The emergency position indicating radio beacon (EPIRB) seems like an expensive little gadget to have clipped to a bulkhead in the hope it never gets used, but if you do intend to, or regularly do head out of sight of land then you really should have at least one on board. But, what's the best EPIRB for your boat and your sailing activity?

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Mayday, Mayday, Mayday, this is sailing vessel Lucky 2, Lucky 2, Lucky 2…
If you find yourself in a situation of grave and imminent danger and are out of VHF range of a coast guard, then that best buy EPIRB you bought, registered and hoped you’d never have to use will suddenly feel like you have the last truffle in a box of toffees.

Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRB) have been available to seafarers since the late 1970s, but they have changed considerably in the past 5 decades.

The early beacons used a radio frequency of 121.500-MHz , which was initially intended for downed aircraft. We have since moved over to 406MHz which is a radio signal readily detectable by satellites.

When activated, the EPIRB transmits a radio signal, this is picked up by one of many low earth orbit satellites. The Satellite pings the signal to a local earth station which then transmits it to a mission control centre. From here the rescue coordination centre are notified and they spring into action. With the latest EPIRBS, all of this can take just a few minutes. The search and rescue team follow the GPS track and Doppler signal from the beacon to locate you, to within an accuracy of around 100m. Older EPIRBS without GPS work to an accuracy of about 12.5km, so if you do have an older model, it’s certainly worth considering adding a newer GPS equipped model to your vessel.

Which model you have on your boat depends on your intended activity. Do you need a Cat 2 manually deployed or a Cat 1 hydrostatic release EPIRB?

ocean safety rescueme epirb1

Ocean Safety RescueMe EPIRB1 Cat 2 | YBW.com

Ocean Signal RescueME EPIRB1

Ocean Signal make a well-regarded range of safety beacons, and their EPIRB1 is probably the smallest on the market. It has a 10-year battery life, and 48+ hours operational life. Being such a compact model as Cat 2 version, this will fit to some small bulkhead spaces and will slip easily into a grab bag.

It also has a 66-channel internal GPS and a retractable antenna which you must remember to pull out when activating manually. The Pro version of the EPIRB1 offers an an automatic release housing.

ocean safety rescueme epirb1 cat1 hydrostatic release

Ocean Safety RescueMe EPIRB1 Cat 1 | YBW.com

  • Operational life – 48+ hours
  • User replaceable battery – yes
  • Battery life – 10 years
  • Auto activation – No
  • AIS – No
  • GPS – Yes
  • 121MHz – Yes

Price From £380 / $447

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ACR globalfix V4 EPIRB

ACR GlobalFix V4 406 GPS EPIRB

This EPIRB has an internal 66-channel GPS, and a user-replaceable battery pack. It has a high-visibility LED strobe light, floats, and can be automatically activated via cat 1 hydrostatic release in housing or manually activated by cat 2 manual mount.

It claims 48+ hours run time, and comes with a 5-year warranty. The antenna is held by the bracket but deploys instantly on release.

  • Operational life – 48+ hours
  • User replaceable battery – yes
  • Battery life – 10 years
  • Auto activation – Yes
  • AIS – No
  • GPS – Yes
  • 121MHz – No

Price £375 / $579.95

Buy ACR GlobalFix V4 EPIRB on Amazon (UK)

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mcmurdo G8 AIS EPIRB cat1 float free and cat 2 manual release

McMurdo SmartFind G8 AIS EPIRB

As well as 406MHz and 121.5MHz transmitters, this EPIRB also includes an AIS transmitter to give local vessels location information and thus increase the chance of rescue by nearby craft.

It has a 77-channel multi-constellation GNSS receiver, manual/automatic activation, strobe light and 48 hours operating time thanks to a Lithium Ion battery that is good for 10 years before it needs replacing.

  • Operational life – 48+ hours
  • User replaceable battery – No
  • Battery life – 10 years
  • Auto activation – Yes (Cat 1) No (Cat 2)
  • AIS – Yes
  • GPS – Yes
  • 121MHz – Yes

Price £721 / $625

Buy McMurdo Smartfind G8 AIS EPIRB on Amazon (UK)

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GME MT603FG EPIRB

GME MT600G GPS EPIRB

The MT403 EPIRB has a 16-channel GPS receiver, a high visibility strobe light and can be automatically or manually activated. I and has a 10-year battery life and 6-year warranty included.

Operational battery life is 48 hours, and a mounting bracket is included.

  • Operational life – 48+ hours
  • User replaceable battery – No
  • Battery life – 10 years
  • Auto activation – Yes (Cat 1) No (Cat 2)
  • AIS – No
  • GPS – Yes
  • 121MHz – No

Price From £554

Buy GME MT603G from Amazon.co.uk

Buy GME MT603G from Sartech.com

 

What we look for in an EPIRB?

  • Internal GPS: Nearly all of the best EPIRBs available on the market today will have an integrated GPS, but if you have an older model, some of these don’t, which can mean they are much slower and less accurate at pinpointing your location
  • User serviceable battery: You might like to consider a model which allows you to change the battery yourself.  Service centres can be costly but do offer peace of mind in return for an increased cost.
  • Auto activation: Some of the best EPIRBS can be automatically activated upon immersion, and some housings will automatically release the EPIRB to float free should it become submerged, this is mandatory for SOLAS vessels.
  • Retractable Antenna: These prevent damage when stowed, but must be deployed to allow the beacon to reach its full range potential.
  • Dual-Frequency: Whilst all will transmit initially on 406MHz, some offer additional 121.5 MHz for accurate search and rescue homing. Some models have an AIS transmitter for local position pinpointing instead.
  • Registration: Each EPIRB comes pre-programmed with a country code, so beware of buying EPIRBs online from other regions. You must register your EPIRB with the MCA in the UK. or the NOAA if you are based in USA

For past adventures and tales of rescue at sea you can read more at Yachting World and the 2020/21 Vendee Glove recue of Kevin Escoffier

Read how a PLB saved Solo Yachtsman, Nigel Fox’s life at Yachting Monthly

Didn’t find what you’re looking for? Head to Amazon’s dedicated boating page for more marine products.