Many developments in the marine industry have made life at sea comfortable and safe for professionals with offshore jobs and water sports enthusiasts. A calm and silent sea can become turbulent and violent in no time. Hence, every vessel should have the proper emergency gear to ensure safety.
A GPS, VHF Radio and VHF Antenna are handy; however, having a reliable Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon or an EPIRB registered to the vessel is essential. EPIRBs last 48 hours and can be registered with NOAA without a fee.
The EPIRBs send a distress signal and are made for mariners especially. In case of an emergency, an EPIRB sends a signal via the Cospas Sarsat, a network used by sailors worldwide. The signal is transmitted from the earth and satellites to the rescue stations near the stranded vessel, which alerts the search and rescue professionals.
An activated EPIRB sends two signals. A 406 MHz signal transmits the beacon identification number and the location of the GPS to the government’s ground stations. The ground stations then contact the nearest Coast Guard to send help.
The second EPIRB Signal acts as a homing beacon. The 121.5 MHz signals can be tracked by rescue helicopters with a device to point to the location of the distress signal. Through both signals, rescue professionals can easily find the people.
Category 1 EPIRB is installed on the vessel and is activated automatically in case the ship is hit and sinks. Category 2 EPIRB can be activated manually by pressing a button.
Commercial Vessels more than 36 feet long and operating on high seas are mandated to possess a category 1 EPIRB. It must be installed properly so that if the vessel sinks, it will float free and activate automatically.
Small Ships on high seas are also required to have an FCC-approved category 1, 406 MHz EPIRB.
Features of the best EPIRBsIn-built GPS
The latest EPIRB models have an internal GPS that can track your location quickly and precisely. However, some older models are slow in getting the exact location.
EPIRBs that do not have a GPS require satellite triangulation to send emergency signals, which can take about 60 minutes. Those with an integrated GPS can send emergency signals in five minutes. EPIRBS are vital if you are on the high seas, and it is advised to buy the latest one to ensure your safety.
The EPIRBs battery lasts for 5 to 10 years from the manufacturing date. Some EPIRBs allow the users to change the batteries themselves, while others have to be taken to the manufacturer to replace them.
If the EPIRB has been on the vessel for a long time, you might go for a new one instead of changing the batteries and keeping the old EPIRB as a backup. It is better to have two EPIRBs just in case 1 gets broken.
The best EPIRBs are activated automatically when they get immersed in water. Some come in casings that release them so they can freely float when submerged. These are a requirement for SOLAS vessels.
The EPIRBs with retractable antennas are easy to handle and do not get damaged. However, the antenna must be straightened so that the beacon can operate at its full potential.
Best EPIRBs have two frequency bands. The 406 MHz band is for satellite transmissions that send distress signals to Falmouth Coastguard. The 121.5 MHz band sends the call to the rescue vessel if it’s at close range. Some of the latest EPIRBs have an AIS transmitter that alerts local ships.
Every EPIRB is pre-programmed and registered in the country of use and comes with a country code. So while shopping online, do not buy EPIRBs from other regions.
Ideally, the best EPIRBs should be light and compact so they can be installed quickly and do not take up much space.
Some latest models offer additional features such as two-way text messaging so your friends and family can know your exact location at a particular time.
Some of the best EPIRBs are mentioned below-
1. ACR GlobalFix V4 Cat 2 EPIRB (Manual) – Programmed for US Registration 2831
The ACR GlobalFix EPIRB is programmed for the US and must only be registered to a vessel with a US MMSI number. It has a keypad command feature and maps of all the world’s regions. It does not come with batteries, but they are expected to last for ten years.
When the GlobalFIX V4 EPIRB is activated, it fixes your accurate GPS location. It sends it to search and rescue professionals worldwide via the 406 MHz distress signal and 121.5 MHz homing signals.
This EPIRB is functional anywhere around the globe, but the first point of contact would be US search and rescue authorities. This EPIRB cannot be registered or used in Australia and New Zealand.
