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We’ve covered numerous stories about how the Apple Watch has been credited with saving lives in a whole variety of ways. With the advanced health monitoring features on the wearable device, these have frequently been related to things like discovering abnormal heart rates, automatically alerting emergency services after dangerous falls, and detecting deadly heart conditions thanks to the new ECG feature on the Apple Watch Series 4.
However, a new lifesaving story points to an often-overlooked safety feature of the wearable device: the ability to make emergency calls to 911 directly from a cellular-capable Apple Watch — without the need for an iPhone nearby.
A Paddleboarder Stranded At Sea
According to The Boston Globe, it was this feature that was used to save a woman from being stranded at sea after the wind blew her paddleboard significantly away from the shore. The woman, who wasn’t identified in the report, used her Apple Watch to call 911 after discovering that she was stranded in the waters off of Nahant Beach. She was connected to the fire department in Lynn, Massachusetts, where she told dispatchers that she was on a paddleboard and being “blown out to sea.” She expressed embarrassment that she had to resort to calling 911 for help, but said that she didn’t know what else to do as the wind had become too much for her to paddle against, and she was drifting farther away from shore.
The Lynn Fire Department provided audio of the 911 call to the Globe, which was shared in the article, not only revealing how the drama unfolded, but also pretty impressive audio quality from the woman’s Apple Watch, which must have been operating in less than ideal acoustic conditions with the wind gusting at up to 35 miles per hour.
Police and firefighters from Swampscott responded to the woman’s call, with the Swampscott Police Harbormaster Unit sending out a boat to locate and pick up the woman, who was several hundred yards away from shore by that point.
Swampscott Police Sergeant Bill Waters, who participated in the rescue, noted that the woman suffered no injuries during the ordeal, and was merely “a little shaken up” by her experience.
An Emergency Communications Device on Your Wrist
It’s an amusing twist that Apple itself originally used a paddleboarder to demonstrate the ability to place cellular calls using an Apple Watch from the middle of a lake. During the introduction of the Apple Watch Series 3 at its September 2017 keynote, Deidre Caldbeck, a member of the Apple Watch product marketing team, called in while Apple COO Jeff Williams was showing off the new wearable device.
As whimsical as that was, however, the recent experience of this Massachusetts woman demonstrates a far more practical use for the cellular-capable Apple Watch, and in fact offers a good reason why users may want to spend the extra money for cellular connectivity, even if they don’t plan to actually activate it for that purpose.
Laws in the U.S. and many other countries require that all mobile phones be capable of calling emergency services such as 911 regardless of whether they are activated on a cellular plan or not, and while there’s a bit of a legal grey area around devices like the Apple Watch, Apple itself has clearly decided that it should follow the same rules. Therefore, if you have a cellular capable Apple Watch, you should be able to place a call to 911 as long as you have available signal, regardless of whether you have ever signed up for a plan.
This also means that the Emergency SOS feature can also be used on the Apple Watch to automatically call 911 (or whatever the emergency services number is in your country). Although the other part of the feature — notifying your emergency contacts via text message — will of course still require an active cellular plan, that’s likely far less important in the event of an actual emergency.
Even if you usually have your iPhone with you, a cellular Apple Watch can provide important emergency backup in the event that you find yourself in trouble with a dead iPhone battery or the victim of a broken, lost, or stolen iPhone.