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EPIRB-Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon

EPIRB, abbreviated as Emergency Position-Indicating Radio Beacons, an extremely great enlargement in the services provided by Emergency Locator Transmitters (ELT). It is a water-sensing device or can be called a radio transmitter that is portable and functions with the use of power supplied by a battery. Safety equipment like EPIRB, Compass, SART are used in times of misery or distress in boats that are traveling in the deep sea or an ocean.


EPIRB is used in times of emergency conditions, in boats that get surrounded by ocean or sea distress; mainly, it transmits a signal which is in the form of coded messages and then locates the people, ships, or boats via the signal transmitted in a defined frequency band.

History & Brief Introduction: –

Discussing the history of EPIRB, it came into operation in the year 1989. It operates in a specified frequency range and provides distress signaling services in all types of weather. The geostationary satellite is the backbone of EPIRB as it performs instantaneous signal recognition nearly anywhere on the globe.

So, these are placed in the oceanic crafts or containers and listed by an organization called the national search and rescue organization in that specific boat going in the deep sea or to any ocean.

An EPIRB transmits two types of signals, an emergency distress frequency signal and a homing signal. The distress frequency signal of 406MHz is sent via the geostationary satellite and earth stations to the nearest search and rescue center. The homing signal of 121.5MHz is a peculiar audio tone frequency signal that helps the search and rescue services to find the exact location of beacons.

Categories of EPIRB: –

  • Category – I: – Also called Automatic EPIRB, these are auto float-free and get automatically started when it comes in the proximity of water or immersed below 2-4 feet of the ocean or seawater, which sends the signal as it contacts the water. It works with using a Hydrostatic Release Unit. These can be allowed to function manually by simply detaching the manual brackets and switching on the power switch.
  • Category – II: – renowned as Manual EPIRB, these are started or activated manually and can be carried in emergency bags in ships, boats, or yacht and used in times of unusual situations.

Taking into consideration the above information, the manual one is of lower cost than the automatic EPIRB, as the automatic one contains much more equipment, like the Manual activation brackets and the Hydrostatic release units, and easier to use than the manual EPIRB.

Registration of an EPIRB: –

For registering an EPIRB, one needs to purchase it first. After buying, one can register the EPIRB in their own country and for that, you need various details like contact details and the container, craft, or vessel details where you are going to install it. It is really very necessary to have all the prior information as to when the EPIRB is turned on the organization, i.e., the search and rescue organization will communicate with the person who registered the EPIRB or its team to get informed about if they need any help or want any search rescue operation.

Operation of an EPIRB: –

An EPIRB is a point radio transmitter that functions to emit signals in the range of 406.0 MHz and 406.1 MHz and works with a satellite as this frequency is particularly specified by International standards for informing about emergency or distress situations. It helps to locate the place of distress in the rescue center.

Main functioning: –

This device consists of two transmitters basically radio transmitters, both operating at 406 MHz frequency range; the radio transmitters are 5 watts and 0.25 watts. A transmitter of 5 watts is integrated with a Geostationary satellite moving all over the earth in a geosynchronous orbit.

  •  The signal transmitted by an EPIRB contains a digital code, normally called an “encrypted Identification number”.
  • This Identification number consists of various important information like the identity of the ship, location of ship, date and time of the distress, and many other things.
  • The unique identity number or the identification number is a 15-digit number consisting of letters and numbers programmed on the exterior part in each beacon on a white label while manufacturing it in the factories.
  • There is a Local User Terminal(LUT) which provides the main functioning as it finds the positions where the fatality or loss occurred using a well-known concept called the Doppler Shift.
  • This LUT performs as a major element as it positions the EPIRB very precisely and finds the container or vessel located anywhere in the whole world.
  • The LUT sends an instant alert message to the search and rescue center and then the rescue center does the rescue operations and various other operations.
  • A GPS receiver is really very essential as reaching the accurate place completely depends on the fact that an EPIRB contains a GPS receiver otherwise, the rescue team will not find the exact location where the distress has occurred and may not be able to rescue anyone.

All these functions must be performed in a well-phased manner, such that it performs similar to the way it is designed to function.

Faulty Alerting in an EPIRB: –

Sometimes it might happen that the EPIRB gets switched on because of an individual’s mistake.

Actions to be taken immediately: –

  1. It is really important to cancel the signal transmission instantly so that the further operation gets stopped.
  2. Also, the local search and rescue center must be informed immediately about this alerting.
  3. This information must also be provided immediately to the suitable shipping commander in-charge

Mounting an EPIRB: –

An EPIRB can be mounted anywhere except the fire sources such as engine room or places where direct sunlight comes. Before mounting an EPIRB few things should be taken care –

  1. Safety of the device
  2. Boat’s topple over
  3. Sinking of the boat

So, it can be mounted on the decks, the rooftop of the cabin, railing part of the boat, sailing boat as it will have sails and equipment that will help the EPIRB in submerging easily and freely, bags with a pocket for manual EPIRB mounting.

Usage & Safeguarding of EPIRB: –

The EPIRB must be checked once a month in time to make sure it is functioning properly. These are tested with an EPIRB tester and its batteries should be changed by the time duration specified by the manufacturing company. The expiry dates of both EPIRB battery and HRU must be checked for future safety and get it replaced if it was expired. All the switches should be checked to test their proper operations.

These things must be kept in mind while using EPIRB and for keeping it function for a long time.


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