The EPIRB’s emergency alert goes to the Coast Guard directly, and the three satellite constellations offer global coverage. No subscription fee is needed to use this EPIRB. It can be replaced by the Survivor Club Program if it is used in any emergency. It also comes with a Category 2 Manual Deploy Bracket.
It is deactivated when it is in the bracket and has to be taken out for activation. It has a quick-release button for easy access. The batteries can be replaced by the users quickly.
- Worldwide coverage to search and rescue
- Sends a direct alert to the coast guard
- It comes with a manual deployment bracket
- User-replaceable battery
- No subscription fee
- Quick release button
- Accurate location
- Quick and reliable
- No automatic activation
- Pre-programmed for the US
- It does not come with batteries
2.McMurdo 23-001-001A Smartfind EPIRB with GPS, AIS, and Homing Beacon
The McMurdo SmartFind EPIRB is the only EPIRB that can send all three signals- a 406 MHz GPS signal, 121.5 MHz homing signal, and AIS signal over VHF radio frequencies. It weighs 2.68 pounds and requires six lithium-ion batteries.
The AIS signal sends alerts to commercial ships equipped with AIS technology. AIS distress is integrated with most marine radios and also Personal Locator Beacons. It also alerts local vessels that could come to the rescue.
This EPIRB meets all US and international standards. It has a 48-hour fully operational battery with a 10-year storage life span. It also offers protection against accidental activation.
This EPIRB is activated when it is taken from the wall mount. It sends the signals once it is released from the frame. It can also be purchased with an automatic release frame. In that scenario, it will be activated when submerged in water and released from the release box.
- The worlds first EPIRB to include localized alert and recovery via AIS
- Combining the benefits of multiple life saving products in one Beacon
- Built in AIS
- Multi GNSS including Galileo
- Accidental activation protection
- Built-in AIS
- Multiple GNSS, including Galileo
- Accidental activation protection
- It comes with a manual-release bracket
- Comes with batteries
- 48-hour battery life
- Meets US and International standards
- Sends localised alerts too
- Manual activation
3. Garmin 010-01879-00 InReach Mini, Lightweight and Compact Satellite Communicator, Orange
The Garmin InReach Mini is 4” tall and 2” wide, weighing only 4.23 oz. It can send text messages using the global Iridium satellite network. Thus, there is no need to worry about not getting a mobile phone signal as the In reach mini works everywhere.
The screen size is 1.27 inches, and the display resolution is 128*128 pixels. The display is sunlight-readable, and it offers satellite maps. It does no a touchscreen interface but has buttons.
The SOS Signal would be responded to by GEOS, a global leader in emergency response and monitoring, which has carried out rescues in around 140 nations. Once the inreach mini sends a distress signal, do not worry, as it will be answered quickly. You will also be continuously updated regarding the arrival of the rescue force.
The Garmin Inreach mini can be connected in many ways. The Wireless connectivity allows you to send and receive messages using compatible Garmin handhelds, wearables such as watches or other mobile gadgets.
It has an inbuilt GPS tracking that allows people to share their real-time location with their family and friends. It also offers the feature to post about your adventures on social media platforms. There is an electronic compass also that aids in basic navigation.
This EPIRB is one of the best options available. And it has multiple uses and features and is very convenient and reliable. The Earthmate app syncs the inreach mini through Bluetooth with your apple or android phone and makes numerous maps available to your fingers. You can see aerial imagery, NOAA Charts and much more.
Earthmate App also allows using all the EPIRB’s features on the paired phone. It offers an easy messaging service by accessing the phone’s contact list via the earth mate app to connect with loved ones quickly.
You can also get live weather forecasts on your phone via the earth mate app by opting for the inReach weather forecast service. Basic and premium weather packages are available, and you can choose, depending on your needs, whether you need live weather forecasts or forecasts of some other place in your itinerary.
This EPIRB is tough, durable and also impact-resistant. It is water-rated to IPX7 and comes with an internal and rechargeable lithium battery that can last for 50 hours if used in the default 10-minute tracking mode. It can last 20 days in the power-saving mode. Battery life can change according to the settings applied. It can be recharged using a micro USB power cable or an optional in-vehicle 12-V charger.
