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The Best EPIRB for 2021

Best Overall Choice

Garmin inReach Explorer

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Best Premium Choice

McMurdo Smartfind

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Best Budget Choice

Spot 3 Satellite GPS

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Ian Fortey by Ian Fortey Updated on March 15, 2021.

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Boating safety is key to being able to enjoy your time on the water. Any sailor needs to have the proper emergency gear on board before you head out. This includes the obvious things, like personal flotation devices. But technology can also help make your sailing smooth. You want a good quality VHF radio on board. Likewise, a solid GPS is invaluable. But along with that, an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon is also essential.

An EPIRB will help search and rescue find you in the event of an emergency. No one wants things to go wrong. But you need to be prepared when they do. A good quality EPIRB can track your location anywhere in the world. Some even offer the ability to text with others. Some can give you weather data and charts.

Choosing the right EPIRB means factoring in your budget and how you boat. If you’re on a landlocked lake, you may not need some of the more elaborate features. But if you’re on a vessel, it’s always good to have a way to be found in an emergency.

Let’s check out some of the best EPIRB units on the market. After, we’ll look into the difference between EPIRB and GPRIB. Also some features you want to consider.

Best Overall Choice

1. Garmin inReach Explorer

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Garmin is the brand to beat when it comes to EPIRB. This is the Cadillac of emergency position beacons. They make a wide range of devices to handle any boater’s needs. They also have you covered when you need car GPS as well. Hands down, their best model is the InReach Explorer.

The InReach offers complete iridium satellite coverage. Anywhere on Earth, you’ll be able to have two-way communication via text messaging. It also functions as a standard GPS as well. The body of the Explorer is durable and can stand up to some abuse. It’s fully waterproof, but also lightweight.

The technology Garmin uses is what makes it a standout. For instance, there’s a share function built in. That means anyone with a linked device can also see your position. Family or friends on shore can track your trip if need be. In terms of safety, that makes this next level useful for a thorough float plan. In the event of an emergency out on the water, the U.S. Coast Guard can track you down easily and quickly.

Speaking of, it also features an SOS button. This distress alert allows you to transmit your location and a pre-set emergency message. There’s also a weather forecast function to help you track storms.

Garmin offers unlimited cloud storage with purchase. That means you can plan your whole trip and access it over the device anytime, anywhere.

2. Garmin InReach Mini

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The Garmin InReach Explorer is not a cheap device by any means. If you’re not looking for such a big investment in an EPRIB, there is a solution. The Garmin InReach Mini is their pared down version. It’s more affordable and still offers a lot of great features.

Just like its larger cousin, the Mini offers you complete iridium satellite coverage. That means you can have two-way text communication anywhere in the world. If your cell phone is dead because you’re in the middle of nowhere, the Mini will still have you covered.

In addition to communication, the Mini can do much more. It will give you access to charts, weather reports, and more with the Garmin Earthmate App. All you need to do is pair it with a compatible device like your smart phone.

In an emergency, the Mini will also broadcast an SOS signal along with a message to get you help as soon as possible.

Best Premium Choice

3. McMurdo Smartfind

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The McMurdo Smartfind activates automatically once it comes in contact with water. It also features manual function as well. It’s the first EPIRB in the world to include AIS, or automatic identification system. All AIS-equipped vessels in range will pick up the signal. That increases the likelihood of being found in an emergency. All told, the McMurdo offers 406MHz, 121.5MHz, AIS, and GPS.

The battery life of the McMurdo is second to none. It features 10 years of life. The unit is also designed with a powerful strobe light.

The technology used by McMurdo is very similar to MOB beacons. Those are the man overboard beacons that help track people in the water. When you want to make sure you have some of the best coverage available, McMurdo is a great choice. The company even offers a 5 year warranty.

