If you had to pick a single item from all of the optional pieces of safety equipment that one could purchase and install on a powerboat, what would it be? The only criteria are that the option has to be highly recommended by federal, state or local maritime authorities and equally as important, not be handicapped by distance limitations. Would it be a VHF radio;a radar system; maybe an EPIRB? Let's take a quick look at each of these choices and see which piece of equipment meets our parameters. If you had to pick a single item from all of the optional pieces of safety equipment that one could purchase and install on a powerboat, what would it be? The only criteria are that the option has to be highly recommended by federal, state or local maritime authorities and equally as important, not be handicapped by distance limitations. Would it be a VHF radio; a radar system; maybe an EPIRB? Let's take a quick look at each of these choices and see which piece of equipment meets our parameters.
A VHF radio, while a mandatory piece of communication equipment on any vessel, can generally reach another VHF radio station up to 20-miles away. On a chamber of commerce, blue bird day, maybe twice that. Why such a limited range? Because, VHF radio signals work primarily on line of sight, and if the antenna can't see the other antenna, it won't be able to hear it.
In the recreational boating sector, radar is becoming an increasingly popular safety device primarily used to help with safe navigation and collision avoidance. In varying circumstances, radar reception can typically reach 24 to 36-miles depending on the type of unit, the frequency level, how high above the surface of the water the radar antenna is mounted and precisely how level the antenna is to the distant horizon. Again, an invaluable tool, but somewhat limited.
An EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon) on the other hand, communicates directly with satellites in orbit. There are no distance limitations. EPIRB signals are detectable not only by COSPAS-SARSAT satellites, which are polar orbiting, but also by geostationary (GOES) weather satellites. EPIRB signals detected by the GEOSTAR system, consisting of GOES and other geostationary satellites, send maritime rescue authorities an instant alert that something is amiss. Other satellite systems also receive EPIRB signals but with different degrees of timeliness and information. This makes EPRIBs a MUST HAVE for anglers and boaters who venture far and wide across open seas in search of their angling thrills.
[Editor's note] When choosing an EPIRB be sure to look for one that operates at 406 MHZ. There are still a few 121.5 MHZ EPIRBs (Category B) out there for purchase, however, the International COPSAS-SARSAT Program to phase out satellite alerting February 1, 2009. This means that if you own 121.5 MHZ EPIRB you will need to make the switch to a 406 MHZ by that date.
Purchasing an EPIRB
[Editor's note] When purchasing a 406 MHZ EPIRB you will run into two categories. Category I EPIRBs are designed to release either automatically or manually. The automatic release is triggered when the device is 3-10 feet under the water. As a result of this feature, Category I EPIRBS need to be mounted outside of the vessel's cabin so that it can float to the surface after it is activated. Category II EPIRBs are only equipped with a manual release. These should be stored in an area that will be easy to access in an emergency.
[Editor's Note] iboats.com carries multiple models of EPIRBs, with prices ranging from $492.00 to $549.99 for Category I units from ACR and McMurdo without a built in GPS receiver, and $849.99 to $1105.35 for Category II units with a built in GPS receiver from the same manufacturers.
Why do you need to register your EPIRB?
Every EPIRB must be registered with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as required by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Your registration is entered into the U.S. 406 Beacon Registration Database maintained by NOAA/NESDIS. If your EPIRB is ever activated, the unit's precise location along with the information you provided would be sent to the appropriate United States Coast Guard Search And Rescue (SAR) Coordination Center for response.
If you've listed a phone number, the Coordination Center's watch-standers will first attempt to contact the owner/operator via phone. This is done to determine if the vessel is underway. If the vessel is at dock, then a false alarm/malfunction becomes the primary suspect.
If the vessel is underway, the watch-standers will try to ascertain the intended route of the vessel, the number of passengers on board, and a host of other information from a family member. A rescue plan will then be established and quickly put into action.
Safe boaters must not forget that they may face a fine for false activation of an unregistered EPIRB. The U.S. Coast Guard routinely refers cases involving unregistered EPIRBs and non-distress activations (e.g., as a hoax, through gross negligence, carelessness or improper storage and handling) to the Federal Communications Commission. The FCC will prosecute cases based upon evidence provided by the U.S. Coast Guard, and will issue warning letters or notices of apparent liability for fines up to $10,000. However, the U.S. Coast Guard has suspended forwarding non-distress activations of properly registered 406 MHz EPIRBs to the FCC, unless activation was due to hoax or gross negligence.
After purchasing a new or pre-owned 406 MHz EPIRB and registering it with NOAA, if you change your boat, address, or your primary phone number, you must re-register your EPIRB with the updated information. If you sell your EPIRB, make sure the purchaser re-registers the unit, or the U.S. Coast Guard may call you if it later becomes activated.
You can register by visiting the SARSAT Beacon Registration page at www.sarsat.noaa.gov. There is no charge for this service and it may save your life!
So what's your next purchase?
If you're not quite sold on the importance of an EPRIB, read your local papers or scan the headlines on the Internet. Day in and day out vessels of all sizes get caught in unexpected situations that require rescue. EPIRBs save lives. It's that simple! Boating education also saves lives, as do free Vessel Safety Checks offered by the USCG Auxiliary and other safety partners. Remember, the best safety equipment doesn't work if you don't wear it, maintain it, or know precisely how to use it!
How An EPIRB Can Save Your Life
Picture this. You're out on a fishing boat miles and miles from the shore. When all of a sudden, out of no where, a storm hits. You haven't kept up on the maintenance of the boat and with all the thrashing around, your hull springs a leak. Your boat is sinking with you on it. Do you know what you would do?
Luckily for you, one of the things you made sure that you had when you bought the boat was an EPIRB, otherwise known as an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon. You know they come in handy but you don't know what the true purpose of this device is.
An EPRIB device contains: 5 watt radio transmitter operating at 406 MHz, a 0.25 Watt radio transmitter operating at 121.5 MHz, and a GPS receiver. Once the device has been activated, the EPIRB transmits the serial number on multiple frequencies to a GOES satellite, more then 24,000 miles up in space. The EPIRB signal transmits continuously for 48 hours. A properly registered EPIRB allows the U.S. Coast Guard to quickly establish the identity of the vessel in distress and the coordinates of that vessel.
Now there are three types of positioning beacons out there, you just have to be certain you get the correct one. EPIRBS are a used for Maritime distress signals, where as an ELT's are for aircraft's and PLB's are for personal use, like when your hiking. The EPIRB has different categories. Category I is a float free, automatically activated EPIRB, which activates once underwater. Category II is manually activated EPIRB, which has to be turned on my someone.
So the steps of how the EPIRB works are as follows:
EPIRB is activated, either manually or automatically.
The signal of the distressed vessel is transmitted to a satellite system by a GPS frequency.
The signal is forwarded to a Ground station terminal.
Distress signal is forwarded to a Mission Control station.
It is then forwarded to a Rescue Coordination Center.
The distress signal coordinates are forwarded to the Local Search and Rescue.