The Inreach Mini is supported by Lockheed Martin Flight Services, Adverse Condition Alerting Service (ACAS), Surveillance-Enhanced Search and Rescue (SE-SAR) and Enhanced Special Reporting Services.
- Small, rugged, lightweight satellite communicator enables 2 way text messaging using the 100 percentage global Iridium network (satellite subscription required).Special Feature:Bluetooth.
- Trigger an interactive SOS to the 24/7 search and rescue monitoring center (satellite subscription required). Display size-0.9 x 0.9 inch
- Access downloadable maps, U.S. NOAA charts, color aerial imagery and more by using the free Garmin Earthmate app and compatible devices
- Optional inReach weather forecast service provides detailed updates directly to your inReach Mini or paired device, basic and premium weather packages available
- Send and receive inReach messages through compatible Garmin devices, including connected wearables and handhelds. Display resolution: 128 x 128 pixels
- Send two-way text messages
- Offers wireless connection
- Multiple features
- Triggers an interactive SOS signal
- Inbuilt GPS tracking
- It can be paired with mobile devices
- Electronic compass for primary navigation
- Access numerous maps
- Get weather forecasts
- Tough and impact-resistant
- Comes with batteries
- Battery life- 50 Hours
- Rechargeable batteries
- Handheld and portable
- Needs a subscription to assess most features
4. Spot X 2-Way Satellite Messaging, GPS Tracking SOS Feature w X-HD-X-B
The Spot X Epirb is one of the best options available in the market. It is safe and reliable and comes with rechargeable lithium batteries. The screen size is 2.7 inches, and has a simple and easy-to-use keypad. It provides satellite maps and has a battery life of about 240 hours.
It has many features such as 2-way satellite messaging and GPS tracking and an SOS feature with a GEOS keyboard and can be connected to your phone via Bluetooth. The Spot X App allows you to access your contacts easily and remain in touch with family. It immediately triggers a signal to the nearest Search and Rescue services. Spot X has its own US phone number making it a convenient and reliable device.
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- It comes with rechargeable batteries
- 240-hour battery life
- 2-way satellite messaging
- GPS Tracking
- SOS feature
- Wireless connection
- It can be paired with a phone
- Disconnects from the app sometimes
- Short battery life
5. ACR ResQLink (Model PLB 425) ACR 2922
The ACR ResQlink has three types of inbuilt signal technology: GPS positioning, a strong 406 MHz signal, and a 121.5 MHz homing signal.
It provides global coverage using three satellite constellations of COSPAS-SARSAT. It sends an accurate position to the global network of search and rescue satellites. It also has a bright LED strobe light and an infrared strobe light that helps in nighttime rescues. It has an OLED display, and the screen size is 1 inch.
It is small and compact, plus impact-resistant and waterproof. It is buoyant and comes with a belt clip, oral inflation tube clip, straps and lanyards for easy wearability.
It can send GPS test messages to many contacts via text message and a self-written email using the optional 406 Link testing subscription.
- Once activated, an SOS distress signal with GPS position is sent direct to Search and Rescue forces worldwide using the 406 MHz Emergency Distress Signal with 121.5 MHz Homing Signal (No Subscription Required)
- Small, rugged, lightweight personal locator beacon that is buoyant and includes attachment clips including a belt clip, oral inflation tube clip, straps and lanyards for increased wearability for hikers, boaters, campers, climbers, RVing and all your outdoor adventures
- Send pre-canned non-emergency self test and GPS test messages to multiple contacts via text message (SMS) and email with a customized message using the optional 406Link testing subscription
- Global Coverage using the 3 satellite constellations of COSPAS-SARSAT, which sends your distress message directly to Search and Rescue agencies worldwide without the need for a rescue monitoring center
- A bright LED Strobe light as well as an Infrared Strobe light ensures multiple visual signals to rescuers
- No Subscription Required
- Digital Display
- GPS and Galileo GNSS
- Built-In Buoyancy
- LED Strobe light and Infrared Strobe
- Global Coverage
- MEOSAR Compatible
- 5-year battery life
- 24+ hours Operational Life
- Multi-purpose Clip System
- Short battery life
- Buttons are difficult to press
6. Ocean Signal rescueME MOB1
The Ocean Signal MOB1 is the smallest AIB MOB Device with an inbuilt DSC and can be used with inflatable life jackets. It helps if you have been separated from your vessel by sending signals to it and other AIS-equipped vessels operating within 5 miles. It automatically activates and sends the Digital Calling Alarm to the vessel’s VHF.
