HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN"> EPIRBs - a simple check could save your life

EPIRBs - a simple check could save your life
by Jim Murrant

It's disturbing to read that an estimated 40% of 406 MHz EPIRBs (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons) that are activated have not been registered. And registration is free!

However the following story raises another concern, because the EPIRB involved had been registered.

A simple check could save your life

In March 2009 in the USA a scallop boat, the Lady Mary, sank. So, you ask, what does an American fishing boat have to do with me?

As the emergency unfolded, the 406 MHz EPIRB was activated on the Lady Mary. The distress signal showed up initially as being from an unregistered beacon. This led to a delay in commencing the search while a satellite fix was received.

What went wrong? Even though the beacon was officially registered with NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration), the US beacon register, it was found that there was an error in the coding.

So, if you are relying on the activation of your 406 MHz EPIRB to spark a quick rescue, you should make a quick check.

You need to verify that the characters of the identification code printed on the beacon match the registration documentation received from your country's beacon register. This advice also applies to PLBs (Personal Locator Beacons).

Update your contact details

When you change your phone number or move house, you must notify your country's beacon register with your new emergency contact information.

Buying the right EPIRB

If you're overseas and need to buy a new beacon, perhaps because you're belatedly replacing your now superseded
121.5 MHz EPIRB, make sure you tell the retailer. Beacons must be registered in the home country of their owner(s) and have to be coded for that country.

So, if you were an American cruising the Pacific, you would need the EPIRB to be coded for the USA so that you could register it with NOAA.

Testing your EPIRB

When you want to check and test your EPIRB, say prior to a coastal cruise or offshore voyage, make sure you follow the manufacturer's instructions and be careful not to activate it.

When should I activate my EPIRB and how long will it last?

You should only activate your EPIRB as a last resort, when you
have exhausted all means possible to rescue yourself and your
crew from imminent danger.

If you are in this situation, do not turn the EPIRB on and off to try to preserve its battery life. This could adversely affect the EPIRB and delay the satellites that are trying to fix your position. The battery is designed to activate the EPIRB for 48 hours.

EPIRB batteries usually last five years and their expiry date should be clearly marked on the manufacturer's label. If you have had to activate your EPIRB during an emergency, you should replace its battery so that you have the full 48 hours' power available.