In the United States, County Sheriffs handle most SAR (Search and Rescue) operations. Their rescue teams are typically staffed by trained volunteers. When more help is required, they call in the Coast Guard. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, the Coast Guard conducts about 15,000 SAR (Search and Rescue) operations each year. About 30% of those missions involve situations where lives are at stake. Roughly 600 people die each year, despite the expert responders’ best efforts. Often, lack of adequate emergency communication gear is to blame for these casualties.
A GPS-capable EPIRB could save your life if you ever find yourself stranded at sea and in need of rescuing. EPIRBs that aren’t GPS capable are much less useful because they need several hours to obtain a position– and once obtained, the location data only gives a rough location estimate. All the GPS-equipped EPIRBs listed below are far faster and much more accurate.
Here are the best EPIRBs you can buy:
The all-around best EPIRB
ACR GlobalFix Pro
The ACR GlobalFix Pro is an excellent mid-range EPIRB that offers a reasonable price and a strong selection of features. Like most EPIRBs, it has enough battery power to last for about 65 hours– that’s more than enough time for a rescue team to arrive in most situations. It’s also equipped with ACR’s proprietary GPS engine FastACQ, which reduces the time required to begin sending out signals.
- Reasonably priced. The GlobalFix Pro combines affordability with well-rounded features.
- It can transmit for about 65 hours straight on a single charge. The ambient temperature can either reduce or increase the amount of time the beacon can operate.
- Built-in GPS. Rescue teams can use the GPS data to locate your position when you’re in need of rescuing.
- Fast position acquisition. ACR claims that its proprietary GPS engine FastACQ helps its devices obtain coordinates faster than competing EPIRBs.
- Five-year battery life span. The battery that comes with the GlobalFix Pro is built to last for five years and you can replace it yourself.
- Rugged design. The GlobalFix Pro’s polycarbonate shell is built to resist harsh chemicals, shocks, UV light and extreme temperatures.
- Choose from two different deployment bracket types. Select automatic or manual, depending on your need.
- Lacks NMEA GPS compatibility. EPRIBs that have NMEA-compatible GPS systems can interface directly with navigation equipment that conforms to the NMEA standard.
In a nutshell
The ACR GlobalFix Pro is a well-rounded EPIRB that combines affordability with top-of-the-line features. Thanks to ACR’s patented FastACQ, it obtains GPS fixes faster than most competing EPIRBs. Once deployed, it will operate for about 65 hours before it runs out of battery power.
The best EPIRB with a display
ACR GlobalFix iPro
The most interesting thing about the ACR GlobalFix iPro is its LCD display, which displays your GPS coordinates, walks you through the self-test process and shows how much battery power is remaining. The other notable thing about the iPro is its dual GPS system. This makes it more accurate compared to single-GPS EPIRBs.
- Easy-to-read LCD display. The iPro is the only ACR EPIRB that has a screen.
- Simple self-testing. Usually self-testing an EPIRB involves interpreting various tones and lights, but the GlobalFix iPro is easier to use because its display guides you through the self-testing process.
- Highly accurate dual GPS system. ACR’s dual GPS feature (it has one standard GPS unit and another NMEA-compatible GPS unit) makes the iPro one of the most accurate EPRIBs on the market.
- It can transmit for about 65 hours straight on a single charge. Performance varies depending on the water temperature.
- Choose from two different deployment bracket types. The automatic bracket launches the iPro in the event of an accident, while the manual one won’t activate until you pull the trigger yourself.
- Five-year battery life span. In addition to the bracket, you also get a non-hazmat lithium battery, which will last for five years and you can replace it on your own.
- ACR will send you a new one for free if you use it. Just submit the details of your rescue story to ACR and they’ll send you a brand new iPro.
- Expensive. The iPro costs almost twice as much as competing EPRIB devices.
In a nutshell
Ease of use is the ACR GlobalFix iPro’s defining characteristic. Most EPIRBs require you to use their manuals to interpret their test results, but the iPro’s built-in screen provides all the information you need to complete the process. Once activated, the screen displays its remaining power, your current GPS coordinates and other useful data.
The EPIRB with the longest maintenance period
ACR GlobalFix V4
Looking for an EPIRB that you can install and forget about until you need it? The ACR GlobalFix V4 has a much longer maintenance period than any other EPIRB we’ve seen. Most EPIRB manufacturers tell you to take their devices to a shop after about five years for battery maintenance, but the GlobalFix V4’s batteries will last a full decade before they expire.
