Emergency position indicating radio beacons - EPIRB

hand holding an epirb with other safety equipment in the background

An emergency position indicating radio beacon or EPIRB is a compact, buoyant, self-contained radio transmitter designed for marine use. When it is activated it emits a continuous distinctive radio distress signal for at least 48 hours. This signal is detected by satellite and relayed to a rescue coordination centre, which will start a search and rescue operation by the local authorities.

When to use an EPIRB

An EPIRB should only be activated in situations where human life is in grave and imminent danger, and only after all other means of indicating distress, such as flares and radio, have been attempted.

If you accidentally activate your EPIRB, switch it off immediately and notify the rescue coordination centre, Australia as soon as possible on 1800 641 792 to make sure they do not start a search and rescue operation.

The 24 hour maritime emergency contact phone number for Australian search and rescue is 1800 641 792.

How to activate an EPIRB

The EPIRB will carry printed instructions on it on how to activate it. You should be familiar with those instructions.

To activate the EPIRB:

  • take the device from its cradle
  • raise the antenna
  • activate the switch
  • unravel the lanyard (cord) from the device and attach to the vessel, life-raft, or your PFD
  • when you are sure it is attached, throw the device into the water.

Don't hold on to the EPIRB because is designed to work best when floating in the water.

When you are required to carry an EPIRB

Vessels are required to carry an emergency beacon if they are:

  • recreational vessels more than five nautical miles from shore in Gulf of St Vincent or Spencer Gulf
    three nautical miles from shore in other State waters, except Lakes Alexandrina or Albert
  • commercial vessels being operated more than three nautical miles from a coast.

Approved distress beacons

For an EPIRB to be an approved distress beacon for use in South Australian waters, it must:

  • be capable of transmitting on a frequency of 406 megahertz
  • comply with AS/NZS 4280.1:2003:406 MHz satellite distress beacons - marine emergency position-indicating radio beacons (EPIRBs)
  • be currently registered with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA)
  • display the current AMSA registration label
  • be located so that it is accessible if required but protected from accidental damage or loss
  • be maintained in good working order (including having a battery that is not past its expiry date).

Personal locator beacons (PLBs) which meet AS/NZS 4280.2 are not designed for marine use and do not meet the legal requirements for distress beacons, so they are not approved EPIRBs. But personal locator beacons can be used as an additional safety measure and 406 MHz PLBs may also be registered with AMSA.

Registering a 406 MHz EPIRB

Registration is free and you can register your beacon online.

You can also get forms to post, fax or email your registration to Australian Maritime Safety Authority. For more information, call 1800 406 406 during office hours.

A registered 406 MHz beacon will allow the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's rescue coordination centre to retrieve valuable information that will assist with your rescue from the registration database.

You can also register your trip itineraries, so when a beacon is activated the rescue coordination centre will know your current movements and be better placed to organise a rescue.

Disposal of unwanted distress beacons

Unwanted beacons should be disposed of safely. Information on how unwanted distress beacons should be disposed of is provided on the Australian Maritime Safety Authority website.

Related information

Other websites

Distress beacons - Australian Maritime Safety Authority


Australian Maritime Safety Authority
Phone: 1800 406 406 during business hours
Email: ausbeacon@amsa.gov.au

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Page last updated 29 November 2016

Provided by:
Department of Planning, Transport and Infrastructure
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