What Is An EPIRB or Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons?

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What Is An EPIRB or Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons?

What Is  An EPIRB or Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons? EPERB

What Is An EPIRB or Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons?

Posted on May 24, 2018

Safe boating is everyone’s responsibility, and there is technology available to commercial and recreational boaters to alert Search and Rescue teams of your exact location, should the unthinkable ever happen.  Learn everything you need to know about EPIRBs and how they take the Search out of Search and Rescue.

What Does EPIRB Stand For?

EPIRB Stands for Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacon.  You may also hear an EPIRB referred to as a GPIRB, this stands for an EPIRB that has an internal GNSS/GPS receiver to pinpoint your location faster.

What Is An EPIRB?

Liferaft with EPIRB

An EPIRB or Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, is a distress beacon for boaters that when activated alerts a worldwide Search and Rescue (SAR) network designed to send rescuers to your exact location quickly.  EPIRBs transmit a digital 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 (also free, yet mandatory of all EPIRB owners) which tells them who the beacon belongs to as well as provides additional emergency contact information. 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 calculations from the 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 and strobe lights to ultimately pin-point your location and bring you home safely.

Worldwide Registration

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 their beacon.

Visit our Registration Data for more information about your countries registration requirements.

How Often Do you Register Your EPIRB?

Registration renewal should take place every 2 years at a minimum.  Most registrations can be easily updated online, in which case it is easy to add a float plan or additional trip details to your registration whenever you want.  Think of your EPIRB Registration as your own part of your rescue.  The more detail you provide, and the more frequent you update your registration, your are giving the people coming to rescue you all the information they need to expedite your own rescue.

Do EPIRBs have Subscription Fees?

An EPIRB works on government funded Search and Rescue Satellites (Cospas-Sarsat), and there is no required monthly or annual subscription fees to pay once you own an EPIRB (or Personal Locator Beacon).  The fact is, EPIRBs save millions of tax payer dollars each year because they take the search out of search and rescue.

What are the different EPIRB brackets?

An EPIRB comes either a Category 1 bracket (automatically Float Free deployment) or a Category 2 bracket (manual deployment only).

The Float Free Category 1 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 – 4 meters). 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 2 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.

  • Category 1 Brackets automatically deploys EPIRB when vessel sinks | Category 2 Brackets must be manually deployed from the bracket in an emergency
  • Category1 Brackets contains a Hydrostatic Release Unit (HRU) which needs to be replaced every 2 years
  • Both category type brackets have a built-in deactivation water sensor to prevent false alarms should the beacon get wet while in its bracket
  • Both brackets allow for manual activation of beacon while in bracket as long as the beacon antenna is positioned to the sky
  • Category 1 Brackets provide protection for the EPIRB from UV exposure

The Benefits of upgrading to a GPS EPIRB

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 different 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.