EPIRB Update

 SART Last year I did a quick summary of the EPIRB products then available because I had come to replace my old 121Mhz EPIRB.

The 406 MHz units were designed specifically for satellite detection and Doppler location, and provide the following:

  • improved location accuracy and ambiguity resolution;
  • increased system capacity (i.e. capability to process a greater number of beacons transmitting simultaneously in field of view of satellite);
  • increased probability of detection (higher power);
  • global coverage; and
  • unique identification of each beacon.

System performance is greatly enhanced both by the improved frequency stability of the 406 MHz units and by operation at a dedicated frequency.

These beacons transmit a 5 Watt RF burst of approximately 0.5 seconds duration every 50 seconds. The carrier frequency is very stable and is phase-modulated with a digital message. Frequency stability ensures accurate location, while the high peak power increases the probability of detection.

For a treatise on the whole Search and Rescue topic you need go no further than good old Wikipedia of course, and it was here that I looked for explanations of what legal or international standards our EPIRB products should adhere to. They all seem to claim a variety of compliance certificates! The definitive list of standards can be found on the actual COSPAS-SARSAT web site here.

Also, when it comes to the actual operation of the SAR service, training, response type etc…there is also some international variability according to this Wikipedia article ….”…With or without formal underlying foundations, numerous SAR organisations develop their own proprietary training curricula and operational protocols, which are available and applicable only to their own members.  In the US SAR standards are developed primarily by ASTM International and the US NFPA which are then used by organizations such as the Mountain Rescue Association (MRA), the US National Association of Search and Rescue (NASAR), and the US NFPA to develop training that will meet or exceed those standards. Within ASTM International, most standards of relevance to SAR are developed by Committee F32 on Search and Rescue. Formed in 1988, the committee had 85 current members and jurisdiction of 38  approved standards. ….”

Obviously you will want to get your EPIRB registered – something that most good dealers will do for you. If you are in doubt then I recommend looking at the excellent COSPAS-SARSAT web site FAQ’s for information about your country’s registration process and the unique country code identifiers.




You will also want to buy an EPIRB that has the correct approvals – not just a long list of acronyms that look impressive – again check out COSPAS-SARSAT – they provide a list of products by manufacturer here.

From this web site it is of note that:

  • A particular beacon model may be sold under several different names. All alternative beacon model names provided to the Cospas-Sarsat Secretariat by the beacon manufacturer are listed in the detailed report. Detailed reports can be accessed via the table listing beacon models by Cospas-Sarsat type approval number.
  • Some manufacturers use the same beacon model names for beacons with different type approval numbers.
  • Cospas-Sarsat Numbers (No.) starting at 700 identify special use beacons. These beacon models are compatible with the Cospas-Sarsat System; however, they do not satisfy all Cospas-Sarsat technical and testing requirements as detailed in Cospas-Sarsat documents C/S T.001 (406 MHz beacon specification) and T.007 (406 MHz beacon type approval standard). Therefore, they have not received a Cospas-Sarsat Type Approval Certificate.
  • In the maritime domain, EPIRBs are designated as either float free (FF) or a non-float free (Non FF). FF EPIRBs are designed to float away from a sinking vessel and activate automatically, whereas Non FF EPIRBs can only be activated manually.

I am ashamed to say that I didn’t actually get round to replacing my old EPIRB –  so I am looking once more at the options on the market, and have whittled it down to three possible contenders. So I looked them up on the COSPAS-SARSAT web site for approved products, to see if they had actually got the correct approvals…

  1. McMurdo Smartfind Plus G5 406 MHz GPS EPIRB – COSPAS-SARSAT report here

Thankfully the three I had shortlisted appeared to be correctly approved, including the excellent Australian GME products.

To download a PDF of my comparison chart click here….


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