EPIRB - Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons

EPIRB, Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons, in English "radio transmitter indicating the emergency position".

The importance of the EPIRB

The EPIRB is a COSPAS-SARSAT rescue transmitter used in the marine environment to locate a vessel in a real emergency situation.

The EPIRB is considered in the maritime field as the most effective on-board device among those intended for the safety of navigation, thanks mainly to the international organization of COSPAS-SARSAT which provides a satellite system with global coverage, an extreme efficiency in the coordination of rescue and a set of procedures refined and tested for almost 30 years.

Available models and their prerogatives

Categoria II - Categoria I
Category II - Category I

There are two categories:

  • The Categories can be activated automatically or manually.
  • II Category, they are activated only manually.

Automatic EPIRBs (Category I) are placed inside a container. The heart of the technology is a hydrostatic hook, which is activated by water pressure, before it reaches a depth of 4 meters. The activation of the hydrostatic hook, triggers a series of mechanisms that allow the ejection of the EPIRB from its container, allowing it to rise to the surface.

For professional boats the first category is required. Also for pleasure boating would be suggested the I Category, however some recommend the II Category (the manual) because they believe that the yachtsman often overlooks the need to replace the hydrostatic hook every 2 years, with the possible dramatic consequences of those who believe they have a working EPIRB on board that is not efficient for having neglected the deadline.

Integrated technologies

  • Some EPIRBs are integrated with Sea Switch, which allows to activate it with the contact with water, when this is detached from its support.
  • For some years now there are models on the market with integrated GPS, this allows you to reduce the error of location from 5 km to 100 m., models with GPS are therefore strongly recommended to increase the level of security offered by EPIRB.


It's mandatory for:

  • Recreational craft capable of unlimited navigation (manual or automatic type).
  • Fishing units enabled to navigate beyond 6 miles (automatic models only).
  • Charter boats capable of navigating beyond 12 miles or those that accommodate more than 12 passengers (automatic models only). In the case of a lease (without crew) some interpret that it is not mandatory.
  • On ships subject to GMDSS (automatic models only).

It is optional for all other boats or floating structures, but nevertheless recommended to increase the level of safety during navigation.

The fulfilments:

  • At least the RTF licence (the same as the VHF licence) is required, which is obtained by simple application. But some say that some inspectorates also require the SRC or GOC or ROC or LRC certificate for recreational purposes.
  • The EPIRB must be programmed with the MMSI code, check that the programming report is in the package.
  • The user must register at the COSPAS-SARSAT centre in Bari (see also: Emergency Transmitters, section "Registration").
  • In the case of automatic EPIRB, the hydrostatic hook must be replaced every 2 years.
  • It is necessary to proceed with the annual revision from the name Annual Test.
  • Within 4 years from the date of purchase (or from the previous SBM) it is necessary to proceed with the SBM.

The documentation to keep on board:

  • EC Type Examination Certificate
  • Type Approval Certificate
  • The user manual (also suggested the quick guide to be affixed near the EPIRB)
  • Issue of the MMSI by the Regional Inspectorate
  • Programming reports
  • Receipt of registration with COSPAS/SARSAT
  • Annual Test Report (if any) with the beacon tester's report attached
  • SBM certificate, if any

How to install and maintain it:

  • The EPIRB shall be installed in the immediate vicinity of the navigating bridge at an easily accessible point so that it can be easily disengaged by hand for carriage on board a lifeboat. Also check that it is perfectly seated in its holder. If the model is automatic, check that it is free from superstructures that hinder its ascent to the surface during the automatic release and also check that the door closes and reopens correctly.
  • Before a navigation or every month, it is advisable to check its operation, through the self-test procedure (check the manual of the device on the operation of this procedure).

How to activate it in manual mode:

  • Before leaving the boat, remove the EPIRB from its holder and board the life raft.
  • Dissolve the line from the EPIRB and secure it to the raft
  • If the EPIRB is equipped with a Sea Switch, simply put it in the water to activate it, otherwise break the seal and turn the switch to the "ON" position of the operational transmission. The EPIRB is in its best operating mode when floating in water.
  • The EPIRB thus activated, will begin to activate the strobe light with an intermittence depending on the model.
  • Make sure that the EPIRB has no obstructions to the sky, so that the signal reaches the satellites without obstructions.
  • For such operations, always refer to the manual of the apparatus.

What to do in case of accidental activation:

The EPIRB is not a toy and must be used conscientiously in real emergency situations, i.e. when there is a danger to the safety of human life at sea. False alarms make the system more expensive and less efficient.
Careless use can have consequences of a judicial nature as well.
In case of accidental activation, stop the transmission immediately and call immediately by phone the center COSPAS-SARSAT Bari 080-53.41.571 indicating your MMSI and your location.