Best Budget Choice

4. Spot 3 Satellite GPS

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As good as Garmin products are, they can set you back a few dollars. You may not be interested in spending so much if you have a small vessel. Likewise, if you don’t boat that often. But if you still want the peace of mind that an EPIRB offers, Spot 3 is a great choice.

The Spot 3 Satellite GPS offers up great service at a reasonable price. Push button SOS sends out an emergency signal right away. Your location will be GPS tracked. This way, emergency services can track you. It also features a handful of ways for your family and friends to follow your progress. You can upload your contacts so they can see your location on Google Maps. There’s also a check in feature. This allows you to send a pre-programmed message to friends and family.

The body of the Spot Three is lightweight but durable. If you drop this on deck, you don’t need to worry about it breaking. And, of course, it’s also waterproof.

5. Ocean Signal Rescue Me EPIRB

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With 10 years of battery life, the Ocean Signal Rescue Me can offer you peace of mind for a long time to come. This is also a great choice when space is a consideration. If you have a small vessel and don’t want to devote a lot of space to an EPIRB, this is your answer.

Coming in at 30% smaller than your average EPIRBs, Ocean Signal is all about space saving. It even has a retractable antenna. Despite its size, it’s just as powerful and reliable as the big boys.

Ocean Signal lists the dimensions of the Rescue Me as 7 inches by 3.9 inches by 3.5 inches. That makes it about two pencils tall. You can see how storage on most boats would be easy.

It features two bright strobe lights. The battery pack is reliable for up to 48 hours of continued use once activated. There’s also a quick release bracket to pull it from a wall. It will be registered in the US at point of purchase. After that, the company will register it anywhere on Earth for you if you want.

6. ACR GlobalFix Pro

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When it comes to emergency features, the ACR GlobalFix iPro is top notch. It acquires a GPS signal automatically and is accurate to within 100 meters. The signal is sent out at 406 MHz to increase accuracy above and beyond many other devices. To further direct crews to your location it offers additional features as well. An LED strobe light offers a powerful visual indicator. Thanks to the physical design, even in water, it floats upright. The light will always be visible. There’s also a homing beacon.

If the GlobalFix Pro ends up in the water, it will automatically turn on. It can also be turned on manually. And it features a test function. This lets you confirm whether it’s working properly. The battery has a lifespan of about five years when it’s not in use, so it’s reliable. Once it has been activated it can transmit a signal for as long as 48 hours.

One of the best features of the Globalfix is the replacement guarantee. If you ever need to use the device, ACR will replace it with a new one afterward.

Things To Remember

Obviously not every EPIRB is created equally. Understanding the features will help you pick the best emergency beacon for you.

What is an EPIRB Anyway?

An Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon is a small, rugged, battery operated device. In its basic form, it is simply a transmitter. Like all emergency beacons, EPIRBS transmit a signal that can be tracked. They are monitored by satellite so your position can be tracked worldwide.

When you first get an EPIRB you need to register it. This ensures that when it is activated, you can be properly identified. The signal sent from a registered EPIRB includes essential personal details. Your name, address, phone number, vessel description, and an emergency contact are included.

Signals from EPIRBs will be transmitted on the Cospas Sarsat. This is a global satellite network used by sailors for search and rescue. 45 nations and agencies around the world respond to distress signals on this network. This includes the U.S. Coast Guard.

What is a GPIRB?

You’ll see the acronym GPIRB used alongside EPIRB very often. GPIRB stands for Global Position Indicating Radio Beacon. Some of the EPIRBS we listed here, like the Garmin, are technically GPIRBs.

A GPIRB has a built in GPS and 406MHz EPIRB technology together. This makes the accuracy of the device much greater. You may know from experience that satellite tracking isn’t always super precise. For instance, a food delivery service’s tracking software. It will tell you the driver is three blocks away when he’s at your door. Your car GPS may also offer vague results sometimes.

GPIRB is able to narrow down your location very well. Search and rescue teams will have a much smaller area to search as a result. It’s likely they will visually pinpoint you right away if you have a GPIRB on board.

