What is an EPIRB and How it Works? Learn Why EPIRBs Are Important

What is an EPIRB and how it works? Emergency Position indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) is designed to help rescuers locate you in an emergency. It will save your life because it will alert rescue authorities of your location.

These radios already saved many lives since their creation in the 1970s, and people still use these devices. To have a better understanding of EPIRB, let’s look into how it truly works, as well as discuss the different types.

What Is an EPIRB and How It Works?

The main job of EPIRB is to alert the search and rescue services for any emergency. This is done through a transmission of a coded message via the multinational Cospas Sarsat network.

A 406 MHz distress signal will then be set via satellite and earth stations to the nearest search and rescue centers. As such, they can deploy a team to go to the indicated location.

Once an EPIRB is activated, both of the radios will begin transmitting. A GOES weather satellite can detect the 406 MHZ signal and in this signal, there is an embedded series number.

If the unit actually has a GPS receiver, the exact location of the radio will then be conveyed with the signal. If the EPIRB is registered, the Coast Guard will know the identity of the EPIRB through the serial number. They can easily find the EPIRB through the 406 MHZ or 121.5 MHz signals.

What Are the Different Types of EPIRBs?

  • Category I: Category I EPIRBs pertain to 406/121.5 MHz and considered as float-free EPIRBs. They are activated automatically and can be detected by satellite around the globe and also recognized by GMDSS.
  • Category II: Category II is similar to category I, but it is manually activated. There are also models that are water activated.
  • 121.5/243 MHz EPIRBs: On February 1, 2009, the International Cospas-Sarsat System already ceased the satellite processing for this signal. The signals from these devices will not be acted upon unless they will be confirmed independently by non-satellite sources.
  • 406 MHz EPIRBs: The 406 MHz EPIRB was explicitly designed for distress, and its signal frequency is designated internationally.

Who Usually Uses EPIRBs?

You will usually find EPIRBs installed on marine vessels. Searching for something in the vast ocean is extremely hard even if you have thousands of ships and boats going around. The goal of the EPIRB is to pinpoint the exact location of people who or vessels that require rescuing.

EPIRB-equipped marine vessels are required to register through the national search and rescue organization. That is to make sure that they can quickly check if there is a false alert. It can also provide planned travel details in case of emergencies.

There are some vessels that have dedicated vessel EPIRB and a secondary crew EPIRB. Some countries also require commercial shipping vessels, fishing, and racing sailing vessels to have EPIRBs. Some leisure boats, yachts, and kayaks also have EPRIBs installed.

Do You Need an EPIRB?

Now that we have answered “What is an EPIRB and how it works?”, many of you are probably wondering if you really need an EPRIB. EPIRBs are meant to save lives, and it can save yours if you are in a dire situation.

If you have your own boat or a yacht or you are a fisherman, accidents in the sea are inevitable. You need an EPIRB to make sure rescuers will be able to pinpoint your location and save you at the fastest time possible.

If you have an EPIRB, the rescuers will be able to respond to the signal immediately, and they can save you no matter where you are in the world. These EPIRBs are not only for boats and yachts because you can carry this anywhere you go.

As mentioned, some EPIRBs are activated manually, while others, automatically. If you are in a difficult situation and you need rescuing, you simply need to activate the EPIRB, and rescuers will be able to find your location.

Do You Need to Register Your EPIRB?

Most people won’t even consider registering their EPIRB, but are you getting enough benefits for doing this? EPIRBs can transfer information to the rescuers through a unique serial code, and they can gather information about the owner of the signal.

With that in mind, registering your EPIRB is the same as providing the rescuers a bit of information about you. Here are the reasons why you should do it:

1. Your Personal Information

It is very important for the rescuers to know who you are. If you register your EPIRB, your signal will have a unique serial code that would provide your personal information to the rescuers. Through this, they would know who you are, your appearance, and other personal information which would help them identify you.

This will also help make the rescue faster because the rescuers always receive false signals. They cannot respond to all the signals they receive, but if the EPIRB is registered, it means that the distress signal is real. No one would be silly enough to make a false signal if their personal information is registered, right?

2. Your Boat Information and Exact Location

In order to find you, rescuers need to know some basic information about your boat. They need to know what your boat is, its size, and other information, as those details would help them identify your boat easily and quickly. It will also pinpoint your exact location.

3. Faster Rescue

If the signal they received is from a registered EPIRB, they won’t think twice, and they will immediately respond to the distress signal. If it came from an unregistered EPIRB, they would have to confirm if the signal is legit and someone really needs help. They cannot blindly search for the boat if they are not sure that it is a distress signal.


EPIRBs are essential because they are equivalent to your safety. You should at least know how EPRIB works and how it can help you as well as the benefits that you can receive by registering your EPIRB.

If you still think that you don’t need it, then you will surely be in big trouble if you suddenly had an emergency and you don’t have an EPIRB.