A Boaters Guide To EPIRBs
An EPIRB or Emergency Position Indicating Radion
Beacon, is a distress beacon used by mariners worldwide to alert
Search and Rescue (SAR) forces that they are in distress.
EPIRBs transmit a 406 MHz distress signal that contains a unique 15
digit identification number to the Cospas-Sarsat Satellite System
(which is a government run system so there are no subscription
fees). Search and Rescue forces then pull up your beacon
registration (mandatory of all EPIRB owners) which tells them who
the beacon belongs to as well as provides additional emerency
EPIRBs provide Search and Rescue forces with your location
either via GPS data if your EPIRB is equipped with a GPS receiver,
or via triangulation from the low earth orbiting satellites.
This positional data is provided to the Rescue Coordination Center
closest to your location. They in turn embark on your rescue
mission and use the EPIRBs 121.5 MHz homing signal to ultimately
pin-point your location and bring you home safetly.
Learn everything you need to know about EPIRBs in our
Boaters Guide to EPIRBs (PDF).
You are required to register your EPIRB with your local
authority. If you purchase a new or used 406 MHz beacon, you
MUST register it with your local government. If you change any
information on your registration (such as phone number, address,
bought a new boat, etc.) you MUST update the 406 MHz beacon
registration. Also, if you sell your 406 MHz beacon, notify your
local government that you have done so, and make sure the buyer
registers the beacon personally. Otherwise, you may be contacted by
rescue authorities if it is activated! Please provide the new owner
a link to our registration web page so he/she can register thier
beacon. Visit our Registration Data for more
information about your countrys registration requirements.
EPIRBs come in 1 of 2 different brackets. A Category 1
bracket is an automatically deployment bracket, while a Category 2
bracket is a manual deployment only bracket.
The Category I bracket is designed to release an EPIRB when the
Hydrostatic Release Unit (HRU) in the bracket is submerged in water
to a depth of 4 to 14 feet (1.5 - 4m). The regulation specifies a
range of depth for deployment to allow for different water
temperatures which will affect the release depth. The Hydrostatic
Release Unit needs to be replaced every two years.
In an emergency, the EPIRB will
release from its bracket, float to the surface and alert search and
rescue that you need help fast.
EPIRBs in a Category II bracket need
to be manually deployed and activated. They can be mounted above or
below deck, in a location that is protected from outside influences
(i.e. green water, traffic impacts, cabin doors, etc). Some people
prefer to keep their beacon in a Ditchbag without the bracket which
is ok if the bag is going to be in a dry spot on the boat.
An EPIRB with a GPS interface or
internal GPS greatly reduces the search radius down to 100 meters
(110 yards) but also significantly reduces the notification time
from less than 1 hour down to 1 minute.
The Cospas-Sarsat satellite system
uses 2 dierent satellites. The GEOSAR satellites are stationary
over the equator, if your beacon has GPS coordinates, these
satellites instantly alert Search and Rescue of your position in as
little as 2-3 minutes.
The LEOSAR satellites are low earth
orbiting and typically ever hour one flies over your location.
These satellites use Doppler shift principles to calculate your
position to send to Search and Rescue. However, the notifcation
time can be typically less than1 hour while you wait for one to
orbit over you.
Learn more about proper EPIRB mounting
locations, the differences between an EPIRB and PLB and much more
in our Boaters
Guide to EPIRBs (PDF)
Tags: EPIRB, EPIRBS, Emergency
Position Indicating Radio Beacon, Boater Guide To EPIRBs, Whats an
EPIRB, How Do EPIRBs Work
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