The forecasted "less than a metre waves and some fog patches" soon became three metres and dense fog with zero visibility for hours, on our run from Kincardine to Tobermory.
To alert them of our situation, we called Coast Guard on the VHF Radio. No signal.
The cell phone? Absolutely no signal there either.
Now we were out on Lake Huron in these conditions with no contact with the world—talk about feeling alone and insignificant.
Then, we discovered something quite remarkable that we'd like to share with boaters everywhere.
I remembered something our daughter Jen told us months ago. She said "most times in big box stores when we have no cell signal, we can send and receive text messages to keep track of each other in the store". I really didn't expect texts to work out on Lake Huron without a cell signal, but "It's worth a try" I thought. "I'll put my new Blackberry Torch to the test".
Texting with no signal?
I texted our son-in-law Scott and lo and behold, he replied. How is that possible with no signal? I texted him back all the details of our boat and situation including our course and destination and our lat and long. I also said I would text our position every 15 minutes and if he didn't hear from me to call Coast Guard and give them the information.
It was comforting to know that someone out there knew where we were and that help would arrive if we had needed it. As well, we had a source of information. We didn't need to on this trip, but we could have asked him to look up anything on the internet and get the information back to us. It would have given us access to further weather services, or anything at all that we might need. I am not sure how texting works with no signal, but it worked for us.
About an hour later, we got a cell phone signal and were able to call Coast Guard on *16 to alert them of our situation with an agreement to check every half hour until we got to our destination. I also kept communicating with Scott by text—just in case.
After four hours, the fog lifted and we were able to find out way in through the buoys into Tobermory Harbour tired but safe.
We have since been in touch with Canadian Coast Guard with our story and suggestion that they add texting capabilities to their communication options of VHF and *16 for the Cell phone. So many boaters carry smart phones now, it only makes sense to have a texting option with Coast Guard. Let's hope they can make this happen.
File a Float Plan and Text a Friend
Until then, it might be wise to file you float plan AND also pick someone who will be available for texting and stay in touch with text messages. Then, you have another option for help if you should ever need it.
So, if you ever find yourself in a similar situation of no VHF or cell signal, don't give up. Your Smart Phone is smarter than you think. Try texting a family member or friend. It could save your life.
See also: What Would You Do If???