Best EPIRB of 2018 – Buying Guide and Reviews

As a mariner, you know that there is a lot which can go wrong at sea. Even the most experienced sailor can miss the signs of inclement weather or may experience some other unexpected emergency. When that happens, you need a way to signal rescue workers that you are in need of help. At sea, you will likely find yourself out of range on your cell phone. Plus, in a crisis, you need to be able to route your call directly to the people who can send help. That is why you need an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon, or EPIRB.

Need to purchase an EPIRB for your next voyage, but not sure where to begin in your search for the most suitable product? Check out the table below for a quick guide to the best EPIRBs.

ACR GlobalFix PROACR GlobalFix ProCheck Price on Amazon
ACR GlobalFix iProACR GlobalFix iProCheck Price on Amazon
ACR GlobalFIX V4ACR GlobalFIX V4Check Price on Amazon

Still do not know how to choose the right EPIRB? Read on to find out more about Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons, how they work, and what questions you need to ask yourself and features you need to look for while shopping for the best product.

What is an EPIRB?

An EPIRB is a distress beacon designed specifically for mariners. Using it, you can transmit a 406 MHz signal directly to the government-operated Cospas-Sarsat Satellite System. Through this system, your distress signal is received by emergency workers, who are then able to respond immediately and send assistance to your location.

How Does an EPIRB Work?

When you first purchase your EPIRB, you register and activate it. Registration is mandatory for every person who buy sand uses an Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon.

When you activate the beacon during an emergency, it sends a signal to the previously mentioned Cospas-Sarsat Satellite System, along with a 15-digit unique identification number (UIN), also called a “Hex ID.” Because the government runs this satellite network, there are no fees for sending your distress signal.

Once the satellites receive your emergency signal, it is sent to Local User Terminal (LUT) ground station. From there it is routed to the Mission Control Center (MCC).

The MCC uses the information contained in your signal and registration data to contact the nearest Rescue Coordination Center (RCC). Your location can be determined using either GPS (if your EPIRB includes this feature), or triangulation from the satellites.

The RCC is then able to get in contact with local Search and Rescue (SAR) teams, who are dispatched immediately to your exact coordinates. Your EPIRB is equipped with a 121.5-MHz homing signal which ensures that the rescue workers are able to come straight to you. To date, EPIRBs have helped saved tens of thousands of lives.

Questions to Ask When Shopping for an EPIRB

Do you need a Category I or Category II EPIRB?

There are two brackets of EPIRB, called Category I and Category II. A Category I EPIRB can be manually or automatically deployed. If the Hydrostatic Release Unit (HRU) in the bracket sinks underwater to a depth of 4 to 14 feet, the EPIRB will be automatically released. The unit floats up to the surface of the water and sends out a signal. It can do all of this without you, so even if you are unconscious, your distress call will go out. The Category II devices on the other hand require manual activation and deployment.

Do you need an EPIRB or a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)?

A lot of people who are shopping for an EPIRB are really looking for a similar device called a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), and vice versa. What are the differences between these devices?

EPIRB

  • This device is designed specifically for mariners.
  • It floats, and does so in an upright position while transmitting.
  • An EPIRB may transmit for a minimum of 48 hours at temperatures ranging as low as -4 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Your EPIRB may be manually or automatically activated depending on the bracket you buy.
  • All EPIRBs are equipped with strobe lights.
  • You can mount an EPIRB on an automatic or manual bracket, or you can carry it with you in a ditch bag.
  • You must register your EPIRB to your vessel.

PLB

  • These devices may or may not float. They cannot send signals without being removed from the water.
  • A PLB can transmit for a minimum of 24 hours at temperatures as low as 4 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • All Personal Locator Beacons are manually activated.
  • Some PLBs do have flashing LED strobe lights, but many have no strobe lights at all.
  • A PLB must be carried or worn at all times. There is no way to mount it.
  • Your PLB is registered to you (rather than to a vessel).

The bottom line is that as a mariner, you almost certainly want an EPIRB. For land use, a PLB may make more sense.

Must you register your EPIRB?

Anytime you buy a new or used EPIRB, you must register it. You are also responsible for keeping the information on your registration up-to-date.

Features and Add-Ons to Look For When Shopping for an EPIRB

Some features of EPIRBs are universally required—such as waterproofing and buoyancy and the presence of a strobe light. Let’s look at a few that may vary.

GPS and Location Accuracy

One of the most important features to look for in an EPIRB is onboard GPS. Without GPS, you are relying on satellite triangulation. This typically takes less than an hour, but with GPS, notification time can be reduced to 5 minutes or less. This can drastically improve your chances of a swift and successful rescue. You can also shop for a unit which includes a GPS location test.

Notification Time

This refers to how quickly your location can be pinpointed and sent to search and rescue teams. The shorter the time, the better of course. Again, the best way to minimize notification time is to choose a unit with GPS.

