How To Use EPIRBs

An Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) is not just an accessory but a necessity on board, particularly when venturing offshore.

Your EPIRB should always be accessible, stored in a dry place, and ready for immediate use.

Regular testing is essential to ensure functionality and registration with the appropriate maritime safety authority is not only mandatory but also provided at no cost.

Understanding the correct activation method and release process is important. Become familiar with your specific EPIRB.

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Required Conditions for Operation

To effectively operate an EPIRB, it’s crucial to understand the specific situations in which it is necessary.

An EPIRB is only to be utilized under dire circumstances when all other conventional distress signaling methods, such as marine radios or flares, have been exhausted.

EPIRB Requirements: The US Coast Guard recommends all boats carry an EPIRB beyond 3 miles from the coastline. This becomes mandatory for commercial vessels

Signal Requirements: To function correctly, your EPIRB must emit a signal of 406 megahertz (MHz) to ensure detection by a rescue center.

Manual EPIRB Use

Summary of the Activation Process:
1️⃣ Remove the EPIRB from its cradle or your grab bag.
2️⃣ Ensure the antenna is upright.
3️⃣ Open the cover and switch it on.
4️⃣ Close the cover, unfurl the line, and secure it to yourself or your vessel.
5️⃣ Once secured, release the EPIRB into the water—it operates optimally when floating.

Ensuring your EPIRB is ready for use involves several key steps.

First, always store it in an accessible yet protected space, such as an emergency bag, to keep it dry and easy to retrieve quickly.

Regular testing, following the manufacturer’s guidelines, is vital for maintaining its functionality.

This should be done monthly, preferably in the first five minutes past any hour, by uncovering and pressing the test button briefly. A successful test is indicated by a beep and a flash of the strobe light.

When it’s necessary to activate your emergency signal, begin by removing the EPIRB from its housing or emergency bag.

Extend the antenna fully and ensure it remains upright throughout the process.

Then, uncover and engage the switch. Following this, close the cover of the device, preparing it for the next stage.

Before deploying the EPIRB into the water, secure it by attaching the tether line to your vessel, life raft, or life jacket, assuring it cannot drift away.

Once secured, cast the EPIRB into the water without holding onto it, as it’s most effective when freely floating.

Remember, the battery life should be monitored and replaced either after use or by the expiration date shown on the device.

Automatic EPIRB Use

A Category 1 EPIRB, when paired with a hydrostatic release unit (HRU), is designed for automatic activation and deployment in a maritime emergency. The process works as follows:

Mounting: The EPIRB is securely mounted on a vessel’s deck or bridge in a bracket connected to a Hydrostatic Release Unit (HRU).

Submersion: If the vessel sinks, the HRU is activated once it reaches a certain depth underwater, typically around 2-4 meters (about 6.5 to 13 feet).

Release: Upon activation, the HRU mechanically cuts the EPIRB free from its mounting bracket.

Activation: Once released, the EPIRB automatically activates. For Category 1 EPIRBs, this activation can occur either upon contact with water (water-activated) or as a result of the release mechanism itself.

Distress Signal: The activated EPIRB begins transmitting a distress signal, which includes a unique identifier for the vessel, to search and rescue satellites.

This automatic deployment and activation system ensures that even if the crew is unable to manually deploy the EPIRB during an emergency, the device can still provide a crucial lifeline by signaling for help.

⚠️ Remember: In the case of automatic deployment using an HRU, the EPIRB is not tethered to the vessel.

Guidelines for EPIRB Upkeep

You are obliged to perform these checks every month but remember to perform them within the first five minutes of any hour to avoid any inadvertent signals that could be misconstrued as actual distress calls.

Steps for Testing

  • Test Sequence:
    1. Locate and open the EPIRB’s protective cover.
    2. Briefly press the test button, typically colored yellow.
    3. Observe the response: a confirming beep and a flashing green light indicate the unit is operational.
  • Battery Maintenance: Inspect and replace the battery following your usage or by the date listed on the device, which signifies its expiry.

🎓 Remember:
Usage-Based Replacement: After an emergency use, replace the battery immediately.
Date-Based Replacement: Follow the manufacturer’s date on the device.

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.