Marine Emergency & Safety Whistles

The Acme 635 is a very loud whistle, although apparently not a SOLAS-approved whistle.

The Acme 635 is a very loud whistle, although apparently not a SOLAS-approved whistle.

When we go out in one of our small boats, my husband's "small boat toolkit" includes a tiny little plastic whistle that counts as the Coast Guard-required "noise making device." So we typically don't bring an air horn or any other type of horn or whistle. But the toolkit is always stuck away in the bow locker or under the console or somewhere that it's not very accessible, so I started thinking that we really should get in the habit of bringing an air horn to keep handy.

The 636 is SOLAS-approved, and is also tiny and easy to carry

The 636 is SOLAS-approved, and is also tiny and easy to carry.

On nice week-ends, our harbor gets really busy with casual boaters. Sometimes, when you need to make a loud noise in your boat, you need to make a loud noise right now before that idiot in the other boat who's not watching where he's going runs over you. If we're anchored in the harbor to fish, or we're making 4 knots in our little sailboat, we can't necessarily get out of the other guy's way fast enough, and all the navigation rules in the world that say we're the stand-on vessel don't mean a thing if we're dead.

The T2000 is SOLAS-approved. It has 3 chambers for high and low frequencies.

The T2000 is SOLAS-approved. It's a little bulkier because it has 3 chambers for high and low frequencies.

Anyway, the whistle my husband has is always tucked away in the toolkit which is tucked away in a locker, and I didn't really trust a whistle anyway. I mean, how loud can a little plastic whistle really be? I decided that I wanted to keep an air horn handy in the cockpit. I picked up an air horn at Wal-Mart, and I took it along with us a few times. But within weeks, it had lost its charge, and when I tested it, I got .... nothing.

My husband insisted that his whistle was plenty loud enough, and he pointed out that whistles don't lose their charge the way air horns do. I had to admit, he had a good point. It was disheartening to trigger the air horn and get no sound at all. So I got his whistle out of the toolkit and tried it, and yep, it was very loud. Ear-splittingly loud. Definitely sufficient to serve as a noisemaking device on a boat. But I still didn't like the fact that the whistle was not readily accessible.

So I got online and went looking for marine safety whistles. I found that there are lots of different whistles to choose from. I learned that you typically want a pea-less whistle, as the pea in conventional whistles tends to deteriorate over time, and water or spit can interfere with proper functioning.

I discovered that there are whistles that are SOLAS-approved, meaning they meet the Safety of Life at Sea requirements — a SOLAS-approved whistle is much, much louder than any human's shout for help. I definitely like the idea of having a SOLAS whistle. My husband's old whistle meets the Coast Guard requirements for a noise-making device, but so far as I can tell, it's not SOLAS-approved. Of course, the SOLAS whistles are somewhat pricier than non-SOLAS whistles, but none of them is very expensive.

I was curious about the different types of whistles, and so I ordered several different marine safety whistles, all pea-less, all made by the ACME whistle company.

ACME Tornado 635 Whistle

Here's the Acme 635 shown next to a quarter for scale. It packs an extremely loud sound for such a tiny whistle.

Here's the Acme 635 shown next to a quarter for scale. It packs an extremely loud sound for such a tiny whistle.

The one my husband keeps in his toolkit is the ACME Tornado 635. I couldn't find anything stating that the 635 is SOLAS-approved, but I already knew for a fact that this whistle is extremely loud, because I had tested the one my husband had. Also, it's cheap and it's small, and so it's easy to keep one handy wherever I might want a whistle. I couldn't believe that any whistle could be louder than the one I tested, so I was partial to this one and bought 4 of them. It's available in black or orange. I bought them in orange, because I like bright fluorescent colors for marine safety products.

It turns out that ACME is one of the earliest manufacturers of marine safety whistles, and are considered by some to be the gold standard for such whistles. So I decided on a couple of other ACME whistles as well.

ACME Tornado 636 Slim Line SOLAS Whistle

I attached one of the Slim Line 636 whistles to the lanyard on our handheld VHF radio.

I attached one of the Slim Line 636 whistles to the lanyard on our handheld VHF radio.

I bought 2 of the ACME Tornado 636 whistles, which is very similar to the 635, except it's flat — it's called the "Slim Line" — and it's SOLAS approved.

It's approved by SOLAS regulations for life jackets, immersion suits, life rafts and rescue craft. The 636 Slim Line comes in black, orange, white, pink, yellow or green.

This whistle is extremely loud with a very high pitch, designed to pierce through any background noise, such as the rumbling of a boat engine or the roar of waves. It's easy to clip to your pfd, or to keep in a pocket so that you always have it on you.

ACME Tornado 2000 T2000 SOLAS Whistle

And I bought 2 of the ACME T2000 (Tornado 2000) whistles. This model is also SOLAS approved, but it's a little bigger than the 635 and 636. It has three chambers: Two ultra high frequencies to cut through background noise, and one low frequency to carry over longer distances. This whistle is billed as the "world's most powerful whistle," and I believe it. This thing is flat-out loud! Piercing! The package includes a warning: "Very loud. Use ear protection for prolonged use."

Two of the Acme 635 whistles just hang around the house on lanyards.

Two of the Acme 635 whistles just hang around the house on lanyards, so that they're handy anytime I should need a loud whistle.

I love all of these whistles, and I'm going to end up purchasing more at some point. I realized that they're useful far beyond making noise on a boat. If you ever need to get attention fast, anywhere, any of these whistles will do the trick.

I stuck one of the 635 whistles on my keyring, so I always have a whistle handy if anything should happen when I'm out and about in my car. We keep one in the golf cart that we use on our property. If my husband is out and about on the property and something should happen, he could definitely get someone's attention with one of these whistles. And I have a couple that I've clipped to lanyards that just sort of hang around around the house, so that they're handy when I need a loud whistle. They're a great whistle for getting the dogs' attention; our dogs roam across several acres, and they don't always hear a human voice calling, but they always hear the whistle.

Here's a pic of all 3 whistles with a quarter in the picture for scale.

Here's a pic of all 3 whistles with a quarter in the picture for scale.

I gave one of the 636 models to my daughter to keep on her keyring, and I attached the other one to the lanyard on our handheld VHF radio. The radio is generally within arm's reach on the boat, and if anything ever happens, the VHF will be one of the first things I grab. So the little 636 will always be readily available.

The two T2000 whistles are designated as our personal safety whistles, one for my husband, one for me, to keep on our persons at all times when we're out in any boat. So it won't matter if the VHF is handy, or if the toolkit is stashed away somewhere, or if any other whistles or horns are not in their designated spots. Or if we're out on someone else's boat. We will each always have a SOLAS-approved marine safety whistle on our person.

I'm probably going to buy a few more of the 636 Slimline models. I like it that they're SOLAS approved, and I especially like their size and shape: They're so small, you can easily slip one into a jeans pocket, into the side pouch on a camera bag, keep one on your keyring, keep one in your car, slip one into your computer bag.... If you ever need to get attention really fast when you're out and about, this whistle will do the job — if you have one handy. They're so inexpensive, there's no reason not to buy several, so that you can have one at hand anywhere and everywhere you go.

There are several other ACME whistles available, for safety and survival, for refereeing, and for other uses. And there are several other brands of safety whistles. I haven't tried all of the others, but I know for certain that you can't go wrong with any of the ACME whistles that I've discussed here.

 

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