It has a strobe light that provides excellent visibility during nighttime. It can also be installed in a life jacket and activates automatically on inflation. It has an oral inflation tube clip to keep it tied to the lifejacket. It sends the first alert signal in 15 seconds.
It has a 7-year battery life, and the battery is operational for 24 hours. It comes with a 5-year warranty.
- Integrated DSC transmitter (Digital Selective Calling)
- AIS (Automatic Identification System) Man Overboard Safety Alert
- 30% (typically) smaller than competitors
- Automatic activation
- Simple lifejacket integration
- Easy to install and program
- Inbuilt DSC
- It comes with a strobe light
- It can be installed on a life jacket
- 24-hour battery life
- Five years warranty
- Works locally
7.Garmin Montana 750i, (010-02347-00)
The Garmin Montana handheld EPIRB offers a two-way messaging facility and allows one to post on social media using the inReach device. However, a subscription is required to avail of these facilities. It also sends an interactive SOS message to the GEOS, a 24*7 global monitoring and rescue centre, in case of an emergency.
It relies on the global iridium satellite network for sending messages. You can also get weather updates on your Montana and the paired device, such as your phone.
It is durable and also water and impact-resistant. It is tested on US military standards and has a glove-friendly 5” touchscreen that is bigger than previous models.
It also has an in-built 8-megapixel camera that geotags pictures with coordinates. It comes with many preloaded city maps and topographical maps for U.S and Canada. With these high-resolution maps, you can see contours, elevations, coastlines, rivers etc.
You can also view BirdsEye Satellite Imagery to see photo-realistic views.
It has ABC sensors, an altimeter, a barometer and a 3-axis electronic compass.
It is compatible with the Garmin Explorer website and app that conveniently manages your waypoints, routes and activities.
- Features rugged military-grade construction and a 5” touchscreen display that’s 50% larger than the previous model; 8-megapixel camera lets you capture images anywhere you go
- Trigger an interactive SOS to the GEOS 24/7 monitoring center — two-way messaging via the 100% global Iridium satellite network (active satellite subscription required; some jurisdictions regulate or prohibit the use of satellite communications devices).
- Multi-GNSS (GPS and Galileo) support — plus preloaded TopoActive and City Navigator maps; navigation sensors include 3-axis compass and barometric altimeter
- Pro-connected with ANT+ technology, Wi-Fi connectivity and BLUETOOTH wireless networking, giving you direct-to-device access to BirdsEye Satellite Imagery downloads, location sharing, Connect IQ app support and more
- Compatible with the Garmin Explore website and app to help you manage waypoints, routes, activities and collections, use tracks and review trip data from the field
- Two-way messaging facility
- Water and impact-resistant
- Glove-friendly touch screen
- It comes with an 8-megapixel camera
- Many preloaded city and topographical maps
- Birdseye satellite imagery
- ABC sensors
- Compatible with Garmin explorer website
- It has an electronic compass, barometer, altimeter
- Sends accurate distress signal to GEOS
- Short battery life- 4 to 5 hours
- Subscription needed
8. Spot 3 Satellite GPS Messenger – Orange
The Spot 3 Satellite GPS Messenger sends an emergency S. O. S signal with your GPS location to the GEOS, which globally monitors and initiates search and rescue. It also lets the saved contacts know your location and sends a pre-programmed message. It has buttons and preloaded satellite maps.
It has an automatic tracking feature that sends your location to your saved contacts and saves your location while tracking your progress through google maps. However, it requires a service agreement. You have to pay for the activation period. For instance, if you purchase activation for one year, you can use it for that year.
