What is a distress beacon – EPIRBs and PLBs?
An Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) is a small electronic device that, when activated in an emergency, can help search and rescue authorities pinpoint your position.
Once activated, EPIRBs continuously send out a signal for at least 48 hours. Search and rescue authorities respond to all EPIRB activations. You must only activate the EPIRB in an emergency and you must tell them immediately if you no longer need help.
GPS enabled EPIRBs are accurate to 150 meters whereas non GPS enabled EPIRBs are only accurate to within 5 nautical miles!
- comply with AS/NZS 4280.1:2017
- be registered with AMSA. Registration is free and must be renewed every 2 years. You will also need to tell AMSA when the beacon ownership or boat details change.
A distress beacon is an electronic device that, when activated in a life threatening
situation, assists rescue authorities to locate people in distress.
Do I need a distress beacon?
All boats operating beyond smooth and partially smooth waters or more than 2nm from land in open waters must carry a 406MHz digital EPIRB.
Recreational operators of lightweight craft have a choice if they want to carry an EPIRB or a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB). If you choose to carry a PLB in place of an EPIRB, it must:
- be GPS enabled
- be worn by the operator
- comply with AS/NZS 4280.2:2017
- be registered with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA)—registration is free and must be renewed every 2 years
- be in service.
Lightweight craft means off the beach type craft, human powered canoe and kayak, small sailing vessels (less than 6m in length) and personal watercraft.
Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)
A personal locator beacon, or PLB for short, is a personal electronic transmitting device that is designed to alert potential rescuers to a life-threatening situation in the air, on water or in remote areas.
Registering a Distress Beacon
If you own a distress beacon, it MUST be registered. Registering your beacon is free and is mandatory by law.
A registered beacon provides AMSA with essential information to contact you and your emergency contacts in the event of an emergency.
This information is critical for search and rescue authorities to commence a response in the shortest possible time. This could make all the difference in a life threatening situation.
If your beacon is unregistered, this process will be slower, and the response may be delayed. Beacon registration is valid for two years and must then be renewed.
Whenever your contact details or beacon details change, you must update them with AMSA. Don’t wait for your registration to expire before doing this because incorrect contact details can also delay the response.
You can register your beacon online for free using AMSA app. This process will require you to use your email address as a username. You will also need to create a password. Make sure you save this information in a safe place for future use. You can also visit www.amsa.gov.au/beacons or call 1800 406 406.
Buying and selling a beacon
When buying a new distress beacon ensure it is a 406MHz digital EPIRB and be sure to register it with AMSA
If you have purchased your beacon second hand, you must update your details with AMSA. If you don’t, simple…. AMSA won’t be able to find you if you are in trouble.
If you have sold a beacon, it is equally as important that you contact AMSA to update your details and let them know your beacon has been sold.
Maritime mobile service identity
You will need a maritime mobile service identity (MMSI) number when using certain marine radio communications equipment. This number will assist emergency response services to respond to a distress alert, or another emergency.
If you aren’t sure if you require a MMSI or not, then click on this link to read more:
Disposing of beacons
Do not dispose of old EPIRBs and PLBs in general waste as it will end up in landfill and could be accidentally activated. Contact your local battery store to check whether they disconnect and dispose of beacons. A small fee may apply.
Our best recommendation is to check your EPIRB for accessibility, condition and registration. Remember if it’s not easily accessible then it may not be of use to you in an emergency.
Additionally, if its condition has been comprised it may not work when needed and if it’s no registered then that can impact on your rescue.
We often note that during inspections that a number of operators, primarily recreational but some commercial ones have not registered their EPIRB.
We strongly recommend, logging into AMSA immediately and ensuring ALL details are correct regardless of if you think so or not.
If you work on a commercial vessel where there is a high potential for going overboard, e.g., trawlers, longline vessels, tugs, etc. our best tip is to wear a PLB which is GPS enabled. This greatly enhances your chances of recovery if you go overboard!
If you are unsure about any issues relating to Distress Beacons, registration etc. please do not hesitate to contact our office on (07) 4242 1412.
Remember to always be prepared to survive until help arrives.