What is an EPIRB?
An EPIRB is a emergency position indicating radio beacon.
What do EPIRBs do?
The EPIRB transmits a signal to a family of dedicated satellites for re-transmitting to ground stations for alerting search and rescue authorities.
Who must carry an EPIRB?
All recreational vessels operating more than two nautical miles from the mainland shore or more than 400 metres from an island located more than two nautical miles from shore are required by law to carry an EPIRB. You are not required to carry an EPIRB if you are operating within the “Metropolitan EPIRB Exempt Area” as indicated by the map below.
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406 MHz EPIRB
As of 1 February 2009, all recreational vessels proceeding more than two nautical miles from the mainland shore (except in the metropolitan EPIRB Exempt area) must carry a 406 MHz Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) meeting the Australian/New Zealand Standard 4280.1.
They're not all EPIRBs
Care needs to be taken when purchasing a 406 MHz EPIRB as there are currently two types of portable distress beacons available on the market, the EPIRB and the Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). Each has been designed for a specific purpose and use.
Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs - AS/NZS 4280.1)
406 MHz distress beacons designed for maritime use are labeled as EPIRB (AS/NZS 4280.1). EPIRBs are designed to operate most effectively when activated in the water. They are required to operate for a minimum of 48 hours and float upright when deployed.
Personal Locator Beacons (PLBs - AS/NZS 4280.2)
PLBs (AS/NZS 4280.2) are portable units that operate in much the same way as EPIRBs. They are used by bushwalkers, 4 wheel drivers and other land based adventurers. They are small and compact enough to fit into pockets.
Some PLBs have been incorrectly sold as EPIRBs and this has resulted in confusion within the market. PLBs are only required to operate for a minimum of 24 hours. More importantly, although they are required to float, PLBs do not need to float in a manner that keeps the antenna above the water thereby meaning that a survivor must ensure the beacon is supported clear of the water.
For these reasons, PLBs, no matter how they are labelled, will not be accepted by the Department as an approved EPIRB for use in Western Australian waters.
406 MHz beacon registration
You MUST register your 406 MHz beacon with Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA). If you change the information (such as phone number, address, bought a new boat, etc.) you MUST update your 406 MHz beacon registration details. Registration is FREE!
For more information on beacon registration visit the AMSA website: http://beacons.amsa.gov.au
Disposal of unwanted beacons
Disused 121.5/243 EPIRBs must be correctly disposed of as they are still capable of interfering with aircraft distress frequencies, and their batteries are a potential pollution problem.
Do not dispose of your beacon in general waste as it will end up in landfill and could be activated inadvertently. Unwanted beacons can be left in marked bins at Battery World stores around Australia. Location of Battery World outlets can be found on their website: www.batteryworld.com.au
Alternatively, the documentation that comes with distress beacons often contains information about how to disarm the beacon safely. If in doubt, check with the manufacturer or local agent. A list of distress beacons, with simple instructions on disarming them, can be found at www.amsa.gov.au/beacons/disposal
Check with your local waste management facility for an environmentally friendly way of disposing of your old EPIRB battery.
For further advice call the beacon advice line on 1800 406 406. For further information refer to the Make the right switch to 406 brochure available in our publications area.
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Expiry dates, batteries and servicing
EPIRBs have expiry dates. To be an acceptable safety item, your unit must be serviced by the manufacturer before passing that date. The service will include replacement of the battery.
When to activate a distress beacon
Distress beacons are for use only in life-threatening situations. In the event of an emergency, you should first signal other people in your area using radios or other methods of attracting attention.
If activated by accident
If an EPIRB is activated by accident, the most important thing is to turn it off and let AMSA know as soon as you can on Freecall 1800 641 792, or the nearest marine radio station. You will not be subject to any penalty.
Store EPIRBs in an accessible place where they can be retrieved easily, but away from areas where they might be knocked or accidentally activated.
Important points about EPIRBs
- Ensure your EPIRB container is not cracked or showing signs of damage and batteries are within shelf life.
- Use the test switch at least once a month to verify power.
- Keep it accessible, in the cockpit or less than an arms length away in the companionway and ensure that it cannot be accidentally activated by movement.
- EPIRBs operate using water as a reflector.
Unauthorised use of EPIRBs
EPIRBs have a very serious purpose. Falsely indicating distress rightly carries a severe penalty, but it also wastes a lot of time and resources – possibly weakening the ability to respond to a genuine emergency. When you are not using your boat, removing your equipment and giving it secure storage will help prevent unauthorised use.
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