Make the right choice

A number of solutions are possible when one considers the GPS, the autonomy and the type of beacon.

In the satellite distress beacon range one finds the EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon,) and the PLB (Personal Locator Beacon.)

The EPIRB are the largest. They are connected to a boat and float. The personal beacons are the smallest. They do not float but function even on land.

The localisation of the beacon is assured by satellite. It is sometimes necessary to use several satellites to do this precisely (more time.) If the beacon is equipped with GPS it can send its own position to the satellite. The localisation is thus faster, more precise and may provide more help.

The autonomy is 24 to 48 hours (continuous,) according to model.

With the EPIRB type, it is also coded with the MMSI number of the boat. On the PLB there is a choice between the MMSI number and the name of the user (along with contact info of people to inform in case of problems).

The GPS is the recommended solution to speed up searches. Without GPS, the price tag is lower but at the expense of accuracy. For one’s own boat the EPIRB is the solution. If changing boats (rentals, crew…)the PLB is recommended.

How does it work?

Once triggered (manually or automatically, depending on model,) the beacons emit a coded identification signal to the satellite (frequency 406 MHz, boat MMSI, beacon EPIRB or PLB name,) which the satellites receive and process before relaying it to ground stations that give the alert, according to the position of the vessel, to the nearest rescue service. The coverage is worldwide (24h) and the accuracy of localisation is in the order of 1 to 3 miles for a beacon without GPS and to a few dozen metres otherwise. The summoning time for rescue services is less than 20 minutes if the beacon has a GPS. The MMSI code permits immediate vessel recognition. The code is assigned to the vessel and is the same as the VHF DSC.
Professional advice
“The distress beacon requires an initial investment. After this, there is no subscription. It is necessary to just renew the batteries every 5 years.”

Choosing the right beacon

EPIRB beacon
The EPIRB beacon is connected to a boat. It is capable of sending a distress call via the COSPAS-SARSAT network. The alert is relayed to ground stations which initiates rescue. The alert time is about 20 minutes. An acceptable time if one finds oneself in a life raft.

PLB Beacon
The PLB is a personnel beacon. It is capable of sending a distress call via the COSPAS-SARSAT network. It is able to launch a distress call via the network-SARSAT COSPAS. The alert is relayed to the ground which initiates search and informs neighboring boats. Time for an alert is about 20 minutes. Many long minutes for a man overboard ...

Tracking beacon
This does not act as a distress beacon but follows the daily course of the boat. The information is accessible via the internet for authorised people. An SOS button allows an alert to be sent, not to the authorities but to selected personnel. They alert rescuers.

Man overboard detection beacon
This is an alarm that sounds if a crew member falls into the water. This permits the rest of the crew to be informed immediately and carry out the rescue operation more quickly or to alert other vessels in the area. This beacon does not automatically communicate with the relevant authorities.