashes SOS in Morse code.  The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations Part 175.130 states that an electric distress light meeting the standards of 46 CFR 161.013 is acceptable for meeting the night only requirement for vessels 16 feet or more in length.  To make a long story short, the Sirius Signal C-1003 (and the A-1001) meets the standards and is acceptable. 46 CFR 161.013 specifies several light intensity, signal, and power source requirements, again all of which are met by the C-1003. Most notably, an eVDSD that emits light over an arc of the horizon of 360 degrees must have a peak equivalent fixed intensity of at least 75 candelas, which provides about 10 miles of visibility in certain conditions.  Notice above that I wrote the C-1003 is acceptable for night requirements.  To meet the day time requirement, Sirius Signal includes an orange signal flag meeting the standards of 46 CFR 160.72.  So as a package with the included signal flag, the C-1003 can be carried in place of traditional flares.

The new model (C-1003) of SOS distress light from Sirius Signal functions nearly the same as the original, but has some nice improvements. Most immediately noticeable is that the foam flotation ring has increased a bit in size to help the light float higher, thus increasing visibility.  Essentially, the whole unit is similar in form factor to a handheld flashlight and so the molded pattern on the handle has also been changed to provide improved grip, particularly in wet conditions I presume.

To turn on the distress light function, you simply twist the clear lens on top of the unit clockwise and the bright LED flashes the Morse code SOS signal continuously for ~60+ hours on a fresh set of C-cell batteries, which are included.  To turn off the light, twist the lens counterclockwise.  The lens is fully removable to replace batteries, but you'll need to make sure you don't twist counterclockwise too far when turning the light off otherwise the lens will back away from the two o-rings and compromise the waterproof housing.  It feels sturdy and the electronics seem well made.  While I'm no electronics expert, you can find the same opinion from someone who is - Ben Ellison from Panbo.  There are also two shockcord lanyards built into the handle for securing the light and/or keeping it on your wrist while in use.  Lastly, a signaling whistle is also included in the package.  So for less than $90 USD, you get the light, the batteries, the daytime distress flag, and the whistle.  For comparison sake, handheld flare kits run about $35 for a four pack while flare guns with included flares run $75+.  You'll get about 3 seasons out of the flares before they expire, which means if you're truly going to replace your flare kit with an eVDSD, you won't recoup your cost until about year 3 or so.

However, cost isn't and shouldn't be the only factor you consider when comparing traditional flares with an eVDSD like the C-1003.  Flares will usually be more visible than an eVDSD.  For example, many are rated at 700 (or much more) candelas as opposed to the 75 for the C-1003 and many are able to be launched several hundred feet into the air.  The smoke from daytime signal flares is also potentially visible at a longer range than a signal flag.  So what's the downside to traditional flares?  Well first is the expiration dates and replacement costs that I've already mentioned.  Second, burn times measure in minutes as opposed to hours of operation for eVDSD's.  And remember that word "pyrotechnic"?  Flares produce chemical reactions that give off immense heat and are a fire hazard as well as an environmental hazard.  Speaking of which, have you found anywhere that will accept expired flares?  The Sirius Signal C-1003 has advantages beyond cost and longevity too.  First and foremost for me is safety.  They don't pose a fire hazard in storage or while in use.  And on a related note, the C-1003 should be air travel friendly if you're flying to use a boat and want to make sure you've got safety signal gear covered.  And another bonus is that you can use the C-1003 as MOB marker by tossing at a MOB to help you return for recovery.

So what's the bottomline?  Well for me, I carry a Sirius Signal eVDSD as my primary nighttime distress signaling device and the signal flag for daytime use and enjoy not worrying about expired flares and purchasing new ones every few seasons.  I carry a set of extra C-cell batteries and check the charge in both sets seasonally.  We don't go offshore, but if I did frequently I might consider carrying a pack or two of the expired flares I have laying around my garage too.  As it is, I think the C-1003 is perfect for the way many boaters enjoy the afternoon or weekend at a time.

Ready to purchase a Sirius Signal C-1003? Visit their website to get the full package for $89.95.

Want to see the C-1003 in action?  Watch the video below for SOS distress light operation in my basement:

See the Invisible - Shady Rays Sunglasses Review

"Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others."
-Jonathan Swift

I’ve only tried one pair of Shady Rays, but I can confidently say that these are affordable, quality sunglasses that look good and get the job done.  And if you’re the type of person that wants to feel good about the companies you do business with, Shady Rays gets some points there too.  They are an independent sunglasses company that provides 11 meals for every order to help fight hunger in the U.S. through FeedingAmerica.  To date, they've provided over 2.6 million meals to fight hunger.