Essentially, a GPIRB is a life insurance policy on the water. It removes the chance of being lost at sea. If you routinely boat in large bodies of water, from the ocean to the Great Lakes, this is very useful.

How are GPIRB and EPIRB Different?

If both send signals to satellites, you may wonder how GPIRB and EPIRB are different. It’s in the way signals are sent and the time it takes to track. EPIRB has to essentially ping a satellite. Calculations based on Doppler shift in the distress signal determine where it is. This can take time. Maybe not a lot of time, but in a rescue situation every second counts.

GPIRB is able to locate itself with GPS and broadcast that location. It cuts out that calculation time. The accurate location fix is nearly instantaneous. Rescue teams will be able to track your location much more easily as a result.

What is a Personal Locator Beacon?

In researching EPIRB devices you may also discover PLB. A Personal Locator Beacon is almost exactly the same as an EPIRB. The main difference is that it’s intended for land use. A sailor could certainly use their device as a PLB. Likewise, a PLB could function on a boat. Both use global satellite networks to pinpoint your location. Personal locator beacons are still different EPIRBs, though.

Ideally, you won’t want to use a PLB on a boat if you can avoid it. Again, not that the PLB won’t work on a boat, because it will. A PLB isn’t set up for nautical use, however. You don’t get the fringe benefits with a PLB, like access to NOAA charts. Also, a PLB is unlikely to be waterproof.

Typically, a PLB would be used by hikers and mountain climbers. Anyone who risks being lost or endangered away from civilization.

These devices also have a long lasting lithium battery. They can go for years without needing replacement. The downside is you can’t typically replace the battery yourself.

EPIRB Features You Need

As we have said, not every EPIRB is created equally. You can get some cheap, off brand car GPS units that will save you some money. You don’t want to do the same thing with an EPIRB. If this device is the difference between surviving at sea and not, make sure you pick the right one.

Battery Life: Many EPIRB units have remarkable battery life. Lithium battery packs or other non-hazmat-batteries are essential. Check to see how the battery can be replaced. Some units will allow you a free replacement once you have used the EPIRBs. Some companies will allow you to send the unit back for battery replacement. Some have no offers at all. When the battery dies, you simply need to buy a new unit.

Since the price of an EPIRB can range from $200 to over $700, you want to know how the battery works.

GPS: GPRIB is simply better than EPIRB alone. When an EPIRB is triangulating your location, it can take time. Sometimes as much as an hour. In severe weather you can drift a good distance in that time. So while it’s still great at narrowing your location, it’s not the best. Look for built in GPS to help improve reliability and response time.

You need a quick notification time in order for your device to be effective. Compare times and choose the fastest you can find. The quicker search and rescue services can determine your location, the quicker you get saved.

Construction: As we saw with PLB, not every unit is waterproof. If you’re using an EPIRB, it’s because things have gone bad. You need a unit that is not just fully waterproof but rugged. It’s going to get beat around. You won’t have time to protect the unit from bumps, so make sure it’s proven tough.

A lighter unit is going to be easier to pack and store. Also easier to manage if you end up in the water. Most units float, but you still need to keep track of yours. Things like a tangle-proof lanyard are great features.

Additional Features: The very basic features of an EPIRB will get you rescued. But it never hurts to have some extras on board. Devices that offer the ability for two-way communication are the best of the best. Or ones that can provide AIS signals to other vessels nearby.

At the very least, consider a device with a homing beacon. Also a high powered led strobe light. When you’re in the water in a storm, these can make those final seconds of search and rescue easier.

Extra features, like access to weather forecasts and charts, can cost more money. You’ll have to determine based on how you boat if these are vital for you.

About Ian

My grandfather first took me fishing when I was too young to actually hold up a rod on my own. As an avid camper, hiker, and nature enthusiast I'm always looking for a new adventure.

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