EPIRB'S (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons) and PLB’s (Personal Location Beacons) are a device’s that when activated will transmit a signal saying that the person that is in possession of them is in grave or imminent danger The main uses for EPIRB'S is on boat’s, that go out to sea and aircraft. An EPIRBS signal will tell rescue groups were you are, some EPIRBS will even activate when they are exposed to water or a large shock is detected in the case of a plain hitting the ground. In scouts the main place you will encounter an EPIRB/PLB is on a bush walk or boating trip There are two types of EPIRB’S on the market The first are what is the units on ships and plans commonly called a EPIRB the second are a portable device that can be carried in a pack called a PLB


Pros Cons
Can auto activate when submerged Medium size units hard to carry in a pack
Will call For emergency assistance Requires registration
Easy to use High Equipment cost
Easy to obtain Single use
Works every were 3 year sheath life
Calls for emergency assistance only


(Personal Location Beacons) these devices are meant to be carried by a person, there are the type you will most likely see in Scouts, examples are pictured below

Pros Cons
Are small enough to carry in a pack Will not auto activate
Will call For emergency assistance Requires registration
Easy to use High Equipment cost
Easy to obtain Single use
Works every were 3 year sheath life
Calls for emergency assistance only

How they work

EPIRB’S and PLB’S uses a system called the COSPAS-SARSAT system which is a complete global search and rescue service using geostationary (satellites in a fixed orbit) and polar orbiting (North South polo orbiting) satellites. Many countries provide ground facilities known as Local User Terminals (LUTs).
Polar orbiting satellites provide complete, although non-continuous, coverage of the earth (due to fact that these satellites can only view a portion of the earth at any given time) and can accurately resolve an active beacons’ location. Additionally, geostationary satellites can give an immediate alerting function in many regions of the world. The basic COSPAS-SARSAT concept is illustrated in the following diagram

All Current beacons operate on 406 MHz and provide more accurate and reliable alert data to search and rescue agencies than the older 121.5/243 MHz systems presently being phased out. The older 121.5 MHz analogue system required that the satellite be within view of both the beacon and the LUT before it could transmit the beacons’ position. This limited the coverage to an area immediately surrounding the LUT. However, the digital nature of the 406 MHz system means that the satellites are able to store the beacons’ position and digital message, no matter where in the world it is received. These details are then relayed to the next LUT that comes into range, giving the 406 MHz system true global coverage.

Using a EPIRB or PLB

All EPIRB or PLB must be registered with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority Beacon Registration Section be fore you take one out, if you borrow or rent one for a trip make shore they are registered by there owner like wise if you own the device you need to register it as soon as you get it.

The full details of the Australian Maritime Safety Authority is

Beacon Registration Section, AusSAR Australian Maritime Safety Authority GPO Box 2181, Canberra City, ACT 2601. Phone: 1800 406 406 or International: +61 2 6279 5041. Fax: 1800 622 153 or International: +61 2 6230 6868. Email: ausbeacon@amsa.gov.au.

The information provided in the registration is used only for search and rescue purposes. Should the PLB or EPIRB be transferred to a new owner, as the previous owner you are obligated to inform the National Authority by email, fax, letter or telephone of the name and address of the new owner. The new owner of the beacon is also required to provide their National Authority with the information as shown on the registration form. This obligation transfers to all subsequent owners

Note: Each EPIRB or PLB has been programmed with a unique identifying code which will be transmitted by the beacon in an emergency. Registering your beacon provides the authorities with immediate access to your details when the beacon is detected. This means they will know who you are and who your emergency contacts are. In situations of accidental activation they can also immediately eliminate your beacon as an emergency situation by contacting you when activation is detected.

The signal from an EPIRB or PLB is regarded by authorities as an indication of distress and is given an appropriate response. It is the responsibility of every owner of an EPIRB or PLB to ensure that it is not activated unintentionally or in situations that do not justify its use. Most cases of accidental transmission result from poor or inappropriate storage or failure to totally disable an old model beacon before disposal. The need to treat emergency beacons responsibly cannot be too highly emphasised.

Some EPIRB or PLB will not commence transmitting until approximately 60 seconds after activation, providing a period of audible and visual warning. If you hear a beacon beeping while it is being carried or stowed, you may still be able to deactivate it during this time period without actually transmitting a distress signal. If in doubt, report the incident to your local authorities just in case. To minimise the possibility of accidental activation, of EPIRB or PLB owners are urged to pay careful attention to the Following points:

1. Follow the self-testing procedures

2. Educate your travelling companions on how and when to correctly operate your PLB

3. Avoid stowing the EPIRB or PLB where it will be subjected to continuous direct sunlight. This could cause the beacon’s internal temperature to exceed the maximum storage temperature. Long term stowage under these conditions could result in reduced battery life, poor performance or degradation of the plastics due to excessive U.V. light.

