How to use an EPIRB

If you are unsure of what an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) is read our article What is an EPIRB?

How to register an EPIRB.

It is important to register your EPIRB properly with the appropriate authority. Make sure the EPIRB registration information is kept up to date including vessel and/or contact details and the EPIRB’s own unique HEX ID or UIN. In the case of UK registered EPIRBs contact the Maritime & Coastguard Agency.

If your EPIRB is water activated make sure it is safely deck mounted in its cradle. If not water activated, consider keeping it safe below decks or in a grab bag together with other necessary equipment. The location of the grab bag and its contents should be known by all crew.

If water activated, an EPIRB will not necessarily need to be activated manually. However, if you do so, follow the instructions on the EPIRB. In most cases activation is very very simple.

How to activate the EPIRB.

  1. Locate the sliding cover / button on the EPIRB
  2. Slide a protective cover to one side and 
  3. Click the switch or push the button in order to activate the EPIRB. Once activated the EPIRB will flash and a strobe is activated. 

After activation you should make sure the EPIRB is securely tied to the liferaft or vessel and ideally leave it floating free from the vessel or raft in the water. 

There is usually a test option that enables you to check the EPIRB is functioning properly and that the battery is sufficiently charged. 

What do I do if I accidentally activate the EPIRB?

In the event that an EPIRB is activated accidentally DO NOT turn the EPIRB off until you have contacted the appropriate authorities and informed them of the accidental activation. After they have been informed, they will instruct you to turn off the EPIRB. If you are unable to contact your registered MRCC contact the coastguard local to you and make sure they have all necessary information before you turn off the EPIRB.

How long will an EPIRB’s battery last?

Once activated an EPIRB has battery life to last 48 hours. This should be long enough to allow for a rescue operation to reach you. 

If you are in a particularly remote part of the World where rescue might take several days, it might be worth considering activating the EPIRB for a fixed timeframe (say six hours) and then turning it off for 6 hours before turning it back on for 3 hours and so on. Tony Bullimore was reported to have done something similar during his capsize in the 1996 Vendee Globe Round the World Yacht Race whilst 52 degrees South in the Southern Ocean.

This is one way to save battery life whilst at the same time the constant and regular activation makes it clear to the rescue services that activation is deliberate. This should not be necessary in most situations.

If your EPIRB is not fitted with GPS and instead relies on a fix of the distress transmission via a satellite network, it is worth remembering that this might take an hour or so to be established. A minimum broadcast of 3 hours at a time is therefore sensible and an initial 6 hours should be enough to instigate a search and rescue operation. 

Inshore, within VHF range, a DSC Distress call from your VHF radio is almost certainly a more effective option. EPIRB’s are a very effective tool when offshore.

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