Deployment

As discussed previously, some EPIRBs are automatically deployed and activated in water while others require manual deployment and activation. Purchase a Category I or Category II device as needed.

Digital Display

Most—but not all—EPIRBs are equipped with a digital display.

Battery

There are a couple considerations with relation to battery life. You should find out what the typical battery life is, as well as the lowest temperature at which the device can transmit for that duration.

Power Output

The higher the power output for an EPIRB, the stronger the signal will be.

Size and Weight

Finally, you should also think about the size and weight of the EPIRB you will be purchasing, especially if you plan to carry it with you in a bag instead of mounting it.

You are now familiar with important questions to ask and features to look for when you are selecting an EPIRB to buy. You may now scroll back to the top of the page to check out our recommended products in our chart, or you can continue reading our detailed reviews below.

ACR GlobalFix Pro RLB-37: Best Locator Beacon for Sailors

ACR GlobalFix Pro RLB-37Nobody wants to be caught off guard by foul weather when they’re out on the water. But if you have a RLB-37 on hand, you’ll always be able to call for help if the storm is more than your boat can withstand.

Good

  • Popular on Amazon. The RLB-37 recently made Amazon’s bestsellers list.
  • Easy registration. Registration is easy and the entire process takes just a few minutes to complete.
  • Automatically activates when it hits water. This feature could save your life if your boat ever keels over.
  • Long battery life. The RLB-37’s battery lasts for up to 5 years.
  • LED strobe light. The strobe light allows rescuers to get a better idea of your exact location once they get close to your position.
  • Quick positioning. The RLB-37’s cold start positioning feature allows it to obtain a GPS position in 1 minute or less.
  • Floats on the surface of the water. This beacon stays afloat when you need it the most.

Bad

  • You have to pay to have the RLB-37 serviced after 5 years when the battery runs out. Unfortunately, there’s no way to do the job yourself.
  • Though the ACR GlobalFix Pro RLB-37 floats and is waterproof, it could theoretically break if it gets trapped underwater for long periods of time.
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ACR GlobalFix iPro 406 28480 EPIRB Category II Rescue Beacon: A Powerful Manual Release EPIRB With Built-in GPS

ACR GlobalFix iPro 406ACR Electronics is one of the biggest names in the world of Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons. One exemplary device which showcases many of the brand’s best features is the ACR GlobalFix iPro 406 28480 EPIRB. This Category II manual rescue beacon is compact, highly rated, and has a lot of great features.

Good

  • LED status indicator. This can be used to verify that the device is operating properly. You can also perform a self-test or a GPS fix as needed.
  • GPS is built-in. With this important feature, rescue teams can quickly pinpoint your location. The device also transmits a 121.5 MHz homing beacon.
  • Automatic activation. Even though the bracket is manual, the EPIRB will automatically turn on in contact with water.
  • Long-lasting battery. The non-hazmat battery can go for five years before needing to be replaced. The unit can transmit for 48 hours or longer, even nearing the end of the battery’s lifetime. Make sure to perform the monthly self-test.
  • Rugged design. This EPIRB has been subjected to rigorous testing to ensure that it will hold up great even to lots of wear and tear in extreme conditions.
  • Compact and ergonomic. This is one of the smallest EPIRBs on the market, yet it doesn’t sacrifice any great features for its compact design.
  • Get a free replacement. ACR provides incredible support. If you are ever forced to actually use your EPIRB, the company will send you a free replacement.

Bad

  • More expensive than some other models. While the ACR GlobalFix iPro 406 28480 EPIRB is reasonably affordable, it is not a small expense, and there are cheaper beacons you can buy.
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ACR 2831 GlobalFIX V4: A Manual EPIRB With a Long-Lasting Battery

ACR 2831 GlobalFIX V4Another less expensive beacon to think about buying from ACR Electronics is the ACR 2831 GlobalFIX V4. This Category II beacon includes an internal GPS and a number of built-in redundancies to ensure that the device will deliver when you need it most.

Good

  • Built-in GPS. With GPS built right into the system, this EPIRB can quickly transmit your exact location to rescuers.
  • Bright LED strobe. This device has an extra-bright LED strobe to maximize visibility. It is energy efficient as well, conserving battery life.
  • Very long battery life. The non-hazmat lithium battery can last for up to 10 years before you have to replace it. Typically the beacon can transmit for 48 hours or more at temperatures as low as -4 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Fast and easy setup. ACR sometimes even includes a free trial of their Advanced Testing Services so that you can confirm the system is working.
  • Solid support. There is a five-year warranty with your purchase of ACR 2831 GlobalFIX V4.
  • Powerful transmitter. The 5-watt transmitter sends a strong signal.

Bad

  • Slightly heavier than some other beacons. This unit weighs a few more ounces than the previous one reviewed. That being said, it is still relatively lightweight and compact.
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