Position accuracy is primarily dependent on the model of EPIRB that you carry. EPIRB’s without integrated GPS that depend on COSPAS-SARSAT satellite passes typically can provide accuracies within a few miles. The newer models with integrated GPS units can narrow that down to normal GPS accuracy standards of 15 meters or less.
How long it takes for help to arrive once you activate an EPIRB cannot be accurately answered. If you are in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, you may have to wait until another vessel can be diverted to your position to provide assistance. If you are fishing the western wall of the Gulf Stream off of Cape Hatteras, it’s probably a 40 minute helicopter flight out of Elizabeth City.
The key is the type of EPIRB carried and if it’s properly registered. An EPIRB with integrated GPS will typically have the closest SAR assets gearing up in about 15 minutes. On the other hand non-GPS units may require an hour to have an accurate fix on your location and begin to mobilize SAR units. If your EPIRB is not properly registered you can expect further delays that may add up to 2 hours before SAR units are dispatched.
Who should carry an EPIRB?
So who should carry EPIRB’s? Ignoring those commercial vessels that are required to carry an EPIRB by law, pleasure vessels in the U.S. have no carriage requirements (at least not yet). The answer to this question is arguably subjective. Many boaters have to balance their safety requirements with their pocketbooks. Others, who may not be constrained by a budget, may feel that an EPIRB is not required for their specific type of inshore or near shore boating.
So to offer my 2 cents worth, I would recommend that any boater that goes beyond normally accepted VHF range should seriously consider putting an EPIRB on board. For those that cruise or engage in long offshore passages, it’s a no brainer!
Registering Your EPIRB!
The law requires that all 406 MHz Satellite beacons be registered. When you register, you are providing SAR personnel with valuable information that will help expedite their response in the event of an emergency. Additionally in the event of an unwanted activation, it provides a means to contact the owner to determine if there is an emergency or not and if not to advise them of the accidental activation.
EPIRBs in the U.S. are registered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). We have provided the official NOAA registration form below which you can download and file. Additionally when there is a change in any information provided; boat, address, or primary phone numbers you are required re-register in order to update the information. If you happen to sell your EPIRB or if it accompanies the vessel you have sold, be sure that the new owner re-register’s the EPIRB in their name. If not, the Coast Guard will be calling you in the middle of the night if it happens to activate.
Don’t forget that current law requires that you re-register your EPIRB every 2 years even if there has been no change to the original registration information. While onerous, 2 year registration renewal makes sense. It effectively keeps the NOAA EPIRB database up to date with reasonably current information.
Testing and Maintaining Your EPIRB.
While EPIRBS are one of the most reliable pieces of safety equipment found on board, this does not mean that they are infallible. When you consider the prolonged periods of exposure to weather that the typical EPIRB is subject to, it would be wise to have a periodic maintenance and testing plan in place. All EPIRB owners should follow the procedures set out by their particular manufacturer.
NOAA in conjunction with the Coast Guard recommends a monthly inspection and testing schedule. They have developed a generic list of items that you should be checking during your monthly inspection.
During your maintenance procedures, you will want to keep in mind that 30% of false alarms generated by EPIRBs occur during testing. So be careful!
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