This page explains everything you need to know about EPIRBs: how they work, how much they cost, how they differ from Personal Location Beacons (PLBs) and how you can set one up.
An Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon or EPIRB is used to alert search and rescue services in the event of an emergency. It does this by transmitting a coded message via the free to use, multinational Cospas Sarsat network. A 406 MHz distress frequency signal is sent via satellite and earth stations to the nearest rescue co-ordination centre.
EPIRBs also transmit a homing signal via 121.5 MHz to help rescue services to pinpoint the beacons location. Some EPIRBs also have built-in GNSS receivers which enables the rescue services to accurately locate your coordinates to +/- 50 metres. These receivers can be single source, typically using the US GPS, or multi-constellational, working with a number of GNSS satellite systems such as the EU’s Galileo or Russia’s Glonass offering greater global coverage, faster detection and more accurate location detection. Orolia Maritime offers an EPIRB variant that also includes an AIS VHF frequency, which allows vessels in the local area (4NM) to pick up the distress alert as an ‘Man overboard’ alarm on their vessels AIS screen.
Who Uses An EPIRB?
EPIRBs are generally installed on marine vessels and are typically registered through the national search and rescue organisation to that specific boat. This registration allows faster confirmation of false alert and helps provide crucial planned travel details in emergencies. EPIRBs can either be operated automatically after an incident by fitting them to an auto-house which releases the EPIRB once submerged allowing the units water contacts to active the signal. EPIRBs can also be carry in ditch or emergency bags and activated manually in an emergency. Some vessels have a dedicated vessel EPIRB and a secondary crew EPIRB which goes into a lifeboat with the crew. In most countries EPIRBs are mandated to be used in all commercial shipping, fishing vessels and racing sailing vessels. However, they are also widely used on yachts and leisure boats, kayaks.