to rescuers within the approximate range of
a football field.
They also have a
low-power homing signal that
forces to zero in
on the beacon
once the GPS
fix and satellite
system have gotten them within
You must go
online to register
your EPIRB and
provide pertinent information to aid in
your rescue, including medical conditions,
boat description, emergency contacts, and
the locale of your current trip. It’s easy to
update this as needed. The service is free
and immensely aids the personnel orchestrating your search.
THE CONS: Despite excellent reliability
and a long history of saving lives, the
EPIRB has competition. First, consider
expense. Bottom-of-the-line models cost
at least $500, and high-end units top
$1,000. EPIRB batteries, as they age,
usually need to be serviced by the manufacturer about every five years, although
this substantially increases their reliability.
Less expensive units commonly aren’t
equipped with GPS, which expands the
effective search radius from a few hundred feet to around two nautical miles.
EPIRBs must be registered and used
by a specific vessel. An EPIRB’s biggest
downfall may be its limited communication ability; it can send out a cry for help
with your location information and vessel
data, but, as of this writing, that’s it. It
doesn’t receive any form of communications except GPS signals if so equipped,
and it doesn’t have the flexibility to transmit additional data. You can’t use it to
discuss emergency repair procedures,
medical treatment, or other matters that
could make the difference between life
and death in an emergency.
Personal Locator Beacons
THE PROS: A PLB is much like an
EPIRB; it sends out an automated dis-
tress signal to the Cospas-Sarsat satellites across an essentially unlimited
range. GPS, triangulation, or both are
used to nail down your position. They’re
also smaller than EPIRBs, less expensive (some can be purchased for less
than $300), and portable. They’re small
enough to be carried by crewmembers at
all times, and they’ve been used to locate
crew in overboard situations. As with an
EPIRB, you should register and update
pertinent information online.
THE CONS: At first glance, it may seem
that a PLB is a
better choice than
an EPIRB until
you consider the
downside of exclusively depending
on these units.
They have half the
life in transmission time. Not all
units have strobes
(though many do).
All require manual