How Do You Release An EPIRB?

An Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) is something I hope you never have to use in a real-life emergency scenario. That being said, it’s critical that you know how.

During my yachting career that’s spanned over 10 years, I have luckily never needed to release one when in grave and imminent danger. But I have inspected and monitored more EPIRBs than I can care to count.

Typically, EPIRBs can be activated both manually and automatically when submerged in water, although the steps to release might vary depending on the bracket type. 

To manually activate an EPIRB, locate the sliding cover or button on the device. Slide the protective cover to one side, click the switch, or push the button.

Once activated, the EPIRB will flash, and a strobe is activated. If the EPIRB is automatic (water-activated), it will not need manual activation but can be done if required.​

Key Takeaways

  • Familiarize yourself with your specific EPIRB model, its activation methods, and release mechanisms.
  • Proper registration and regular testing ensure your EPIRB’s effectiveness in distress.

Steps for How to Activate an EPIRB

1️⃣ First, remove the safety and any protective covers from the device. This may involve breaking off a tab or lifting a flap. Some EPIRBs are stored in brackets, and there are two types: Category I and II. 

Category I brackets can self-activate the EPIRB when submerged (via the HRU). If you need to activate it manually (Cat II brackets), press the release button to grab the EPIRB and activate it before the boat goes under.

2️⃣ Next, locate the ON or Activate button on the EPIRB. Press and hold the button for one second or follow the device’s guidelines to activate the beacon successfully. A green LED light may flash to signal activation, and the strobe light will also start to shine intermittently.

3️⃣ Once activated, if the EPIRB is designed to float, throw it into the water AFTER securely attaching the lanyard to the liferaft. Ensure that you observe any specific instructions your EPIRB’s manufacturer provided on its proper deployment in the water.

It’s essential for you to be familiar with your EPIRB’s activation process, as well as its basic operation. Know how an EPIRB works in advance to be prepared to respond efficiently in an emergency.

Rescue Operations with EPIRB

Remember to register your beacon with the EPIRB national authority for your country or the one where the beacon is programmed. This is typically the country where you purchased the device, regardless of where you plan to sail.

An activated EPIRB sends a distress signal, initiating a search and rescue (SAR) operation that typically involves the Coast Guard or the nearest Rescue Coordination Center (RCC). 

These authorities use the transmitted signal to determine your location and dispatch appropriate resources to assist during emergencies at sea.

EPIRBs transmit a signal to the Cospas-Sarsat system, a global satellite SAR network, which then sends the information to a ground station. This alerts the central command, which initiates the search and rescue operation by notifying the Coast Guard or Air Force Rescue Coordination Center nearest to your location.

The efficiency and effectiveness of an EPIRB depend partly on the model you choose. Some devices include an integrated GPS receiver, which provides location information faster and more accurately. 

If you’re considering whether an EPIRB is necessary for your boating adventures, then be sure to know the legal requirements. I’ll cover that now.

Legal Aspects of EPIRB Usage

As a boater, you should know the legal aspects of using an EPIRB. Most maritime authorities require vessels to carry EPIRBs, especially when undertaking long-distance voyages or sailing in international waters. 

Proper registration and adherence to maintenance guidelines are also essential to ensure the device operates effectively when needed.

Failure to comply with these regulations can result in fines or other penalties, so it’s in your best interest to familiarize yourself with the legal requirements in your country and any areas you plan to visit.

Additionally, false activations can strain SAR resources and divert them from genuine emergencies, so handling and testing your EPIRB responsibly is vital.

Types of EPIRBs

There are two main types of EPIRBs: Category I and Category II. Understanding the differences between these categories can help you choose the right one for your boat and its intended use.

Category I EPIRBs

Category I EPIRBs are designed to be float-free and automatically activated in the event of a maritime emergency. They are suitable for various types of boats, but any vessel planning serious passage should go Cat I. 

EPIRBs with Category I brackets allow for automatic release and activation when submerged in water. This can be especially useful in a sudden accident, as it ensures that your distress signal is sent out even if you cannot activate the EPIRB manually.

Category II EPIRBs

Category II EPIRBs are designed to be manually activated by the user. Some models are also water-activated, making them a versatile choice for different types of boats, such as pontoon boats, fishing boats, runabouts, and more. 

These EPIRBs come with Category II brackets, requiring you to manually release them from their brackets and activate them in an emergency.

Testing and Maintenance

Most EPIRB models have a built-in test feature, which you can use to verify that the device is functioning correctly. Also, keep your EPIRBs registration information updated so that SAR teams have accurate information about you and your vessel in case of an emergency. 

To maintain your EPIRB’s effectiveness, only replace the battery as the manufacturer recommends and regularly inspect its brackets for any signs of wear or damage.

EPIRB Registration

When you buy an EPIRB, you should register it with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the United States or the appropriate organization in your country. 

This registration process enables search and rescue personnel to access essential information about you and your vessel, which can be vital during an emergency.

Boating Safety

EPIRBs work in conjunction with satellite systems such as the Search & Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking (SARSAT) system to transmit distress signals. When properly registered, this information enables rescuers to locate you within three miles of your position [^1^]. 

Familiarizing yourself with other marine communication devices is an integral part of boating safety. 

Satellite phones, VHF radios, and PLBs (Personal Locator Beacons) are some examples of other safety devices that can help in an emergency. 

Understanding the pros and cons of EPIRBs and PLBs can enable you to make the best choice for your particular needs. In short, an EPIRB is designed primarily for marine use, while a PLB can be used in various outdoor environments.

Preparation and knowledge will help ensure that you are ready for any situation that may arise while at sea.

I’m the founder and chief editor here at Sailing Savvy. I spent a decade working as a professional mariner and currently, I mix those experiences with digital publishing. Welcome, and I hope that we can be the hub you need for safe passage.