The Best EPIRB for 2021
Garmin inReach Explorer
Spot 3 Satellite GPS
Ian Fortey Updated on March 15, 2021.by
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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.
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.