Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons (EPIRBs)

EPIRBs are emergency radio transmitters which, when triggered, send an automatic signal on frequencies monitored worldwide by aircraft and satellites. In Australia, emergency response to these signals is coordinated by the Rescue Coordination Centre of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority in Canberra, which despatches the most suitable emergency response organisation available. Small hand-held units weighing less than 250 g are now available for around $250, and can also be hired. Undoubtedly, EPIRB use has saved lives, through appropriate emergency response to distress signals. They also have some weaknesses, of which all users should be aware:

  • The signal may not be received from deep valleys or under dense canopies.
  • Triggering an EPIRB sends an emergency signal ‘we are in grave and immediate danger to life’. There is no ‘we are in a spot of bother or may be a bit lost’ message option.
  • Once triggered, the signal cannot be cancelled by the user, although false alarms can be notified to the Maritime Safety Authority on 1800 641 792.
  • EPIRBs transmit only. You cannot seek advice, send a specific message, know that the message has been received or even that the signal was successfully transmitted.
  • Searches triggered by EPIRBs are generally undertaken from the air, so groups should make every effort to be visible to searchers in aircraft.

EPIRBs should be regarded as a last resort, and groups need to make every effort to be self reliant in dealing with any emergencies which may arise.