EPIRB – The Truth about Emergency Beacons

Everyone who buys an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB) or a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB) knows that it could offer them a last chance of survival. Hopefully, you’ll never have to use yours. But, if you did, wouldn’t you do everything you could to ensure that you were rescued as quickly as possible? Sadly, in the UK, the answer to this seemingly straightforward question is a rather confusing ‘no’.

Despite paying good money for the technology, most EPIRB and PLB owners do not register their beacons or keep their registered details up-to-date. Having this information drastically reduces the time taken for the emergency services to respond and eliminates unnecessary emergency callouts.

At the moment the UK has one of the lowest rates of EPIRB registration in the world, with only about 50% of owners registering their unit at the time of purchase. But, people move house, sell their boat, move marina, change their e-mail address, mobile phone number etc. So, even data for recently registered beacons soon becomes inaccurate.

It is estimated that about half of the registered EPIRBs have good contact details. This means that of the 97,000 EPIRB and PLB owners in the UK only 25% have registered information that could help save their life or ensure that a false alarm does not prevent the rescue crews getting to a real emergency. By contrast, in the USA this figure is 77% and in Canada it’s 88%

To get a better understanding of how good contact information could save your life, let’s take a look at how the emergency rescue system works.

How does an EPIRB or PLB alert work?

Once activated the EPIRB or PLB’s signal is picked-up by the Cospas Sarsat satellite network and relayed to the relevant Rescue Co-ordination Centre.

The beacon’s location and identification number are recorded. The Search & Rescue databases are then searched, and hopefully, the registered owner’s contact details are found.

Then, the various people listed on the EPIRB Registry are called to generate a probable scenario. Do they still own the boat? Have they gone sailing? Have they reported a voyage plan? Etc.

Finally, the appropriate emergency rescue response can either be triggered or the alert cancelled.

To the layman, the first and last steps look like the most important. Namely, those in peril simply activate their EPIRB and sit tight in the life raft for the rescue helicopter to arrive, right? Wrong.

It’s the process in between that is the most critical. Time saved identifying the owner and figuring out the situation can halve the recovery time and ensure that precious resources like helicopters and rescue crews are used to save lives and not respond to false alarms.

How does the  Search & Rescue (SAR) system work?

Surrey-based SARTECH, one of the world’s leading specialists in search and rescue technology, was recently appointed by ACR Electronics as an Official Dealer and Certified Service Centre for the UK.

Sartech is now approved to sell and service ACR’s full range of EPIRBs and PLBs, thus becoming the only specialist in the UK that is an official partner for two major emergency beacon manufacturers, GME and now ACR.

Sartech recommends that all EPIRB and PLB owners need to do these 3 things:

  • Get your emergency beacon device serviced (Sartech are approved to service all makes and models of EPIRB and PLB)
  • Get it registered (visit https://forms.dft.gov.uk/mca-sar-epirb/)
  • Get rescued faster when your life is in danger


About Sartech 

Sartech is one of the UK’s longest-established MCA Registered Shore Based Maintainers. The company remains independent and has the expertise and equipment needed to service any make or model of emergency beacon from GME and ACR to Ocean Signal, McMurdo, Kannad and Jotron brands.