What is Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB)?

EPIRB: Even though technology has changed how we talk to each other and find our way, safety at sea or in wild, remote places is still the most important thing. If you’re a seasoned sailor, an adventurer exploring remote areas, or just someone who likes being outside, learning about the value of an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) could save your life.

An EPIRB, which stands for “Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon,” is a small, self-contained device that can send a distress signal to search and rescue officials in an emergency that could kill someone. These kinds of situations can happen at sea, on land, or in remote places where normal ways of getting in touch may not work or aren’t available.

An EPIRB’s main job is to quickly let authorities know where you are and what kind of trouble you’re in, so they can respond quickly to your emergency. It is possible to use an EPIRB on any type of sailboat because they are made to work in the rough seas.

Types Of EPIRB

  1. COSPAS-SARSAT– EPIRBS under the COSPAS-SARSAT system work on the 406.025 MHz and 121.5 MHz bands and are applicable for all sea areas
  2. INMARSAT E– This EPIRB works on a 1.6 GHz band. These are applicable for sea areas A1, A2 and A3.
  3. VHF CH 70– This works on the 156.525 MHz band and is applicable for sea area A1 only
  4. Category I (Automatic): These EPIRBs are designed for vessels and are activated automatically when they are submerged in water. They also have a manual activation option. Category I EPIRBs are typically float-free and designed to automatically float to the surface, ensuring they transmit even if the vessel sinks.
  5. Category II (Manual): When an emergency occurs, the user manually activates these EPIRBs. People frequently use them in land-based or outdoor environments.

How does an EPIRB work?


The device has two radio transmitters, one that is 5 watts and the other that is 0.25 watts. Both of them work at 406 MHz, which is the usual international frequency for signaling distress.

The 5-watt radio emitter is in sync with a geosynchronous orbiting GOES weather satellite that goes around the earth every day.

The United States, Russia, Canada, and France got together to create COSPAS-SARSAT, an international satellite-based search and rescue system that can find emergency radio signals.

The International Cospas-Sarsat Program stopped handling 121.5 MHz by satellites on February 1, 2009. This was because 406 MHz beacons had many benefits and 121.5 MHz beacons had many problems. The FAA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) both told people to switch to 406 for clear reasons.

Planes could still use the Emergency Locator Transmitter, though, and reports from these devices wouldn’t be taken seriously unless they were backed up by two other non-satellite sources or devices.

An EPIRB sends messages to a satellite. The signal is made up of a digitally encrypted identification number that holds information like the ship’s name, the date of the event, the type of trouble, emergency contacts, and location.

A Unique Identifier Number (UIN) is written into each beacon at the plant. The UIN number is a 15-digit string of letters and numbers that gives the beacon its own unique name. UIN is written on a white label on the beacon’s outside. The UIN is also known as the Hex ID.

Doppler Shift, which is the change in frequency or wavelength of a wave (or other periodic event) for a viewer moving relative to its source, is used by the Local User Terminal (satellite receiving units or ground stations) to figure out where the casualty is.

The LUT sends the data message to the Mission Rescue Coordination Center (MRCC). The MRCC is also in charge of the SAR operations and makes sure that the rescue task is carried out correctly.

If the EPIRB doesn’t work with a GPS receiver, the geosynchronous satellite in orbit around the earth can only pick up the radio messages that the radio sends out. In this case, it is not possible to figure out where the emitter is or who the owner is.

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These satellites can only pick up very small parts of these signals, which means they can only give a rough idea of where the EPIRB is. International rules say that a signal at 406MHz should be taken as an emergency warning.

Even if the emitter is three miles away, the signal might help you find it. If the EPIRB is registered, the person or boat that is in trouble could be found.

The person looking for the lost person can be reached from 15 miles away if a receiver sends out signals of 121.5 MHz. If an EPIRB has a GPS receiver built in, it might help you hit your goal more accurately.

Use of EPIRB

The owner of the beacon must turn on the EPIRB for it to send messages. For category II EPIRBs, this could be done by pressing a button on the unit, or it could happen immediately through hydrostatic release if it touches water.

This second type is called a hydrostatic EPIRB. Its high quality makes it the best choice for sailors because it can be set off instantly if something goes wrong on the ship or vessel and it ends up in deep water.

It is important to remember that the EPIRB can only work after it is taken out of its bracket. As was already said, this could be done by hand or automatically. The device primarily runs on batteries. This helps because when something bad happens, power is the first thing that changes.


  • 12 Volt battery
  • 48 hours of transmitting capacity
  • Normally replaced every 2 to 5 years
  • Use proper replacement battery

False Alarm

Someone on board could accidentally set off the EPIRB, which would cause fake alarms. This needs to be reported right away to the nearest coast station or RCC (Rescue Co-Ordination Center) and stopped.

Notifying the right people about the cancellation is also necessary (for example, DG Shipping for Indian Registered Ships or ships that are in Indian waters when the false alert is sent). You must also tell the shipowner and/or the agent.

EPIRB Tests for Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon

To make sure it works right, the EPIRB should be checked once a month. The steps to take are as follows:

Testing EPIRB

It is recommended that the EPIRB be tested once a month to ensure its operational integrity. To do so, follow these steps:

  1. The EPIRB should be tested by pressing and releasing the test button
  2. There should be one flash of the red lamp on the EPIRB
  3. Upon pressing the button, the strobe and red light should flash several times within 30 seconds
  4. The EPIRB will automatically shut off after 60 seconds of operation

Maintenance of EPIRB

Maintenance of EPIRB
(Credit: acr artex)
  1. Visually inspect the EPIRB for any defects, such as cracks
  2. Once in a while, it is advisable to wipe the EPIRB with a dry cloth
  3. During cleaning, it is imperative to pay particular attention to the switches
  4. EPIRB lanyards must be neatly packed into their containers without dangling loose ends
  5. Battery expiration dates should be checked to ensure that they cover both the current voyage as well as the next voyage
  6. If the EPIRB fails the monthly inspection, return it to the service agent or the supplier
  7. Change the battery onboard if facilities are available or send it to a servicing agent if none are available
  8. The EPIRB must be returned to an authorized service agent for a battery replacement if it has been used in an emergency.
  9. HRUs that have reached their expiry date should be replaced on board and marked with an expiration date two years in the future.

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Personal Locator Beacons (PLB)

PLBs are like EPIRBs for specific things. They show that someone is in trouble and is not close to rescue services. When they send on the COSPAS SARSAT satellite system at 406.025 MHz, PLBs work like EPIRBS. They’re not nearly as big as EPIRBs. They do work on land and at sea all over the world.

They should be put in a safe spot on the boat, like a ditch bag or somewhere that is easy to get to. Some of them have flashing lights that can be manually or automatically turned on.

When turned on, a PLB will send signals for at least 24 hours. An EPIRB, on the other hand, will send signals for at least 48 hours, which is at least twice as long. A PLB is registered to a person, while an EPIRB is registered to a boat.

The EPIRB is an important piece of emergency gear that should always be on board in case of trouble. It needs a lot of time to try, care for, and keep up with its maintenance so that it works at its best when it’s needed.Needs for Legal and Registration

It is very important to remember that EPIRBs need to be registered with the right officials so that they can be used correctly and quickly in an emergency. As part of this register, you must give important details about the EPIRB’s owner, the vessel or person using it, and emergency contacts.

EPIRBs also need to follow foreign rules and standards, like those made by the foreign Maritime Organization (IMO) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the US. Following these rules keeps the EPIRB working right and keeps you out of trouble with the law.

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