fishing for a livelihood in deep waters is replete with dangers. Every year, statistics of deaths at high seas only show an upward trend. With the development of a new communication device, however, by the rural electronics division of the Electronics Research and Development Centre (erdc), Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, fisherfolk in distress at sea can now be saved from being consigned to watery graves.
According to C Krishna Warrier, project manager, erdc, the newly-developed radio beacon is basically a radio transmitter which can be fitted to fishing vessels. When disaster strikes, all that a fisherperson is required to do is to break the seal of the equipment and pull up an antenna. The beacon would then start emitting signals every five minutes for the next 20 hours. A receiver installed on the shore intercepts these signals.
The number of accidents involving fisherfolk in deep waters has increased in recent times. "This is mainly because of the tendency of the fisherfolk to fish beyond 30 km and also indulge in adventure fishing. In addition, most fisherfolk refuse to take essential life-saving equipment like the 'life belt', which increases the chances of accidents at sea," Warrier explained. "It is against this background that we decided to develop a communication device for the fisherfolk," he added.
The signals can be clearly received up to 50-60 km. While the cost of the radio beacon is about Rs 5,000, the receiver is expensive at Rs 25,000.
The beacon is powered by a two-watt battery system, which must be replaced by a new set every six months, so that the signals remain strong and clear. "Timely warning is most important in the case of accidents happening at sea. And the radio beacon could become an indispensable tool for fisherfolk as it considerably reduces the time gap between the accidents and the actual start of rescue operation by government departments like the port trust and the department of fisheries," observed Warrier.
However, the radio beacon does not have a direction finder, thus making it impossible to find out the exact location of the accident. erdc scientists are now involved in designing a low-cost direction finder -- to be made ready by the end of this year -- which will respond to the particular frequency of the radio beacon. Various direction finders that exist are beyond the reach of the ordinary fisherfolk.
Warrier believes that the devices should be delivered to fisherfolk at subsidised rates or even free of charge in order to make them popular.