What are the advantages of an EPIRB (Electronic Position Indicator Radio Beacon)

What is an EPIRB ?(Electronic Position Indicator Radio Beacon)

An EPIRB works in a similar way to that of a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). The EPIRB is activated when a sailor gets into difficulty out at sea.  The EPIRB uses the search and rescue satellites to send a digital message (including your unique number) to the Coastguard that clearly indicates that you’re in trouble.

What frequency does it work on?

406MHz distress frequency. It also operates using a 121.5MHz frequency, which means lifeboats can home in on the device once they get closer. The beacon is a recognised way of ‘calling for help’ by Search and Rescue services.

Registration of the EPIRB

You must register the EPIRB with the vessel you are using. It is not registered to a person like a PLB, and if you change vessel, then you will have to re-register. You can register your EPIRB here

How long will the battery last in an EPIRB?

Normally for a minimum of 48 hours.

What happens if the EPIRB is activated and help is needed?

The distress signals are passed to the Mission Control Centre (MCC) in the National Maritime Operations Centre (NMOC) in Fareham. They will first attempt to call you using your contact information to check it’s not a false alarm. If it’s not they will launch a rescue operation. The 406MHz system gives the Coastguard a much more accurate idea of your position (if GPS enbled they will track your vessels position to within 100m.

What happens if the EPIRB is not GPS enabled?

If not GPS enabled it could take 90 minutes to get a fix); they will also know what to look for from your registered information and will be on the way much more quickly – 406MHz beacons show up quicker than the old 121.5MHz ones.

Key features of an EPIRB:

  • can be float-free, automatic or manual
  • must be registered with HM Coastguard
  • always choose a GPS-enabled EPIRB
  • can be dropped next to a ‘man overboard’ to mark their position
  • fitted with a flashing light
  • radio direction finding equipment can be fitted and used to home in on to beacon

Each year on 4th April ‘406 Day’ is celebrated, a national campaign run by NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to spread awareness of the importance of emergency position indicating radio beacons, or EPIRBS, and personal locator beacons, or PLBs, in marine safety

How to use my EPIRB?

Make sure your EPIRB is up-right in the water and not on it’s side.  Once you have switched it on leave it operating, do not switch it off.

What happens if I accidentally activate the EPIRB? 

If you accidentally activate your EPIRB inform the HM Coastguard straight away. The advice is not to switch it off until the Coastguard ask you to.

How to look after your EPIRB

Examine your EPIRB’s condition on a monthly basis and perform a self-test. Follow the manufacturer’s self-test instructions to the letter, to avoid sending a false alarm. Replace the battery when required.

Need more help with registering?

Contact The UK Beacon Registry ukbeacons@mcga.gov.uk
Telephone: 01326 211569
Fax: 01326 319264

More useful information

New National Maritime Operations Centre HM Coastguard

RNLI complete guide to EPIRB’s

Skipper rescued off Salcombe had done all the right things!

Distress alerts helps HM Coastguard yacht rescue in rough seas

HM Coastguard – office access and opening times


HM Coastguard


Ocean Signal