A Sailor’s Guide To EPIRB Requirements & Compliance

Regulatory requirements for Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs) are governed internationally and domestically.

The International Maritime Organization (IMO) mandates global EPIRB standards, requiring some vessels to use Category I EPIRBs, as detailed in Resolution MSC.471(101).

U.S. regulations vessel requirements for EPIRBs are outlined in Title 46 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

Compliance is enforced by the U.S. Coast Guard, emphasizing the importance of proper registration and maintenance of these lifesaving devices.

SOLAS mandates commercial vessels to have EPIRBs meeting IMO standards, with boats under treaty nations needing automatic deployment for quick distress alerting.

Technical Thresholds & Requirements

The latest IMO requirements for EPIRBs mandate the inclusion of internal AIS frequency, 406 MHz channel, and GNSS receiver in every EPIRB installed on a ship after July 1, 2022.

šŸŽ“ Author Note: Make sure your next EPIRB test will survey the latest IMO rules.

EPIRBs with AIS channels emit distress signals directly to proximate vessels equipped with AIS, facilitating faster response and rescue operations.

This feature, along with GNSS technology, enhances location accuracy and enables immediate assistance.

A Global Navigation Satellite System (GNSS) receiver, enhances position accuracy by using multiple satellite systems.

The beacon also houses a transmitter that sends a distress signal via the Cospas-Sarsat international satellite system, which ensures your beacon’s signal can be picked up anywhere in the world.

Along with the EPIRBs improvement the industry also offers alternatives for PLBs (Personal Locator Beacons). The ones with integrated AIS transmitters are called PAB ā€“ Personal AIS Beacon.

Offering GPS location data and AIS transmission to nearby vessels upon activation, particularly useful for man-overboard situations.

EPIRBs primarily operate on the 406 MHz frequency band.

The distress signal includes an encrypted identification number, containing essential information such as the ship’s identification and the nature of the distress.

In addition, EPIRBs can also transmit on the 121.5 MHz frequency, which serves as a homing signal for SAR teams during the final stages of the rescue operation.

Maintenance and Testing

New rules require shore-based maintenance to include checking the AIS message transmission and content validity.

Suitable testing equipment like the MRTS-7M is recommended for this purpose.

The MRTS-7M is highlighted as a convenient testing tool for verifying signal channels, including satellite, homing, AIS, and GNSS, ensuring compliance with new AIS EPIRB requirements.

Your EPIRB’s battery service life is critical and typically lasts between 5 to 10 years. However, this can vary depending on the manufacturer and model.

It’s vital to check the expiration date on your EPIRB and to have it replaced by a certified service center before it expires. Remember, the battery’s life span is not only affected by use but also by time.

Regular testing of your EPIRB is required to check its operational readiness. You can perform a self-test to ensure the beacon’s functionality.

Self-Testing: This test checks the unit’s electronics and verifies that the signal is being transmitted without actually sending a distress signal. Conduct these tests according to the manufacturer’s instructions, generally not more than once a month to conserve battery life.

Professional Testing: Annually, a more thorough test is required, which often coincides with the Annual Safety Radio Survey. A certified technician should carry out this inspection to ensure complete testing of the beacon’s functionality, including battery condition and signal strength.

Frequently Asked

The carriage of EPIRBs is generally mandatory for all commercial vessels and is determined by the vessel’s size, the area of operation, and the nature of voyages undertaken. International voyages and those beyond certain distances from the coastline often have stricter EPIRB requirements.

According to SOLAS regulations, EPIRBs must conform to specific performance standards, be registered, and undergo regular inspections. They should also be mounted in a location where they can automatically be released and function in case the vessel founders. These are international guidelines followed by most seafaring nations to ensure the safety of life at sea.

To register an EPIRB, you must provide information such as your contact details, vessel identification, and emergency contact information to the relevant authority. In the U.S., you can register your EPIRB through NOAA’s Beacon Registration. This is a cost-free process.

Remember to keep your registration details updated to ensure effective rescue operations in case of an emergency.

Nice to e-meet you. Iā€™m Justin, a seasoned sailing journalist and communications pro with more than 25 years of extensive industry experience. And a track record of successfully promoting teams and events on the global stage.