Electronic position indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs)

Distress beacons are devices that when activated in a life threatening situation assists rescue authorities by providing the approximate location of the beacon. Lives are saved each year because responsible skippers carry distress beacons.

  Types of distress beacons

Choose a beacon that is suitable to your vessel and activity.

EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon)

EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon)

An EPIRB designed for marine use will float and keep the antennae above the water, has a lanyard to secure it to something that's not going to sink and can operate continuously for 48 hours.

An EPIRB should be positioned in the cockpit or near the helm where it can be reached quickly in an emergency.

Lives are saved each year because responsible skippers carry distress beacons.

PLB (Personal Locator Beacon)

PLB (Personal Locator Beacon)

A Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) is a smaller portable beacon and is designed to be worn or carried by an individual.

Some PLBs do not float and may not be designed for use in water.

A PLB usually has a shorter battery life than an EPIRB and will only operate for approximately 24hrs.

MAC_P_DistressBeacons.pdf icon Distress beacon [EPIRB] (Brochure) Kb

  When is an EPIRB/PLB required?

All boats must carry a compliant EPIRB if proceeding more than two nautical miles from the mainland shore or more than 400 metres from an island located more than two nautical miles from the mainland shore.


PLBs do not meet carriage requirements for replacement of EPIRBs on boats.


Vessel type EPIRBS are mandatory for boats PLBs are for personal use only
Motor boat
Personal water craft (PWC)

Other craft

Recreational canoes or paddle craft, kayaks, surf skis, inflatables, windsurfers or kitesurfers must carry a compliant PLB or EPIRB if proceeding more than two nautical miles from the mainland shore or more than 400 metres from an island located more than two nautical miles from the mainland shore.

If carrying a PLB this must be attached to the person on the craft in case you become separated from your vessel.

Vessel type PLBs must be worn by the person EPIRBS may also be used *
Paddle craft
Surf ski

* EPIRBS may also be used, but make sure you don't become separated from the device.

MAC_P_DistressBeacons.pdf icon Distress beacon [EPIRB] (Brochure) Kb

  Global Positioning System (GPS) distress beacons

Some EPIRBs are available with a built in GPS system. These EPIRBs provide rescuers with the GPS coordinates of the beacon. This greatly improves the location accuracy (approximately 150 metres) and the time required for rescuers to locate the device.

Non GPS EPIRBs have a location accuracy of approximately 5 kilometres, this may require more time for the rescuers to locate the beacon.

  Battery expiry date

EPIRB battery expiry date

EPIRBs are battery-operated devices that will only function if the batteries are in good condition.

To help owners ensure that the batteries are operational, manufacturers provide a battery expiry date on the device.

This expiry date must be in date. If the battery has expired the EPIRB is deemed to be non-compliant and the unit will need to be replaced.

  Distress beacon registration

EPIRBs must be registered with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA). Registration is a free and simple online process. Registration gives AMSA vital information to assist in a rescue.

Proof of registration

Skippers are required to provide proof of beacon registration if asked by authorities, you must use one of the following methods:

  • Email registration: carry a printed copy of your email registration confirmation.
  • SMS registration: save your SMS registration confirmation in your phone.
  • Post printed registration: if you don't have an email address or mobile phone, request a copy of your registration confirmation be sent to you by post and carry it with you when using your vessel, or
  • Mobile beacon system: owners and inspectors will be able to enter the beacon's HEX ID into a new beacon system on their mobile device to confirm whether the beacon is registered.

Update registration details

If the EPIRBs registration details change or the vessel is sold the details need to be updated with AMSA. To update details, please visit the AMSA website.

Opens in a new window Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA): Beacons

AMSA contact details

Street address Postal address Telephone Fax Email
1800 406 406 Email

  When should I activate my distress beacon?

EPIRBs/PLBs should only be used when there is an emergency situation and a person believes they are in imminent danger or when they are told to do so by a rescue authority.

In the event of an emergency, also consider initial communications with others close by using radios and other signalling devices.

Accidental activation

If an EPIRB is activated by accident, the most important thing to do is to turn it off and let the authorities know as soon as possible by calling:

  • AMSA on free call 1800 641 792.
  • WA Water Police on (08) 9442 8600, or.
  • The nearest Volunteer Marine Rescue (VMR) group.

Unauthorised use of EPIRBs

EPIRBs have a very serious purpose.

Falsely indicating distress rightly carries a severe penalty and also wastes a lot of time and resources, possibly weakening the ability to respond to a genuine emergency.

  Storage, testing and disposal

Store EPIRBs in an accessible place where they can be easily retrieved but away from areas where they might be knocked or accidentally activated.

When not in use, removing safety equipment including EPIRBs from the vessel may help prevent unauthorised use.

If carrying a PLB it must be attached to the person on the craft.

Your PLB must not restrict the inflation of your lifejacket.

Testing EPIRBs

EPIRBs should be tested before departing.

Use the test switch as per the manufacturer's instructions to verify power and operation and physically check the beacon for signs of damage. Return the device to the place of purchase or the manufacturer if faulty.

Disposal of unwanted EPIRBs

EPIRBs need to be disposed of responsibly to avoid accidental activation. Distress beacons must not be disposed of in general waste as they could end up in landfill and be inadvertently activated.

Unwanted EPIRBs can be:

  • Handed in for safe disposal at Marine Operations, 14 Capo D'Orlando Drive, Fremantle.
  • Left in marked bins at Battery World stores around Australia, (disposal fees may apply).
  • Disarmed by following the manufacturer's instructions.

The documentation that comes with EPIRBs often contains information about how to disarm the beacon safely. A list of distress beacons, with simple instructions to disarm them, can also be found on the AMSA website.

Once disarmed, check with your local waste management facility for an environmentally friendly method of disposing of the battery.

Opens in a new window Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA)
Opens in a new window Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA): Beacons
Opens in a new window Battery World


Page last updated: Wed May 11 2016 11:29:27 AM