In September, four people with their lives hanging in the balance were hoisted to safety after finding refuge on a nearby NOAA weather buoy when their vessel took on too much water. The survivors used their vessel’s Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB)—one of three types of emergency beacons used to transmit distress signals—to alert the Savannah Coast Guard that they were in need of immediate rescue.

2 NOAABuoyNOAA weather buoy located in Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary acts as a safe haven for survivors of an overturned vessel. Photo credit: LTJG Nicholas Litchfield Coast Guard Air Station Savannah

“We were familiar with the weather buoy near the location broadcasted and found the overturned vessel in the immediate vicinity," said LT Eric Barnett, U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Savannah. "We arrived on the scene less than 50 minutes after they hit the distress button on their EPIRB, which is definitely a testament to the system working as designed," he added.

3 Buoy CenterThe weather buoy, shown here, is one of 103 weather buoys operated and maintained by NOAA's National Data Buoy Center. Photo credit: Lt. Tom Crane of the Rockland-based Coast Guard cutter Thunder Bay

This rescue was the result of three U.S. Government systems—a weather buoy operated and maintained by NOAA’s National Data Buoy Center (NDBC), EPIRB registration and the swift action taken by the Savannah Coast Guard—coming together seamlessly to save the lives of four people. While this is a remarkable story, these systems individually contribute to the preservation of life every single day.

In fact, ocean observing systems, like the weather buoy that acted as a safe haven in the aforementioned rescue, yield many benefits that are interconnected at local, regional, national and global scales. For example:

  • Weather buoys are one of many NOAA ocean observing systems within the Integrated Ocean Observing System that help reduce the loss of life, property, and ecosystem damage from natural and human-induced disasters.
  • These high-tech weather instruments produce quality marine environment observations that are used to enhance predictions to changes in weather, climate, oceans and coasts.
  • They collect information that protects coastal populations and economies, including fisheries, aquaculture and other marine ecosystem services.
  • The vital information produced by weather buoys help increase our understanding of environmental factors affecting human health and improve the safety and efficiency of all forms of marine transportation.

The widespread benefits of buoy data are clear. But these ocean observing systems are at risk with about 10 percent of buoy data worldwide lost annually due to both intentional and unintentional damage—resulting in more than $1 million per year in repair and replacement costs. In order to address this issue, NDBC has installed BuoyCAMS, a system of onboard cameras that provide hourly images around the entire buoy, that can provide explanations for partial and complete buoy failure, as well as potential evidence of vandalism and interference incidents.

To view the latest images from NOAA’s BuoyCams and other buoy observations from NDBC, click here.

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