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Safe at Sea: Why would you buy an EPIRB?

By Staff | Jul 30, 2019


Situation: Your boat is 30-plus miles off the coast of Sanibel and you’re enjoying a great fishing trip. When it’s time to return to port, you observe a strong storm brewing. Not only does the engine not start up, all electrical systems are dead. The wind continues to grow, and the boat is adrift. The waves grow higher and higher, endangering the boat and its passengers. You are out of cell phone range. In short: you have no means of making contact with rescue services.

At this point in the scenario, an EPIRB may well be your lifesaver!

What, precisely, is an EPIRB? An Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon is used to alert search and rescue services in the event of an emergency. It does this by transmitting a coded message via the free-to-use, multinational SARSAT network. That, in turn, signals a ground station that connects with a “mission control” which activates rescue services.

Many readers may be wondering why not simply use a Personal Location Beacon or PLB, which they may already own. These features distinguish an EPIRB from a PLB: a PLB is designed to be carried on the owner; its beacon transmits for half the time of an EPIRB; and it does not float without a floatation case. Most importantly, a PLB does not self-activate; whereas, an EPIRB may be activated manually or via water-activation.

An EPIRB must be registered with NOAA. Among other pieces of information, the registration includes emergency contact person, homeport of the vessel and all pertinent boat identification features. All this can be completed at www.beaconregistration.noaa.gov. The registration must be updated, and NOAA will contact the owner via email in a timely manner to complete the update.


According to the BoatUS Foundation, “EPIRBs provide worldwide coverage, position location accuracy, a reliable transmitted signal, an encoded message that identifies the distressed vessel, and a faster response time.”

If you are a serious boater, you should have an EPIRB on board!

Pat Schmidt is a member of America’s Boating Club of Sanibel-Captiva. For more about the chapter and the courses it offers, visit www.sancapboating.club or contact education@sanibelcaptivasps.org or 239-985-9472.