The LifeLine’s electronics are integrated into a compact polycarbonate housing that’s watertight to 130m. A single catch, easily operated with a gloved hand, lets you open the O-ring-sealed lid on the surface.
This exposes the aerial and three push-button controls. These parts are waterproof, but not pressure-resistant. Two Philips-head screws give you access to the battery chamber, which takes two CR123 cells.
LifeLine displays position advice on chart plotter . This lets boat see the diver’s position without setting off a rescue alarm.
The LifeLine is not an electronic positioning indicating radio beacon. EPIRBs work over much longer distances, by relaying their signal via a satellite, alerting call-centres that can co-ordinate a rescue. Standard safety equipment for operating far from land, they are found on aircraft and yachts because they can summon help anywhere in the world, even though that help might take days to arrive.
The LifeLine transmits a radio signal limited by both its power and antennae, and has a claimed range of 34 miles. In many diving locations, the closest and fastest responder is likely to be your own or another dive-boat, given the lack of search and rescue infrastructure and time needed to deploy the device in many destinations. So the range should suffice.
Once you’ve flipped open the lid, removing a slip-off safety guard allows the aerial to automatically uncoil (watch that it doesn’t flick into your eyes) and reveals the red emergency push-button control. Hold this in for five seconds to send out a distress signal.
It attempts to contact suitably equipped craft within range and, if it succeeds, your GPS co-ordinates will be displayed on their navigation instruments.
There’s a 20-second window between pressing the call button and the unit transmitting its emergency signal, during which time you can turn the unit off in case of accidental operation.
Along with the distress button, two other buttons control the LifeLine. These can be accessed without removing the cover, which is basically a safety lock and should, along with the five-second press, prevent misfires.
One is the on/off button, the other a test button, used to check that the battery is functional. Waterproof user instructions are printed on the unit.
The previous LifeLine allowed you to talk to rescuers via a built-in walkie-talkie. I can see how reassuring this could be, because the current model has no way of indicating that your distress signal has been received and is being acted upon.
However, in some parts of the world a radio licence was required to use the LifeLine so, for practical reasons, it’s been dropped to remove that barrier to ownership. This is why the change in specification isn’t an upgrade, even though the electronics have been improved.
What is a major improvement is that the LifeLine now has a function that broadcasts your position, not as an emergency alarm but as an advisory measure.
The psychological benefit of this option is that it removes the conflict divers might feel if they’re concerned that they have not been seen, but are reluctant to set off a full-blown search until sure that they’ve been lost or abandoned!
For me, that’s a huge selling-point.
The LifeLine shows distance and heading to a diver at the surface.
The LifeLine is now basically an AIS (Automatic Identification System), commonly used on ships to prevent collisions by making them visible to other sea traffic. Each AIS is specific to the vessel and you can check the ship’s name, tonnage and other details online.
Set off the LifeLine’s AIS function and your position is indicated by a numbered icon on the screen of the boat’s chart-plotter, allowing each individual LifeLine to be identified.
In theory, in advisory mode the AIS function can also be linked to your boat’s radio, so it automatically sets off an ear-splitting alarm that can be silenced only by acknowledging it.
Otherwise, the on-screen display is passive – someone has to notice it.
Again, to me, the unignorable audible alarm was a persuasive selling point, knowing how lax “cover” can be. However, for unclear reasons, legislation makes this safety feature inoperable in European and some other waters, and so it proved in Gib.
Pairing the LifeLine with your boat requires use of a free app and is straightforward.
It can be used to train on the unit or, as Nick and I did, to get a feel for how it works from the boat-crew’s perspective by checking the helm instrument read-outs.
Because the LifeLine’s capabilities depend on local regulations, and these affect how it should be programmed, it’s essential to check the manual before use, especially as a dive-traveller.
As a guest on a dive-boat, you’d need to ask the skipper to agree to pair your unit, but it’s difficult to see any reasonable objection to doing this. You should then follow the crew’s instructions regarding using the LifeLine.
Depending on where you are in the world and whether you have paired your unit with your boat, the LifeLine might first try to alert only your vessel of your location before, 30 minutes later, sending out a distress signal to all ships within range and able to receive the transmission.
This will set off an audible alarm, which should be treated as an emergency by these craft. They should immediately head for the GPS co-ordinates provided by the LifeLine.
Within those 30 minutes you can cancel the transmission if your own boat has found you.
To help rescuers locate you in the dark, a white LED flashing beacon automatically switches on as daylight fades.
The LifeLine stores easily in a BC pocket, though a dedicated pouch is also available.
This has a coiled lanyard to which to secure the LifeLine, so if you fumble and let go of the unit, you’ll still be attached to it when the cavalry rocks up.
It also allows for mounting the LifeLine high on a shoulder-strap, so it’s clear of the water and you don’t need to hold it while you await rescue.