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EPIRB Facts Sheet

EPIRB Facts Sheet

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Published by CAP History Library
Emergency Services
Emergency Services

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Published by: CAP History Library on Sep 28, 2012
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01/31/2013

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Emergency Position Indicating Radiobeacon
Types of EPIRBs
Emergency position indicating radiobeacons (EPIRBs), devices which cost from $200 toabout $1500, are designed to save your life if you get into trouble by alerting rescueauthorities and indicating your location. EPIRB types are described below:
Class A
121.5/243 MHZ. Float-free, automatically-activating, detectable by aircraft andsatellite. Coverage is limited. An alert from this device to a rescue coordination center may be delayed 4 - 6 or more hours.
Class B
121.5/243 MHZ. Manually activated version of Class A.
Class C
VHF ch15/16. Manually activated, operates on maritime channels only. Not detectable by satellite. These devices are being phased out by the FCC and are no longer recommended.
Class S
121.5/243 MHZ. Similar to Class B, except it floats, or is an integral part of a survivalcraft.
Category I
406/121.5 MHZ. Float-free, automatically activated EPIRB. Detectable by satelliteanywhere in the world.
Category II
406/121.5 MHZ. Similar to Category I, except is manually activated. Some models arealso water activated.
Inmarsat E
1646 MHZ. Float-free, automatically activated EPIRB. Detectable by Inmarsatgeostationary satellite. Recognized by GMDSS. Not sold in the U.S.
121.5/243 MHz EPIRBs
These are the most common and least expensive type of EPIRB, designed to be detected by over flying commercial or military aircraft. Satellites were designed to detect theseEPIRBs, but are limited for the following reasons:Satellite detection range is limited for these EPIRBs (satellites must be within line of sight of both the EPIRB and a ground terminal for detection to occur),Frequency congestion in the band used by these devices cause a high satellite falsealert rate (99.8%); consequently, confirmation is required before search and rescueforces can be deployed,EPIRBs manufactured before October 1989 may have design or construction problems (e.g. some models will leak and cease operating when immersed inwater), or may not be detectable by satellite. Such EPIRBs may no longer be sold,Because of location ambiguities and frequency congestion in this band, two or moresatellite passes are necessary to determine if the signal is from an EPIRB and todetermine the location of the EPIRB, delaying rescue by an average of 4 to 6hours. In some cases, a rescue can be delayed as long as 12 hours.COSPAS-SARSAT is expected to cease detecting alerts on 121.5 MHz, perhaps by2008.
 
Class A and B EPIRBs will be phased out in due course. The U.S. Coast Guard no longer recommends these EPIRBs be purchased.
Class C EPIRBs
These are manually activated devices intended for pleasure craft which do not venture far offshore and for vessels on the Great Lakes. They transmit a short burst on VHF-FMchannel 16 (156.8 MHz) and a longer homing signal on channel 15 (156.75 MHz). Their usefulness depends upon a coast station or another vessel guarding channel 16 andrecognizing the brief, recurring tone as an EPIRB. Class C EPIRBs are not recognizedoutside of the United States. These EPIRBs will no longer be recognized after 1999, andare no longer recommended by the Coast Guard.
406 MHz EPIRBs
The 406 MHz EPIRB was designed to operate with satellites. The signal frequency (406MHz) has been designated internationally for use only for distress. Other communicationsand interference, such as on 121.5 MHz, is not allowed on this frequency. Its signal allowsa satellite local user terminal to accurately locate the EPIRB (much more accurately -- 2to 5 km vice 25 km -- than 121.5/243 MHz devices), and identify the vessel (the signal isencoded 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 theGEOSTAR system, consisting of GOES and other geostationary satellites, send rescueauthorities an instant alert, but without location information unless the EPIRB is equippedwith an integral GPS receiver. EPIRBs detected by COSPAS-SARSAT (e.g. TIROS N)satellites provide rescue authorities location of distress, but location and sometimesalerting may be delayed as much as an hour or two. These EPIRBs also include a 121.5MHz homing signal, allowing aircraft and rescue craft to quickly find the vessel indistress. These are the only type of EPIRB which must be certified by Coast Guardapproved independent laboratories before they can be sold in the United States.A new type of 406 MHz EPIRB, having an integral GPS navigation receiver, becameavailable in 1998. This EPIRB will send accurate location as well as identificationinformation to rescue authorities immediately upon activation through both geostationary(GEOSAR) and polar orbiting satellites. These types of EPIRB are the best you can buy.406 MHz emergency locating transmitters (ELTs) for aircraft are currently available. 406MHz personnel locating beacons (PLBs) are not currently available in the U.S. TheFederal Communications Commission is considering authorizing PLBs in the near future.The COSPAS SARSAT Organization estimates that the number of 406 MHz beacons inservice at the beginning of 1998 was about 156,000. Most of these beacons are maritimeEPIRBs.The Coast Guard recommends you purchase a 406 MHz EPIRB, preferably one with anintegral GPS navigation receiver. A Cat I EPIRB should be purchased if it can be installed properly.
406 MHz GEOSAR System
The major advantage of the 406 MHz low earth orbit system is the provision of globalEarth coverage using a limited number of polar-orbiting satellite. Coverage is notcontinuous, however, and it may take up to a couple of hours for an EPIRB alert to be
 