It weighs 0.25 pounds, is quite durable, and can be kept in a pocket. It comes with a 1-year limited warranty. It comes with a user manual, a strap to attach to any clothing, a carabiner, batteries and a USB Cable. Its battery life is 40 hours in 10-min tracking mode.
- MEANT FOR ADVENTURE: Spot Gen4 provides critical, life-saving line of communication when you travel beyond cell towers; Let family know you're ok or push the SOS button to send your GPS to emergency responders if you need help
- NO CELL PHONE OR SERVICE-NO PROBLEM: With the Tracking feature Gen4 can transmit location updates when you are moving and when you stop; Keep one in your child's backpack for the walk home
- GLOBALSTAR SATELLITE & SPOT products use GPS to determine location and transmit GPS coordinates to others; SPOT users can notify friends, family or emergency rescue their exact GPS coordinates
- WHAT'S IN THE BOX: Spot Gen4 device, Strap and Carabiner, USB Cable, Batteries and quick start guide; Subscription required; Two service plans available
- PURCHASE, ACTIVATE, EXPLORE: Grab a Spot Gen4; Activate by selecting your service plan; Get out there and explore the world with peace of mind
- Automatic location saving
- Tracks progress
- It comes with lithium batteries
- USB cable included
- 1-year warranty
- Sends powerful SOS Signal to GEOS
- Location sharing with family
- Decent battery life
- Preloaded satellite maps
- Requires subscription to use tracking features
- Pay for activation
- Difficult to operate and set-up
- Slow message delivery
- Expensive annual subscription
9. The Nautilus LifeLine Marine GPS and Silicone Pouch w/ free Coil Lanyard (Orange)
The Nautilus LifeLine Marine EPIRB comes with a Silicone Pouch and coil lanyard to protect the Nautilus Lifeline GPS. It is lightweight, weighing only 0.34 kg and can easily fit in a small pocket. It is easy to use. Simply open the latch, remove the red distress cap, and press the red button. However, it is not multi-functional.
It sends a GPS position accurate to 1.5 metres and a man overboard to distress message all the AIS-equipped ships up to 34 miles away. It also sends a special DSC message to the marine radio on your vessel. It is waterproof and floatable. It is also impact-resistant and is meant to last in tough conditions. However, the o-ring should be cleaned after use.
- DiveCatalog Exclusive package includes the Nautilus Lifeline Marine GPS, Silicone Pouch, DiveCatalog sticker, and DiveCatalog coil lanyard which is designed to keep your Nautilus Lifeline GPS in a secure, yet highly functional position on your gear.
- The all new Nautilus LifeLine Marine Rescue GPS is less than half the size of our original radio.
- GPS position accurate to 1.5 metres and a man overboard distress message will be broadcast to all AIS equipped ships up to 34 miles away.
- Your Nautilus LifeLine floats and is waterproof in all sea conditions.
- Just keep the o-ring clean and forget about it for the next 5 years!
- It comes with a Silicone pouch
- Simple use
- Sends accurate GPS position to ASI vessels
- Also sends DSC Signal
- Not multi-functional
- For local use only
These are some of the best EPIRBs that can be bought to accompany you on your adventures.
You might also like to read-
- What is An Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB)?
- Daily, Monthly And Weekly Tests Of GMDSS Equipment On Board Ships
- Introduction to Global Maritime Distress Safety System (GMDSS) – What You Must Know
- Types of Life-Saving Equipment Onboard Ships
Disclaimer: The authors’ views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Marine Insight. Data and charts, if used, in the article have been sourced from available information and have not been authenticated by any statutory authority. The author and Marine Insight do not claim it to be accurate nor accept any responsibility for the same. The views constitute only the opinions and do not constitute any guidelines or recommendations on any course of action to be followed by the reader.
The article or images cannot be reproduced, copied, shared, or used in any form without the permission of the author and Marine Insight.
Zahra is an alumna of Miranda House, University of Delhi. She is an avid writer, possessing immaculate research and editing skills. Author of several academic papers, she has also worked as a freelance writer, producing many technical, creative and marketing pieces. A true aesthete at heart, she loves books a little more than anything else.
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