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Best EPIRBs for 2018

EPIRBs can save your life. For far too many boaters, that’s become a cliché that has melted into the background noise and ignored. But it’s true---witness the hundreds of people who owe their lives to the signaling device. Equipped with the right information, Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons alert rescuers to your emergency and, if armed with GPS, direct them to you.

There are EPIRBs that automatically float free and others that are manually activated. 406 MHz EPIRBs operate on that signal frequency and are used internationally for distress alerts only. Here’s more information from the US Coast Guard. (Photo below by

Other communications and interference, such as on 121.5 MHz, is not allowed on this frequency. Its signal allows a satellite local user terminal to accurately locate the EPIRB (much more accurately--2 to 5 km versus 25 km--than 121.5/243 MHz devices), and identify the vessel (the signal is encoded with the vessel’s identity) anywhere in the world (there is no range limitation). These devices are detectable not only by COSPAS-SARSAT satellites, which are polar orbiting, but also by geostationary GOES weather satellites. EPIRBs detected by the GEOSTAR system, consisting of GOES and other geostationary satellites, send rescue authorities an instant alert, but without location information unless the EPIRB is equipped with an integral GPS receiver. 

EPIRBs detected by COSPAS-SARSAT satellites provide rescue authorities location of distress, but location and sometimes alerting may be delayed as much as an hour or two. Although these EPIRBs also include a low-power 121.5 MHz homing signal, homing on the more powerful 406 MHz frequency has proven to be a significant aid to search and rescue aircraft. These are the only EPIRB types which can be sold in the United States. (Click HERE for more information from the Coast Guard.)

406 MHz EPIRBs equipped with integral GPS navigation receivers, became available in 1998.  EPIRBs like this will send accurate location as well as identification information to rescue authorities immediately upon activation through both geostationary (GEOSAR) and polar-orbiting satellites. 

Below are four EPIRBs and a beacon tester that score high marks in terms of performance. The lineup is part of an exercise that Marine Electronics Journal does every year. We call it the Best & Brightest Boating Electronics—it works like this:

We ask manufacturers to identify the one model they produce in a particular category that they consider to be their Best & Brightest—not necessarily the most technically advanced or newest but rather the one they rate highest in the product line for one reason or another. Could be the functions and features it offers, or maybe it breaks new ground in maximizing effectiveness or utility, or maybe it’s the most popular as measured by sales to boaters.

There are 17 categories in all­, ranging from autopilots and fishfinders to vessel monitoring systems and multi-function displays---MFDs. Last week we rolled out personal survival devices. Click HERE to check it out.


ACR GlobalFIX V4

The award-winning ACR GlobalFIX V4 EPIRB is available in both Category 1 auto-deploy (GMDSS) and Category 2 manual brackets. Designed to incorporate the latest in marine lifesaving technology, the GlobalFIX V4 uses its high-efficiency electronics to directly send your distress alert to search and rescue around the world. Features include an all-new, user-replaceable battery pack, which has a 10-year replacement interval, reducing the overall ownership cost. It also has an energy-efficient, four LED array strobe light and a new wrist strap for hands-free carrying in an emergency evacuation. Manual activation of the EPIRB is simple and there is a protective keypad cover to help prevent false alarms. The GlobalFIX V4 has two functional self-tests to monitor the beacon’s transmission, power and battery performance and GPS acquisition. 


McMurdo SmartFind G8 AIS

The SmartFind G8 AIS EPIRB is the world’s first to combine the global alerting of 406 MHz with the localized locating and tracking power of AIS. Smartfind G8 AIS boasts greater location accuracy, achieved by receiving GNSS coordinates from a wider range of satellite constellations, and Accelerated Rescue, via a unique combination of four frequencies, which support the Alert, Locate, Tracking and Recovery elements of search and rescue. SmartFind EPIRBs instill total user confidence with ruggedized base, easy-service battery, MEOSAR compatibility and compliance with the new US emergency hands-free transport mandate. McMurdo is the only EPIRB manufacturer to build and support the Cospas-Sarsat ecosystem infrastructure and is supporting the development of new MEOSAR technology.


Ocean Signal rescueME EPIRB1

Featuring a 10-year battery life, the Ocean Signal rescueME EPIRB1 provides the boat’s essential link to the emergency services within a very compact device at just 7 x 3.5 inches. The Class 2 GPS EPIRB automatically activates once the unit has been immersed in water, communicating the location via the 406MHz Cospas-Sarsat satellite system with position provided by an integrated 66-channel GPS receiver and 121.5 MHz homing beacon. Two high brightness strobes maximize visibility. A retractable antenna provides maximum protection and reduced outline for easy stowage within a grab bag, or the EPIRB can be mounted in its manual release bracket. The antenna is deployed with a gentle pull, using just one hand. A simple protective tab over the operating keys prevents inadvertent activation.


Simrad EP70

Simrad EP70 GPS-EPIRB safety and rescue locator beacons maximize the chances of user survival and recovery by providing rapid notification to rescue authorities of distress situations, enabling them to use satellite location technology with extreme accuracy anywhere in the world. Highly rated by maritime professionals as well as recreational users, the Simrad EP70 range of EPIRBs are designed to be used as a primary alarm for vessels in distress, and when activated, transmit the ID of the ship in distress. The unique high-intensity LED built in to the top of the antenna ensures optimal visibility in the toughest conditions.


WS Technologies BT200

The BT200 follows in the footsteps of the popular BT100. The BT200 has improved measurement accuracies and is rugged and intuitive to use. Now completely integrated, this tester packs a whole lot of measurement capability into a very small package. AIS measurements have been added to the extensive list of features. Use this instrument for your entire beacon testing needs: code verification, annual certifications, inspections, and even for troubleshooting. Test all 406 EPIRBs and PLBs, ELTs, and AIS-EPIRBs. Perform beacon testing and inspections without using expensive equipment. Familiar Android operating system.



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