received. To overcome this limitation, COSPAS-SARSAT has 406 MHz EPIRB repeatersaboard three geostationary satellites, plus one spare: GOES-W, at 135 deg W; GOES-E, at75 deg W; INSAT-2A, at 74 deg E; and INSAT-2B (in-orbit spare), at 93.5 deg E. Groundstations capable of receiving 406 MHz. Except for areas between the United Kingdom and Norway, south of the east coast of Australia, and the area surrounding the Sea of Okhotsk near Russia, as well as polar areas, GEOSAR provides continuous global coverage of distress alerts from 406 MHz EPIRBs. Note that GEOSAR cannot detect 121.5 MHz alerts, nor can it route unregistered 406MHz alerts to a rescue authority. GEOSAR cannot calculate the location of any alert itreceives, unless the beacon has an integral GPS receiver.COSPAS-SARSAT is an international satellite-based search and rescue systemestablished by the U.S., Russia, Canada and France to locate emergency radio beaconstransmitting on the frequencies 121.5, 243 and 406 MHZ.COSPASSpace System for Search of Distress Vessels (a Russian acronym)SARSATSearch and Rescue Satellite-Aided Tracking
Inmarsat E EPIRB
Inmarsat E EPIRBs transmit a distress signal to Inmarsat geostationary satellites whichincludes a registered identity similar to that of the 406 MHz EPIRB and a location derivedfrom a GPS navigational satellite receiver inside the EPIRB. Inmarsat EPIRBs may bedetected anywhere in the world between 70 degrees North latitude and 70 degrees Southlatitude. Since geostationary satellites are used, alerts are transmitted nearly instantly to arescue coordination center associated with the Inmarsat coast earth station receiving thealert. Alerts received over the Inmarsat Atlantic Ocean Regions are routed to the CoastGuard Atlantic Area command center in New York, and alerts received over the InmarsatPacific Ocean Region are routed to the Coast Guard Pacific Area command center in SanFrancisco.
Testing EPIRBs
The Coast Guard urges those owning EPIRBs to periodically examine them for water tightness, battery expiration date and signal presence. FCC rules allow Class A, B, and SEPIRBs to be turned on briefly (for three audio sweeps, or one second only) during thefirst five minutes of each hour. Signal presence can be detected by an FM radio tuned to99.5 MHZ, or an AM radio tuned to any vacant frequency and located close to an EPIRB.FCC rules allow Class C EPIRBs to be tested within the first five minutes of every hour,for not more than five seconds. Class C EPIRBs can be detected by a marine radio tunedto channel 15 or 16. 406 MHZ EPIRBs can be tested through its self-test function, whichis an integral part of the device. 406 MHz EPIRBs can also be tested inside a container designed to prevent its reception by the satellite. Testing a 406 MHZ EPIRB by allowingit to radiate outside such a container is illegal.
Battery Replacement
406 MHz EPIRBs use a special type of lithium battery designed for long-term low-power consumption operation. Batteries must be replaced by the date indicated on the EPIRBlabel using the model specified by the manufacturer. It should be replaced by a dealer 

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