- Ten-year battery life span. You can get a full decade out of the battery before it expires and you can replace it yourself.
- Internet integration. Another standard feature for ACR EPIRBs, you can give the V4 the ability to send out text messages and email alerts via 406link.com.
- It can transmit for about 65 hours straight on a single charge. Like other ACR brand EPIRBs, the V4 will transmit for two or three days before it runs out of battery power.
- Durable construction. The polymer blend shell can resist impacts and harsh weather conditions.
- Compact and portable. It’s just over eight inches tall and four inches wide.
- Choose between two activation options. Automatic deploys the device upon water contact, while the other type requires manual activation.
- You can get a free replacement if you ever have to use it. ACR will send you a free replacement V4 if you send the company a story about how you used it to find your way to safety after an incident at sea.
- Not as watertight as some EPIRBs. It can only survive five minutes of water submersion. Most EPIRBs are watertight enough to stay operational for ten minutes.
In a nutshell
Equipped with a battery that can hold a charge for an entire decade, the ACR GlobalFix V4 requires very little maintenance. Once installed, you can essentially forget about it unless you encounter an emergency situation. Durability and portability are its two other key features.
The best low-cost EPIRB
Ocean Signal rescueME EPIRB1
If you’re in the market for an EPIRB but sticker shock is stopping you from making a move, you may want to give Ocean Signal’s rescueME EPIRB1 a closer look. It sells for a fraction of the cost of competing EPIRBs, but it’s compatible with COSPAS/SARSAT. The only significant disadvantage is that it will stop transmitting after about 48 hours. Mid-range and high-end EPIRBs can continue sending signals for up to 65 hours before they run out of energy. In addition, there is no automatic deployment option.
- Inexpensive. This EPIRB’s price point is low compared to the competition.
- Easy to use. Just pull the protective cover off the button and press it down for one second to send out a help signal.
- Built-in GPS. Its GPS is compatible with COSPAS/SARSAT, which is the most current satellite-aided search and rescue network.
- Ten-year battery life span. You can use the rescueME EPIRB1 for a full ten years before you have to get the battery serviced.
- It can transmit for up to 48 hours on a single charge. Transmission time will vary based on water temperature, weather and other conditions.
- Retractable antenna. This feature is convenient when you have limited room for storage because it saves space.
- Smaller and more compact compared to previous versions. Ocean Signal’s engineers were able to reduce this version’s size by 30 percent. It measures just seven inches tall and 3.5 inches in diameter.
- No automatic deployment option. Manual activation is the only way to signal for help.
In a nutshell
Ocean Signal’s rescueME EPRIB1 provides an inexpensive way to make sure that you can signal for help in the event of an emergency situation. The only downside is that it isn’t quite as battery efficient as more expensive EPRIBs. All the other features– including its COSPAS/SARSAT-compatible GPS unit– are up to par.
The most versatile EPIRB
McMurdo SmartFind G8
The fact that the McMurdo SmartFind G8 is compatible with many communication technologies gives rescue teams additional ways to hone in on you when you’re in need of help. Since AIS is often used for MOB (Man Overboard) operations, the SmartFind G8 can be used as a MOB device.
- Its support for many different signals adds versatility. McMurdo describes the SmartFind G8 as a “quadrotech” EPIRB, which means that it supports four different signals: 406MHz, 121.5MHz, AIS and GPS. It’s also compatible with Europe’s new, highly accurate Galileo GPS network.
- Compliant with upcoming EPIRB standards. By 2022, all EPIRB manufacturers will be required to equip their devices with AIS collision avoidance technology. McMurdo is ahead of the curve because the SmartFind G8 is already equipped with this.
- Budget-friendly price. Even though it has more features than many EPRIBs, SmartFind G8’s reasonable price makes it one of the most affordable devices of its kind.
- Two different deployment options. Choose between automatic and manual activation depending on your need.
- Industry award winner. American Security Today recognized the SmartFind G8 in two consecutive ASTOR awards. Other awards this EPIRB has won include the Pittman Innovation Award (2017), BMEA Product of the Year (2018) and NMEA Safety Product of the Year (2018).
- Comes with a carrying strap. The strap is a bonus because the G8’s antenna is actually quite long.
Larger and heavier than other EPIRBs. Weighing about a pound and a half, it’s about twice as heavy as the average EPIRB. It’s also about 16 inches long, including the antenna– which isn’t collapsible. This might make it awkward to store in some situations.