4. Do not allow children to interfere with the PLB.

Contacts for Reporting Activations

If you suspect that a PLB has been activated inadvertently, you MUST turn it off and report it immediately to the National Authority‘s Rescue Co-ordination Centre to prevent an unnecessary search.


It is recommended that you test the EPIRB or PLB at regular intervals to ensure it is fully functional. You should also test the beacon prior to an extended journey.

WARNING • DO NOT over test – testing consumes some battery power, no more than once per month.

DO NOT deploy the antenna as this will break the seal and activate the beacon to transmit a distress signal after 60 seconds.

You may test the PLB using the following procedure:

1. Remove the beacon from the carry pouch

2. Use the key (attached to the lanyard) to slide the self test switch down and then release, a double beep and flash of the light will indicate the EPIRB or PLB is functioning correctly.

The standard self test procedure is more than sufficient to perform a comprehensive check of your beacon without consuming too much battery capacity. On occasions, and no more regularly than on average once a year, you may wish to perform a GPS satellite acquisition check if the device is equipped. Whereas the routine self test verifies the GPS receiver’s circuitry, the full test will include the operation of the special GPS antenna as well.

1. This test consumes much more power than a standard self test so choose a test location with good visibility of the open sky above. A quick satellite acquisition means a short test, and less wasted power consumption.

2. Carry out a self test in the usual way but rather than releasing the key, continue to hold it in position. After the self test pass confirmation, both the light flash and the internal beeper will start. Count a further four flashes/beeps then immediately releases the key.

3. The EPIRB or PLB will continue to flash and beep whilst it searches for available satellites. This may continue for a number of minutes depending on the number and location of satellites present. It is not possible to abort the test once started, and note that distress signals are not radiated as part of this test.

4. If no satellites are found after a predetermined time the repetitive flash and beep will stop. This may indicate a fault with the GPS receiver system within the EPIRB or PLB and you should contact your local service centre for advice. If the test terminates with a rapid sequence of flashes and beeps then GPS satellite acquisition and correct operation has been confirmed.

The safety seal which covers the antenna on the rear side of the beacon is designed to tear if the unit is switched on. A safety seal that is not broken serves to indicate that the beacon has never been manually activated. NEVER remove or break the seal unless deploying the EPIRB or PLB in an emergency. If the beacon has been activated for any length of time, the batteries can no longer be guaranteed to have the capacity to operate for the minimum 24 hour period and therefore must be replaced.

EPIRB or PLB should only be activated in situations of grave and imminent danger. Deliberate misuse may well result in the unnecessary deployment of valuable Search and Rescue resources and could incur a severe penalty. Should there be an inadvertent activation it is the responsibility of the user to immediately switch the beacon off and notify the nearest RC (Rescue Coordination Centre).

Location for deployment

The EPIRB or PLB will deliver best performance where there is a clear view of the sky. Deploying the beacon within an enclosure, particularly one which is electrically conductive such as under a car roof, will reduce the signal strength and may mean that it cannot be detected by rescue satellites or overflying aircraft. If you find yourself In a narrow valley or ravine, you can greatly increase the chances of your beacon signal being detected by placing it on higher ground.

Deploy the beacon in an upright position with the wire antenna vertical and well clear of any surrounding obstructions such as trees or rocks. If adverse weather conditions exist, use any available props around the base of the beacon to ensure it will not topple over. Where on-person operation is unavoidable, choose an elevated position that also achieves good local clearance around the vertical wire antenna. Once the beacon has been activated, leave it switched on. A continuous signal is needed for Rescue Authorities to determine your location.

Activating the Beacon

1. Hold firmly and release the antenna by pushing the black arm (where marked by a yellow triangle) inwards then upwards the antenna will quickly uncoil and extend.

2. Swing the antenna fully upwards 180 degrees clockwise, breaking the safety seal. The antenna arm will click into place. The PLB is now active. The EPIRB or PLB will ‘beep’ and pulse the inbuilt light 20-21 times per minute. The EPIRB or PLB will emit a rapid series of ‘beeps’ and light flashes for a period of 6 seconds, indicating to the user that it has acquired a GPS position fix and is relaying this (if fitted) position along with the distress signal and the unique personal identifier to the COSPAS-SARSAT satellite system. After 6 seconds the EPIRB or PLB will continue to ‘beep’ and pulse the light 20-21 times per minute.

Deactivating the Beacon

1. Using the key (attached to the lanyard) depress the antenna latch.

2. Swing the antenna fully down 180 degrees anticlockwise and latch.

3. Re-wrap antenna around the groove on unit back. The EPIRB or PLB is now turned off and the audio and visual alerts will cease.

Disposing of your beacon

Special precautions must be taken when finally disposing of your beacon at the end of its useful life. Legislation may determine the specific requirements which apply to you. In the first instance, contact your National Authority for advice.

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