"Making the best shades for 24/7 action." & "Live Hard. We Got You." Those are the bars that Shady Rays has set for their brand of sunglasses.  They're aiming for an audience of active outdoor sailors.  To see if they can live up to the slogans, let's look at how they are constructed and what Shady Rays does to stand behind their product.  Each pair features shatter-resistant, high-visibility Polarized lenses construction with a lifetime craftsmanship warranty and free replacements if lost or broken.  While the craftsmanship warranty shouldn't be a surprise, free replacements for lost and broken sunglasses is a nice perk.  They also include free shipping, returns, and exchanges with new orders.  Note that you'll have to pay a shipping/handling fee if you make a lost/broken warranty claim.

The specific pair of sunglasses I tried for this post are the Signature Series Emerald Ice Polarized.  I chose these because of the classic shape combined with the slightly edgy clear gloss frame and blue-green mirror lenses.  It's sort of an old-meets-new look.  The plastic frame does feel durable and the metal hinges have kept their original tight feel through my many cycles of opening and closing the bows.  The lenses provide a crisp view with a light gray tint looking out.  To get technical, the visible light transmission (VLT) is 13% which makes these good for bright sunlight conditions.  If you want something darker for even brighter conditions, the Blackout lenses have a VLT of 8% but you loose that cool mirror finish.  Need something for lower light conditions such as dusk, dawn, and cloudy days?  Try the Glacier lenses and their VLT of 18%.  For me, the Emerald lenses hit the sweet spot.
So far, I've only been to use this in bright snowy conditions, but based on the protection and clarity they provide, I'm confident they'll get the job done on the water too. 

So those are the Shady Rays Signature Series sunglasses - a good looking frame shape with multiple lens choices and crisp vision.  They don't come with a fancy case (a microfiber pouch is included) or a snobby reputation, but you'll get functionality and style for about $45.

Ready to shop for your pair of Shady Rays? You can find the Signature Series sunglasses here in a variety of frame colors and lenses.

>> Don't forget to visit SFLF's Gear Review page for more sailing gear reviews/tests. <<

Aloha for your Feet: OluKai Footwear for Sailing

OluKai believes that everybody, no matter where they are, can live Aloha. Live "hello"? No, not exactly. The word "Aloha" goes far beyond just a greeting. The true deeper meaning is love, peace and compassion. A life of Aloha is one when the heart is so full it is overflowing with the ability to influence others around you with your spirit.

Now you're educated about Hawaii's most popular word, but what about popular Hawaiian shoes for sailing?

Shoes might not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about sailing gear, but good grip and comfortable feet can make life on deck or the dock better. Here's two pair of OluKai's I've been trying out lately that I recommend for boat use:

Holona ("Sailing, Traveling")
  • Non-marking molded rubber outsole with "traction pods"
  • Built for the water: quick drying and water-resistant
  • 100% synthetic, 0% animal products
SFLF remarks: I love the low profile design but was initially concerned that this would mean they lacked the comfy, squishy footbed of other high-end sandals. Not so! These are still very comfortable under foot while feeling light. Wet traction is good, particularly for a flip-flop style sandal. While the materials are 100% synthetic, the look could fool you into thinking they're leather. Be aware that these run about 1/2 size small based on my experience.

Akahai ("Modest")
  • Full-grain leather (Canvas is also available but mine are leather)
  • Non-marking rubber outsole w/ heavy gauge sidewall stitching
  • Dual-density footbed
SFLF remarks: At first glance, these don't look like a boat shoe but the non-marking outsole, solid grip and slip-on style fit the bill. I particularly like that the heal leather can be worn up for a more secure fit or down for quick no hassle step-in performance. The stitching adds visual appeal, but is heavy-duty and feels like it will do its intended job for the long run. Arch support is very good and the upper fits snugly, perhaps a bit too snug if you don't like feeling a shoe wrapping your foot. I've worn mine with and without socks and they seem fine either way. As with the Holonas above, the Akahais run small compared to my normal shoe sizing.

I've always liked the OluKai brand. I guess the OluKai Makau fishhook logo cast from their marketing team snagged me before I even tried on one of their shoes. And their Hawaiian product names stir my desires to sail the trade winds and explore salt-soaked islands, but I can honestly say that their footwear is very high quality with styles that are outside of the norm.

Aloha for your feet!

>> Don't forget to visit SFLF's Gear Review page for more sailing gear reviews/tests. <<