In a nutshell
Winner of multiple industry awards, McMurdo’s SmartFind G8 is the EPIRB of choice among many maritime professionals and government agencies. Versatility is the main benefit that has won it so many accolades. It can send and receive 406MHz, 121.5MHz, AIS and GPS signals.
Buying guide for EPIRBs
GPS network compatibility
All GPS-capable EPIRBs work much faster than non-GPS EPIRBs– and they’re far more accurate, too. However, some GPS EPIRBs are quicker and more precise than others. Galileo is the newest and most cutting edge GPS satellite network. EPIRBs that can interface with it are typically more accurate than those that can only connect to standard GPS satellites.
Versatility and compatibility
If your EPIRB can interface with AIS (Automatic Identification System) equipment, it can be used as a MOB (Man Overboard) device. All new EPIRBs support 406MHz, which is the new standard. EPIRBs that support the 121.5MHz standard can interface with legacy search and rescue equipment. Sometimes 121.5MHz is used for homing purposes, as well.
Most EPIRBs require battery maintenance every five years. That usually means taking the EPIRB to an authorized shop or sending it to one through the mail. Some EPIRB batteries have a ten-year shelf life.
65 hours seems to be the standard when it comes to post-activation battery performance. However, some EPIRBs will run out of energy after about 48 hours.
Some EPIRBs come with more accessories than others. Some EPIRB manufacturers sell EPIRB kits. These kits contain whistles, dry bags, rescue lights, signal mirrors and other tools that may come in handy in the event of a disaster.
If your EPIRB has a display, it will be easier to perform self-testing. Without one, you’ll either have to memorize how to accomplish and interpret the self-testing procedure or keep your manual on hand as a reference.
Bracket type and availability
The majority of EPIRB manufacturers offer two different bracket options: automatic and manual activation. The former type activates upon water contact and the later requires a button press.
Size, weight and portability
There isn’t a whole lot of variation in this category. Typical EPIRBs are about the size of a first-generation cell phone and weigh about half a pound. On the other hand, the antenna type and size might be something to consider if you don’t have a lot of stowage room on your vessel. If you can collapse or unscrew the antenna, you may be able to save some space.
Number of self-tests
If you test an EPIRB every day, you’ll drain its battery to the point where it won’t be able to operate as long as it should in the event of an emergency. To prevent this, EPIRB manufacturers equip their devices with self-test limitations. The number of self-tests you can perform varies depending on the EPIRB brand. If your safety procedures require frequent EPIRB self-tests, you may want to look into how many self-tests are allowed before you buy.
Basic EPIRBs only work with the standard GPS satellite network and can’t interface with Galileo. This makes them slightly less accurate compared to mid-range and high-end EPIRBs that can. Prices start at about $400.
If you’re willing to pay about $500, you’ll be able to get an EPIRB that has more features and is a bit more accurate. In addition to Galileo support, mid-range EPIRBs support more communication protocols and offer improved battery performance.
In addition to all the features that come with mid-range EPIRBs, high-end EPIRBs that cost $1000 or more come with built-in displays, dual GPS units and other premium features.
Frequently asked questions
Q: Why do I have to register my EPIRB?
A: Registering your EPIRB is a smart thing to do because it gives search and rescue resources the information they need to make smart intervention decisions. If you don’t register, your rescuers won’t know what type of vessel you have, for example. The easiest way for US residents to register is through the NOAA’s website.
Q: How does an EPIRB work and what happens after I initiate a distress call?
A: As soon as your EPIRB goes off, nearby SAR organizations will become aware of your situation. If you’ve registered your EPIRB, they’ll use that data to determine what kind of resources will be required. SAR teams all over the world support 406 Mhz, so you’ll be able to get assistance no matter where your travels take you.
Q: Some EPIRB brackets are classified as category I, while others are categorized as category II. What’s the difference?
A: Category I brackets deploy the EPIRB automatically as soon as they make contact with water. Category II brackets, on the other hand, require manual activation.
- If you encounter a situation that forces you to abandon your vessel, don’t forget to take your EPIRB with you if you have time. Search and rescue teams will be better able to find you if you have your EPIRB on hand.
- For best results, tether your EPIRB to your life raft. This will allow it to float in an upright position. If you have no ability to tether your EPIRB to your boat, prop it up so that it’s in an upright position instead.
- Don’t hold your EPIRB with your body. The water inside your body can cause interference.